When the head of the Roman church representing 1.2 billion Catholics signs a joint declaration with the head of the highest seat in Sunni Islam, it ought to be big news.
Yet the significance of the declaration signed in Abu Dhabi this month by Pope Francis, head of the Roman Catholic Church, and Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, Grand Imam of al-Azhar, has slipped under the radar amid criticism over the Pope’s decision to visit the UAE while it is involved in the war in Yemen and the blockade against Qatar.
But for those who have focused their attention on the contents of the document and the two leaders’ speeches, it is clear that the Grand Imam and the Pope have set a milestone in the complex dialogue between the two faiths.
The “Document on Human Fraternity” is the first ever signed by representatives of the two religions in which they pledge to work together for the benefit of the “human fraternity”. It implies the two faiths have found a common understanding and a united front against attempts to abuse God’s message and manipulate religion.
“We resolutely declare that religions must never incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility and extremism, nor must they incite violence or the shedding of blood,” the document states.
“These tragic realities are the consequence of a deviation from religious teachings. They result from a political manipulation of religions and from interpretations made by religious groups who, in the course of history, have taken advantage of the power of religious sentiment …. This is done for the purpose of achieving objectives that are political, economic, worldly and short-sighted.”
Both Sheikh al-Tayeb and Pope Francis have launched a joint appeal to political and religious leaders, intellectuals, artists and media worldwide to reject violence in all its forms, promote positive values and strive for establishing a more righteous and peaceful world – not only for the benefit of believers of the three monotheistic faiths, but also for non-believers.
Questioning the East-West dichotomy, the two leaders warned that religious hatred is causing ‘signs of a third world war being fought piecemeal’
“The fact that people are forced to adhere to a certain religion or culture must be rejected, as too the imposition of a cultural way of life that others do not accept,” the declaration notes.