10 December 2012

Africa: Communique From the Anglican Communion - Al Azhar Al Sharif Interfaith Dialogue

The dialogue committee composed of a delegation from the Anglican Communion and from Al Azhar Al Sharif held its 10th Annual meeting in Cairo on 20 November 2012 corresponding to 6 Moharram 1434. This meeting was held under the auspices of the agreement signed between the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar on 30 January 2002 at Lambeth Palace, London, UK. These annual meetings aimed to promote co-operation and understanding between Christianity and Islam.

The delegation from Al Azhar Al Sharif was comprised of:

  • Dr. Hamdy Zagzouk, Chairman of the Beit el Aila
  • Professor Dr Mahmoud Azab, Advisor for the Grand Imam for Interfaith Dialogue
  • Professor Dr Mohammed Shama, Professor of Islamic Sciences in German at Al Azhar University
  • Dr Bakr Zaki, Head of the Faculty of Islam at Al Azhar University
  • Sheikh Dr Mohammed Gammeah, Media Representative of Al Azhar

The Anglican delegation was comprised of:

The Most Revd Dr Mouneer Hanna Anis, President Bishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East and Bishop of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa.

  • The Most Revd Datuk Bolly Lapok, Archbishop of South East Asia
  • Dr. Yvonne Haddad, Professor of the History of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations at Georgetown University
  • The Revd Dr Toby Howarth, Secretary to the Archbishop of Canterbury for Interfaith Dialogues
  • The Revd Rana Khan, International Interfaith Dialogues Assistant, Lambeth Palace and Anglican Communion Office
  • Ms Sue Parks, Anglican Communion Office, NIFCON (staff)

His Eminence Dr Ahmed el Tayyib, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, welcomed the dialogue committee. It was noted that this was the first meeting of the dialogue committee since the January 2011 Revolution in Egypt. It was also noted that the dialogue in London in 2011 had been curtailed due to the political situation in Egypt which had required the Grand Imam to be present in Egypt.

In his opening remarks The Grand Imam quoted the teaching of the Holy Qur'an which requires all peoples to work together to understand and appreciate difference, whether of language, creed or race, and to work together for the cause of justice, peace and the well-being of all on earth.

The two co-chairs, Dr. Hamdy Zagzouk and Bishop Mouneer Hanna Anis, opened the meeting with readings from the Qur'an and the Bible, respectively and reaffirmed the importance of this dialogue between Muslims and Christians. The dialogue committee praised the al-Azhar Declaration on the Future of Egypt which promotes the need to guarantee the rights and responsibilities of all citizens. The document outlines that in accepting the rights of citizenship, the citizen also accepts the responsibility to share in the development of society and to work for peace and the welfare of all.

The dialogue committee expressed its condolences to all those whose loved ones were killed or injured in the train crash, recalling in particular the children killed who were from Al Azhar school in Assuit.

The dialogue committee commended the Grand Imam for establishing "Beit el Aila" for the promotion of national unity in Egypt. The dialogue committee also expressed its appreciation for the UK Christian Muslim Forum initiated by the Archbishop of Canterbury in the UK.

The Anglican delegation presented a paper on the understanding of "Citizenship in Christianity". Although the context of our meeting was Egypt, the conversation was enriched by hearing of positive experiences in Muslim Christian relationships in many other parts of the world, including Pakistan, Malaysia and the United Kingdom. The paper was accepted with great appreciation.

The delegation from Al Azhar presented two papers on the understanding of "Citizenship in Islam" and another on 'Building Citizenship'. Dr Mahmoud Azab spoke about citizenship in Islam, in particular the al Azhar Declaration on the Future of Egypt with its three principles:

  • to institute a democratic, constitutional and modern state;
  • to accept a democratic system;
  • to be committed to a basic system of freedom. These freedoms are belief, expression, academic research and creativity in art and literature.

Dr. Mohammed Shamma presented a paper on 'Islam and Secularism' in which he outlined three main themes: secularism, absolutism and relativism, and citizenship.

The two papers were heard with great appreciation and were discussed in depth. Our discussion identified the gap between the teaching of religion and the practice of religion.

We rejoiced that the our dialogue was done in the spirit of wisdom, with the intention to affirm the values of truth, justice, knowledge, progress, peace, and to affirm the principles of citizenship and to raise the nation to achieve welfare for all.

The members of the dialogue committee agreed to meet in Autumn 2013 in the UK.

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