Hope for a new era


Millennium Post - - Mp Editorial - M SHAKEEL AHMED

The re­cent visit of Pope Fran­cis to the United Arab Emi­rates, the first by the spir­i­tual head of Ro­man Catholics, to the Ara­bian penin­sula, the birth­place of Is­lam, and his par­tic­i­pa­tion at an in­ter­faith con­fer­ence along with the Grand Imam of Cairo-based Al Azhar mosque, Ah­mad Al Tayyeb, the top­most re­li­gious fig­ure in Sunni Is­lam, has evoked hopes for a new era of re­li­gious tol­er­ance in a re­gion afflicted with ex­trem­ism and sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence.

The po­lit­i­cal un­rest and sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence in the re­gion and re­ports of per­se­cu­tion of Chris­tians, burn­ing of Churches raised con­cerns in the west­ern world at a prayer meet­ing in Italy, in July last year, at­tended by heads of Churches from the Mid­dle East. The Pope had con­demned the “com­plicit” si­lence in the re­gion on the is­sue.

The UAE lead­er­ship has des­ig­nated 2019 as the Year of Tol­er­ance. The Pope joined 600 Mus­lim, Chris­tian, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh and Bud­dhist re­li­gious fig­ures at the Global Con­fer­ence on Hu­man Fra­ter­nity to fos­ter un­der­stand­ing and build in­ter­faith di­a­logue and ec­u­meni­cal­ism. His par­tic­i­pa­tion at a pub­lic mass high­lighted po­lit­i­cal reaf­fir­ma­tion that Chris­tians and their re­li­gious free­dom will be de­fended and safe­guarded in the Mus­lim world.

Ad­dress­ing the gath­er­ing, the 83-year-old pon­tiff said, “we gravely pro­fane God’s name when we use it to jus­tify ha­tred and vi­o­lence against a brother or sis­ter. No vi­o­lence can be jus­ti­fied in the name of re­li­gion.”

A rare achieve­ment for the UAE of the Vat­i­can head’s visit was to have a ‘dec­la­ra­tion of fra­ter­nity’ jointly signed by signed by the Pope, head of the 1.2 bil­lion Catholics com­pris­ing half of the Chris­tians in the world and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar sem­i­nary, the most pres­ti­gious seat of learn­ing for Sunni Mus­lims who ac­count for 85 per cent of the world’s to­tal Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion.

The dec­la­ra­tion con­demned re­li­giously mo­ti­vated and other vi­o­lence and de­liv­ered a strong mes­sage that all re­li­gions shared com­mon hu­man val­ues.

This was the fifth meet­ing be­tween Pope Fran­cis and Ah­mad Al Tayyab over the years. It in­di­cated that the an­guish Mus­lim world had fol­low­ing Pope Bene­dict’s 2006 com­ments link­ing Is­lam to vi­o­lence has dis­si­pated. The Pope, who also con­ducted an open mass at­tended by over 1,35,000 peo­ple, has him­self rightly de­scribed his visit as “a new page in the his­tory of di­a­logue be­tween Chris­tian­ity and Is­lam,” and in pro­mot­ing world peace based on brother­hood.

On his re­turn to the Vat­i­can, he said his en­counter with lead­ers of Is­lam is a coun­ter­point to the “strong temp­ta­tion” to con­tend there’s a cur­rent clash be­tween Chris­tian and Is­lamic civil­i­sa­tions. The meet­ing of the two re­li­gious lead­ers gave a clear and de­ci­sive sign that re­spect and di­a­logue are pos­si­ble be­tween the Chris­tian and Is­lamic worlds. The leit­mo­tiv of his pon­tif­i­cate since in­cep­tion on March 2013 has been Chris­tians and Mus­lims are brothers in their faith.

The Pope ap­peals for peace in the Mid­dle East in a Christ­mas mes­sage and a di­a­logue with Is­lam is one of the main fea­tures of his pon­tif­i­cate fol­low­ing in the path of some of his pre­de­ces­sors. Pope Paul VI made the first pil­grim­age to the Holy Land in 1964, and Pope Jean Paul II was the first to set foot in a mosque in 2001.

His staunch sup­port for a di­a­logue with Is­lam is a bone of con­tention with his de­trac­tors who have also re­jected his re­jec­tion of any as­so­ci­a­tion be­tween re­li­gion and ter­ror­ism. While his sup­port­ers say the pope is just bring­ing to life the mes­sage of the New Tes­ta­ment, his crit­ics have been ac­cus­ing him of blas­phemy.

His crit­ics are ig­nor­ing the fact that Gulf coun­tries like the UAE, Qatar, Oman, and Bahrain have al­lowed Chris­tians from around the world to live, work and fol­low their re­li­gion there and re­flect that co­ex­is­tence be­tween Is­lam and Chris­tian­ity in a mod­ern Mus­lim so­ci­ety is pos­si­ble. Saudi Ara­bia is the only coun­try in the re­gion that pro­hibits the prac­tice of non-is­lamic faiths.

This is not the Pope’s first visit to an Is­lamic coun­try. In his six years as pon­tiff, Fran­cis has made 25 trips abroad, out of which 13 were to Mus­lim coun­tries in­clud­ing Turkey, Pales­tine, Egypt, Jor­dan, and Bangladesh. He had prayed in lo­cal mosques with their imams in­vok­ing tol­er­ance and peace be­tween wor­ship­pers of the two faiths.

The visit of the Pope is a pos­i­tive thing if it leads to a con­struc­tive ex­change be­tween the two faiths and re­sults in some tan­gi­ble out­come in bring­ing peace and tran­quil­ity in the re­gion in­flicted with deep in­ter­nal divi­sions and con­flicts.

By host­ing the pon­tiff, the UAE lead­er­ship has shown that they be­lieve in re­li­gious and cul­tural tol­er­ance, a pre­con­di­tion for fos­ter­ing peace in the world. The coun­try has 76 places of wor­ship for dif­fer­ent faiths, in­clud­ing about 50 churches. In Dubai, there is Hindu tem­ple, Sikh Gur­d­wara and a Bud­dhist tem­ple. A grand Hindu tem­ple is un­der con­struc­tion in Abu Dhabi. Christ­mas and Di­wali are widely cel­e­brated in UAE. (The au­thor is a for­mer Ed­i­tor of PTI. He has also served as West Asia Cor­re­spon­dent for PTI, based in Bahrain from 1988 to 1995. The views ex­pressed are strictly per­sonal)

UAE lead­er­ship has des­ig­nated 2019 as the Year of Tol­er­ance. The Pope joined 600 Mus­lim, Chris­tian, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh and Bud­dhist re­li­gious fig­ures at the Global Con­fer­ence on Hu­man Fra­ter­nity to fos­ter un­der­stand­ing and build in­ter­faith di­a­logue

A ‘dec­la­ra­tion of fra­ter­nity’ was jointly signed by the Pope and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar sem­i­nary, des­ig­nat­ing 2019 as the Year of Tol­er­ance

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