H.E. DR. ABDELOUAHED BELKEZIZ, SECRETARY GENERAL OF THE ORGANIZATION OF THE ISLAMIC CONFERENCE (OIC), AT THE INTERNATIONAL CONSULTATIONS ON “CHRISTIANS AND MUSLIMS IN DIALOGUE AND BEYOND”
I am pleased to attend with you today this opening session of the Conference on the "Dialogue between Muslims and Christians and beyond" organized by the World Council of Churches (WCC).
I welcomed, without hesitation, the kind invitation extended to me by Dr. Tareq Mitry out of my prior conviction that every call for dialogue removes a stumbling block from the road of human understanding, and lays down a new building block in the structure of cooperation and harmony among mankind. The source of my prior firm belief in the benefit of dialogue resided in the fact that Islam, since its initial days when Muslims were still weak in a small corner of Makkah, up to the time when Islam’s influence spread to most parts of the world, was keen on undertaking a dialogue to which Islam calls for. The Holy Quran addressed the People of the Scriptures (Christians and Jews) as follows: O People of the Scriptures, let us agree together to worship only God, and not to take any divinity except God".
While equating the "Ahl Al Dhem,ma" or "dhimmis" with Muslims in terms of rights and duties under the Islamic State, Islam devoted utmost importance to human relationships in terms of equality, justice and tolerance. Muslim scholars exerted painstaking efforts to lay down a scientific structure for dialogue among cultures and civilizations – even with those who were not from amongst the People of the Scriptures, just as the scholar Bayrouny had done one thousand years ago. Such efforts were recognized by researchers at the international level.
When the matter has to do with dialogue between Muslims and Christians, the image – by the grace of God – becomes more flourishing and clear. The Quran considers Christians as the nearest people to Muslims; it describes Christian clergy, monks, priests etc. as righteous, pious and humble. It refers to lord Jesus Christ since birth as pure and sacred, born from the Spirit of God, and it venerates his mother, the Virgin Mary, in highest terms of sanctity and respect.
Hence , both the Islamic and Christian faiths concur on the spiritual source regarding the human being’s concept of God, the Universe and Nature. They are linked by several common denominators which consider the partial differences between them as not going beyond minor doctrinal distinctions that could be found within any one religion. I believe that in the presence of good intentions and concerted efforts of broadminded adherents of the two religions, Muslims and Christians would be able to narrow the gaps which divided them over centuries and pave the way for a new era of mutual understanding, brotherhood and love on the way of God.
Unfortunately, our ancestors have, in the past, focused on these narrow doctrinal differences, in response to ancient views and ideas generally based on religious bigotry. The Crusades triggered hostility between both the Islamic and Western, Christian worlds. This was followed, many centuries later, by the phenomenon of Western colonization of many Islamic States due to Western military superiority, which led to the domination of the colonized peoples, and the exploitation of their resources in violation of human rights and principles of justice, tolerance and co-existence. The accumulation of those historical and political trends exacerbated tension between the two sides.
With the decline of colonialism today and the independence of the colonized peoples, differences and conflicts have started to decrease accordingly, despite remaining traces as represented in the domination of Western capital and capitalist forces over the destiny of other peoples. These are issues related to political and economic realms, rather than to religious beliefs.
With the spread of modern education and science today, the immense epistemic progress and the speedy rapprochement, the above mentioned partial doctrinal differences between Islam and Christianity have started to decline and wither away. Consequently, we would be able to narrow our differences, particularly as we all belong to the People of the Scriptures, and are followers of revealed religions which all stem from a common source.
In essence, I wanted to say that our dialogue today should rather address the future, and confine most of its efforts to political dialogue, as the doctrinal problems are to a great extent irrelevant.
By this I mean to say that the predominant prevailing ideas in the world today are based on the principle of dialogues among civilizations and cultures as well as recognition of the other, tolerance and respect of human rights.
It, therefore, can be safely admitted, in this connection, that the marginal conflict of religions in this teeming area is barely foreseeable, since all religions acknowledge these values and even advocate them.
The theme of "dialogue among civilizations", is now tending towards evolving common, universal values that enjoy the consensus of mankind, irrespective of differences in creed, race, and geographic location. These common values have the same spiritual, religious and ethical foundations. This, in fact, accounts for the common, sublime values which humanity is aspiring for, to ensure for all those living on this planet, a fair and dignified life in which the principles of justice and respect of human rights prevail and where injustice and aggression are denounced. This, in itself, constitutes the main goal of all divine Messages, including Islam, which had been ordained to consecrate good morals and ethos, to underpin justice and benevolence and stem evil.
It has now become incumbent upon us, as we deliberate upon the “dialogue between Muslims and Christians and beyond” to come to grips with the status of this dialogue viewed from the vantage point of the evolution of human thinking, and work together, as Muslims and Christians, earnestly and actively, towards defining and specifying the sublime universal common values, for each of us to contribute on his own side and out of his own belief, to the building of this new shared edifice in line with the humane concept of life.
We have lately witnessed, in a practical way, the cooperation between the Islamic and Christian beliefs in redressing some of the values that were meant to be imposed on the world by materialistic trends, when we all worked, hand in hand, in international fora concerning various subjects such as the Child and his Rights, Population, the sanctity of the Human soul (abortion, murder and terrorism), Women, the Family, and so on and so forth. The lesson drawn from such fruitful cooperation proves that we can score many achievements together in the future, not only in the field of social and legal matters as we did so far, but also at the level of political and economic affairs; for instance, the Palestinian issue, or the sufferings of the most under-privileged peoples of the world. A large number of people around the globe are still subjected to extreme injustice and misery. We should altogether strive to alleviate such hardships and obliterate this scourge that afflicts human societies, starting from the ties of human solidarity, charity and justice, upheld by both of our Religions: Islam and Christianity.
At this juncture, I can only mention that biased campaigns waged against Islam and Muslims in some Western societies and further fueled by media campaigns have become a disturbing phenomenon. Therefore, we should all fight against it with all our strength since it could lead to grave conditions resulting from the spirals of violence and counter violence, causing the derailment of our joint action or a setback to the latter as well as our efforts to lay down the rules of universal world common values which I referred to earlier.
The September 11 events were apparently staged by people most detached from the righteous Islamic Teachings and whose identities have never been established in a judicial process. The gravity of the September 11 events resides not only in that such a terrorist act left a heavy toll of dead and injured civilians but that the responsibility for that horrendous act was blamed o n the entire Islamic world peopled by one-fourth of the inhabitants of the world. Moreover, such a crime was depicted as an "Islamic" aggression against Western civilization. This approach is contrary to veracity, logic, justice and moral considerations. To counter these ideas which are unjust to Muslims, and to stand in the way of the growing campaigns against them are, in my opinion, among the top priorities of the Islamic/Christian dialogue today, because the more we allow such campaigns to escalate, the more we keep ourselves away from our sublime objective of overlooking the partial doctrinal differences which we had almost forgotten before the September 11 events. In so doing, we will distance ourselves from the goal we set to define and agree upon the common universal values. This will be detrimental not only to the children of Muhammad and Jesus, but also to humanity as a whole, in the beginning of the twenty-first century. It is only logical that the followers of the two major revealed religions in the world should undertake this pioneering role in this great human endeavour inspired from our divine messages.