A historic moment took place in the United Arab Emirates on February 4, during Pope Francis’ visit. It wasn’t just the first time that a pontiff had set foot on the Arabian Peninsula; this interreligious meeting on “human fraternity” was a major step forward in the dialogue between Christianity and Islam.
Meeting amidst the sparkling skyscrapers and artificial beaches of Abu Dhabi, Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar didn’t seek to resolve any points of disagreement, but preferred to list, one by one, all the major principles they shared.
Better still, they simply urged the world to follow their example, and “to respond to evil with good,” as the very first pope of the world encouraged (cf 1 Peter 3:9).
This attitude was demonstrated by their entry into the open-air conference room situated at the foot of Founder’s Memorial – a monument dedicated to the founder of the United Arab Emirates, the charismatic Sheikh Zayid. They were seen hand in hand with Mohammed ben Rachid Al Maktoum, vice-president of the United Arab Emirates and Emir of Dubai.
What can the leader of Catholics and a leader of Muslims agree upon? Plenty
Side by side
Thus, the two religions did not meet face to face, but side by side, to build together a “path of peace and reconciliation” for all people of good will.
From this point of view, the pope’s speech to people of faith around the world speaks volumes: He invited the international community to embark, “as one family,” in an “ark of fraternity” able to sail “the stormy seas” of the world.
There is no other solution according to the pontiff: “We will either build the future together or there will not be a future.”
First and foremost he encouraged religions to sow the “seeds of peace.” Religious representatives therefore have a responsibility, a task that is urgent “perhaps as never before in the past”: “to contribute actively to demilitarizing the human heart.”
In wartime, he therefore encouraged the “sweet power” of prayer and the “daily commitment to dialogue.” This way of living together as brothers, he said, must be based on the “two wings” of education and justice if it is to “to take flight.”
Investing in culture has the benefit of “reducing hate” and favors the the growth of civilization, as “education and violence are inversely proportional.”
A founding document
After this address, the pope and the Grand Imam signed a document, inaugurating a new page in the relationship between their respective religions. This ambitious text is intended to be no more and no less than “a powerful sign of peace and hope for the future of humanity.”
Among the notable statements in this document is the unequivocal condemnation of all practices that “threaten life,” including terrorist acts, but also abortion, euthanasia and “the policies that support all of this.”
They also reaffirm the need to protect all places of worship, but also to reject the discriminatory use of the term “minorities.” This terminology, they believe, “paves the way” for hostilities and “undoes any successes and takes away the religious and civil rights of some citizens who are thus discriminated against.”
The document will be given to authorities, influential leaders, and civil organizations.
Pope Francis and the Grand Imam then signed two huge stones which will used to in the construction of a church and a mosque in the United Arab Emirates, to be built—like the people—side by side. To further highlight their innovative character, they will share a center for interreligious dialogue, an unprecedented arrangement.