20. The meeting between the Azhar and the Vatican inter-religious committees: A dialogue of deaf?”

Article summary: 

The joint committee of the Permanent Committee of Al-Azhar for Dialogue with Monotheistic Religions closed its annual meetings with the delegation of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue in the Vatican. The meeting was faced with wide scale protests in Egypt. The Egyptian press reported on the meeting’s recommendations and the reactions to it.

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[Editor: see media critique comments in text]
The joint committee of the Permanent Committee of Al-Azhar for Dialogue with Monotheistic Religions closed its annual meeting with the delegation of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue in the Vatican on February 26, 2008 after a two-day meeting entitled, 'Believing in God and Loving the Other.'
The Joint Committee held its annual meeting at the Azhar headquarters on Monday,
February 25, and Tuesday, February 26, 2008 under the joint presidency of Professor Shaykh
‘Abd al-Fattāh ‘Alaam, the deputy of the Azhar, and president of the Permanent Committee of
al-Azhar for Dialogue with Monotheistic Religions, and His Eminence Cardinal Jean-
Louis Tauran, the president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue.
Al-Dustūr of February 28, 2008 reported that at the end of the meeting, the joint Committee condemned the republication of the offensive Danish cartoons and all attacks against Islam or any other religion, referring to Pope Benedict's speech to the ambassador of Morocco to the Holy See reading: “In order to favor peace and understanding between peoples and human beings, it is necessary that their religions and symbols be respected, and that believers not be the object of provocations which cause harm to their religious commitment and feelings." (20 February 2006). Participants from both the Azhar and the Vatican stressed the need to not harm people's feelings in religious matters.
The committee also discussed the question of freedom of expression, noting that it can never justify harming people's feelings in religious matters, thereby creating strained relations and destroying brotherly love.
It emphasized showing true respect for religions, beliefs, religious symbols, holy books, and whatever is considered sacred, stressing that Muslim and Christian religious leaders, as well as
intellectuals and educators, should spare no effort in including these values in their
activities in places of learning and in all levels of society.
Moreover, the participants encouraged exchanging views on matters of common concern that may arise, and assessed the application of these recommendations during the committee's coming meetings. [Reviewer: to read the Vatican resume of the meeting in full see: http://www.ilvelino.it/archivio/documenti/allegato_documento_355.pdf ]
On the other hand, denouncing reactions echoed in the Egyptian press. Sa‘īd Hulwá headlined his article on the subject, 'The Azhar and the Vatican; a dialogue for the deaf. ' He described the meeting recommendations as “frustrating,” and denounced what he considered the Vatican's contradictory declarations, referring to Pope Benedict XVI's declarations that attack Islam at times and express respect at others.
Moreover, Hulwá denounced the dialogue with the Vatican while the West is constantly launching attacks against Islam and its symbols. Hulwá further called on all Muslims to boycott all the Danish and Dutch products, and the Azhar to reconsider and evaluate the results of all the dialogue meetings that has been held up till now. If the results of such meetings are proved to be positive and effective, then they should be kept in the future. However, if they were negative they should stop.
Finally he called on Muslim scholars and reverend shaykhs to address the West and patiently explain the values of Islam in order to correct the distorted image of Islam in the West.
Using rather provocative wording, Zaynab ‘Abd al-Lāh and Imān Ma'mūn of al-Usbūc of March 1, 2008 headlined, 'Did the Azhar accept abdicating the belief in the divinity of the Qur'ān?!' the authors criticized what they called the secrecy and the blackout of the meeting. They also stated that the Grand Imām of the Azhar Shaykh Muhammad Sayyid Tantāwī should not meet with a lower ranking Vatican representative than he is, alluding that his equivalent in the Vatican is Pope Benedict himself and not any other cardinal.
The authors interpreted the meaning of the Joint committee meeting as a message from the West to the Islamic world reading: “We do you whatever we want, and you have no right to to ask us for an apology for whatever offenses we have committed against you.”
The authors also stated that the Azhar committee “did not dare” to ask the Vatican for an apology, especially when the grand imām refused to link Pope Benedict XVI's and Cardinal Tauran's “attacks on Islam” with the meeting. [AWR author: For further information on Cardinal Tauran's statements and the Egyptian press reactions see AWR, 2007, week 42, article 5]. As such, al-Usbūc authors argue, “the Azhar that was once an academic minaret, opened his arms to the enemies of Islam.”
The authors further claimed that the meeting was a secret and that the Islamic Research Academy was unaware of it. The quoted Dr. ‘Abd al-Mu‘tī Bayyūmī, the former dean of the Facurlty of Usūl al-Dīin at the Azhar University and member of the academy when saying that he did not know about the meeting that was, according to Dr. Bayyūmī held at the wrong time It is noteworthy that Dr. Bayyūmī is a member of the Permanent Committee of Al-Azhar for Dialogue with Monotheistic Religions.
Moreover, ‘Abd al-Lāh and Ma'mūn quoted Dr. Bayyūmī when saying that no dialogue should be conducted with the Vatican because of Cardinal Tauran's offensive declarations that Muslims should stop believing in the divinity of the Qur'ān. Furthermore, Bayyūmī believes that dialogue with the Vatican at this stage is incomprehensible because the Islamic world is waiting for a more decisive attitude from the Azhar. Bayyūmī, as reported by al-Usbū‘,said that any dialogue with the Vatican should be rejected as long as they consider the Vatican to believe that dialogue with Islam is impossible without giving up belief in the divinity of the Qur'ān. “Let their anger kill them as long as they are putting this condition,” al-Usbūc concluded quoting Bayyūmī.
[AWR author: Referring to Cardinal Tauran's interview with the French La Croix, the reader can realize that the cardinal did not mention the word impossible or alluded to the impossibility of dialogue with Islam. He also did not state that Muslims must give up their belief in the divinity of the Qur'ān. See the French text on http://www.la-croix.com/article/index.jsp?docId=2317870&rubId=4078# ].
Dr. Muhammad ‘Imārah expressed his reservation about holding any dialogue with the Vatican, adding that no dialogue should be conducted before the pope and Cardinal Tauran apologize for their declarations.
Al-Usbūc reported the rejection of some Azhar scholars to any dialogue with the Vatican before the latter apologizes. These were Dr. Muhammad Ahmad al-Masīr, lecturer of doctrine and philosophy at the Azhar, and Dr. ‘Abd al-Sabīr Shāhīn, the Islamic thinker.
However, al-Liwā' al-Islāmī of February 28, 2008 published an interview with the Muslim scholar Dr. Muhammad Ra'fat ‘Uthmān, member of the Islamic Research Academy. Commenting on the matter, Dr. ‘Uthmān stated that the dialogue with the Vatican is meaningless because both Muslims and Christians will never accept changing their beliefs in their doctrine. However, he argued that dialogue in morals and humanities will be always possible.
Dr. ‘Uthmān added that the idea of dialogue is meaningless under the consistent offenses of the Vatican against Islam. He referred to Pope Benedict XVI's controversial statement about the Prophet Muhammad and Islam and his latest document on the necessity of channelization that Muslimss understand as working to convert Muslims to Christianity and thus demolishing Islam.
He added that if Muslims were united, the Vatican pope would never dare to offend their religion. He suggested that an Islamic satellite channel be established to broadcast in all living languages to show these “spiteful” the tolerance of Islam.

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