Sāmih Mahrūs interviews Dr. ‘Alī al-Sammān, the head of the Interfaith Committee of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs and one of the most prominent thinkers interested in inter-religious dialogue.
Q: President Mubārak has given directions to the Minister of Education to review the curricula of religion and civics to spread the culture of tolerance. What can be achieved by this step?
A: This step is highly important. I further call upon youth organizations to organize camps for Muslim and Christian youth to live together in one place for a week or more and hence the idea of coexistence becomes a reality which they practice. In addition, legislative institutions should work to toughen the punishment of inciters of fitnah.
Q: Many view that the Muslim-Christian dialogue has failed to find ground for common understanding in Egypt.
A: Honestly I cannot say that it has failed. But I view that it has not been sufficient for many reasons, the most important of which is that the dialogue has been conducted among the elite which has failed to carry it to the masses. The issue of inter-religious dialogue should receive great support from state institutions and civil organizations.
Q: But it is noticed that all the dialogue you participate in are held on an international level between Muslim and Christian organizations. This is not traced in Egypt.
A: We had the Permanent Committee for Interfaith Dialogue at the Azhar which combined the Azhar and the Vatican. It was a promising experience. However, the Azhar refused to allocate it funds from its general budget. There was another agreement with the Church of England in 2001, but it did not receive any support. Now we hope that the General Union of NGOs adopts the issue of interfaith dialogue as part of civil society activity.