‘Ali al-Samman

Role box
- Former vice Head of the Permanent Committee of the Azhar for the Dialogue with the Monotheistic Religions (since 2002).
- Advisor to the Grand Imām of the Azhar for Inter-Faith Dialogue until 2003.
- President of the Paris-based International Union for Jewish-Muslim-Christian Dialogue and Peace Education, (1989-today).
- Chairman of the Dialogue Committee of the Higher Islamic Council (2005-today).
 
Education, Career and Personal Background
 
Dr. c.Alī al-Sammān was born in 1929. He is an Egyptian professor who has lived in France and received his Ph.D. in 1958 from the University of Grenoble in France. He studied law and justice and has been involved in several political and religious dialogue activities.

Dr. al-Sammān has occupied numerous prominent intercultural dialogue positions such as; vice head of the Permanent Committee of the Azhar for the Dialogue with the Monotheistic Religions, and adviser to the Grand Imām of the Azhar for Inter-Faith Dialogue. He has also been the head of the Paris-based International Union for Jewish- Muslim-Christian Dialogue and Peace Education since 1989.

 
Memberships
  • Vice head of the Permanent Committee of the Azhar for the Dialogue with the Monotheistic Religions.
  • President of the Paris-based International Union for Jewish-Muslim-Christian Dialogue and Peace Education since 1989.
 
Political/Religious Involvement
Dr. al-Sammān has had long standing relations with prominent Jewish leaders in Europe and was asked by President Sādāt to prepare European Jewish leaders for the impending visit of President Sādāt to Israel on November 19, 1977, thus making sure that Jewish leaders in Europe supported the initiative. Al-Sammān has long been in favor of engaging in dialogue with Jews who are not Zionists and who support peace. (1).

Dr. c.Alī al-Sammān’s study of law, at the beginning of his academic life, made him very interested in cUmar Ibn al-Khattāb and his inclination toward justice. This interest had an impact on the rest of his life and his positions afterwards. (2)

At college, he was involved in forming ‘cUrābī camps’ for training fighters; some of those who were trained were sent to the Suez Canal to fight the British troops. The camp was a meeting place for people from all walks of life, giving al-Sammān a chance to engage with people from a wide variety of backgrounds.

Dr. al-Sammān supported the 1952 revolution although he was against prosecuting many of the pre-revolution political figures such as Fu’ād Sirāg al-Dīn. During the Egyptian crisis of 1954, he used to attend conferences held by Egyptians in the city of Lyon, in France. He expressed his opinion that the social and economic reforms that the Egyptian youth demanded were not possible unless revolutionary methods were followed. Those methods, that included restricting political parties, freedoms and elections, were widely opposed by political activists at the time. (3) Dr. al-Sammān viewed this stage of Egypt's history as a necessary transitional phase to achieve socio-economic goals, and after that parties would be allowed and democracy would take hold. (4)

Throughout his time in France, Dr. al-Sammān was actively involved in forming a federation for Arab students living in Paris. These activities caused him to have some problems with the security authorities.

The scope of his relationships in Paris increased and he started to make friends with people who worked in different French magazines. (5) Furthermore, he had the chance to get close to many political, intellectual and religious figures from the Arab world and the West. His acquaintances included; Jean Paul Sartre, President Jamāl cAbd al-Nāsir, President Anwar al-Sādāt, al-Khūminī, Pope Shenouda, the Egyptian Muftī Alī Jād al-Haqq, and Muhammad al-Shacrāwī.

The Azhar’s Role in the Age of Globalization(6) Dr. al-Sammān believes in universalism and not globalization. He expressed this view at the Davos Conference which the Azhar was invited to attend in 2001. He believes that there are many people who oppose globalization and suffer from its defects, and this should be taken into consideration before speaking about any of globalization's great achievements. In similar conferences, he has expressed his support for ideas such as; rejecting generalizations and stereotypes, and self-criticism.

His Opinion on Modern Egyptian Leaders Dr. al-Sammān believes that President Nāsir was a great figure because he led the 1952 revolution and was able to achieve social justice for Egyptians. However, he believes that President Nāsir allowed some measures that were unjust, resulting in certain groups of people being treated with unjustified brutality. (7) Still, al-Sammān praises Nāsir’s achievements which included: nationalizing the Suez Canal, defending Arab nationalism, and carrying the dream of independence of Third World countries.

Dr. al-Sammān believes that President Sādāt made Egypt move towards institutionalism and constitutional legitimacy. He praises his decision to go to war with Israel in 1973, and his willingness to negotiate with the Israelis in order to achieve the strategic goal of liberating all of Egypt's territory. (8)

He also believes that King Fārūq managed to survive major challenges from both sides: the British and the popular Egyptian opposition.

He asserts that when people judge leaders they should take into consideration all of the important issues at the time, and try to look at the issue from a compassionate perspective.

 

Involvement in Arab-West/ Inter-Cultural and Inter-Faith Relations

Dr. al-Sammān has participated in a large number of seminars and dialogues, and his activities stem from his belief in the importance of dialogues and meetings dealing with Islam and the West as well as the debates between adherents of religions. Moreover, he has stated that dialogue is fundamental to winning the support of the foreign public opinion. Dr. al-Sammān believes dialogue should not deal with the basic tenets of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths because believers would never agree, but with the practice of living together in harmony.

He mediated between the Azhar and the Vatican to bring them closer together, which resulted in the formation of the Permanent Committee of the Azhar for Dialogue with the Monotheistic Religions in 2002. This Committee has played an important role in enhancing Muslim-Christian dialogue.

In 2003 the Azhar decided to cancel an inter-faith meeting with the Anglican Church because Anglicans invited John Robinson, a homosexual bishop. The situation in Egypt became more difficult after this was publicly declared and Pope Shenouda III condemned the admission of Bishop John Robinson to the Episcopal Diocese of New York. Dr. cAlī al-Sammān said, “The reason for our absence is that the media in our area, the Middle East, launched a campaign against the admission of the American Bishop John Robinson, because he is a homosexual.” “After different consultations in Cairo by the Egyptian leadership, the advice was given to cancel the visit.” (9)

There were two meetings held by the Pope Shenouda III and two statements were produced from these meetings denouncing the decision to appoint a homosexual bishop. After a meeting between Shaykh Fawzī al-Zifzāf and Dr. Ali El Sammān, they decided to resume the dialogue with the Anglican Communion but in another venue. Dr. George Carey praised him for his efforts to reach an agreement between the Azhar and the Anglican Communion after the disagreement between the two. (10)

Dr. al-Sammān believes that dialogue between the Muslim world and the West is healthy and mutually beneficial for both sides, and that it is important to try to decrease the gap in cultural understanding between the West and the Muslim world. He also stresses the need to establish a universal human society; one which respects the freedom of all human beings and their beliefs. Additionally, he believes that terrorism is unacceptable and that no true Muslim should be involved in terrorism. He has also stressed the importance of inter-religious dialogue on a basis which clarifies the concepts of Islam, as well as working to establish the universal values of dialogue between the East and the West.

Furthermore, he has discussed the negative elements that hinder dialogue. He believes that if the Azhar’s Permanent Committee for Dialogue with Monotheistic Religions managed to revise textbooks in the West, future generations would not read incorrect statements about Islam. (11) An example of this is his statement that “the West distorted the history of the Crusades to prove that it was Muslims who attacked them” and not the opposite. (12) He has urged Muslims to start looking for a long-term project to withstand attacks on them and their religion.

Relation to Arab-West Report:
In 1999 Dr. cAlī al-Sammān was one of the first Egyptians to financially support the Religious News Service from the Arab World that later was renamed Arab-West Report. In 2006, Dr. cAlī al-Sammān became one of the founding members of the Center for Arab-West Understanding, an NGO that is under construction.

 

Additional Information on Other Issues
(1) http://www.islamonline.net/iol-arabic/dowalia/alhadath2000-oug-15/alhadath7.asp
[Personal Statement Drs. Cornelis Hulsman] (2) cAlī al-Sammān, “’Awrāq cUmrī” (Days of my life), (Cairo: al-Maktab al-Masrī al-Hadīth, 2005), p. 27.
(3) Ibid, p. 44-45.
(4) Ibid, p. 45.
(5) Ibid, p. 69.
(6) Ibid, p. 412.
(7) Ibid, p. 441.
(8) Ibid, p. 442.
(9) [AWR, 2003, 36, art. 35].
(10) Ibid.
(11) [RNSAW, 2001, 10, art. 21].
(12) Ibid.
 
References
 

Position towards dialogue

Open to dialogue and actively involved.

 

Index

 
- Egyptian professor of law.
- He is involved in many dialogue activities.
- Head of the Permanent Committee of the Azhar for Dialogue with the Monotheistic Religions.
- Dialogue between the Muslim world and the West.
- He discussed points that hinder dialogue.