Cairo (AsiaNews) - The Muslim world "has
yet to learn mutual respect and to listen to others because violence and
aggressiveness are not even useful roads even if one wants to proselytise. I learnt
from Christians that we can be
together, faithful of different religions or traditions, without condemning or damning
each other to hell," this according to Idris
Tawfiq, a professor at the prestigious Islamic university of Al Azhar, who attended
the assembly of the World Council of Churches, which took place recently in
South Korea. Here is his full testimonial.
World Council of Churches (WCC) was founded after the Second World War as a
forum for Christians to try and bring the different branches of Christianity
closer together after centuries of division.
Since that time
Anglicans, Lutherans, Orthodox and Evangelical Christians, all with their
different histories, traditions and beliefs, have all worked for the day when
there will just be one Christian Church. Since then, every seven years the WCC
has held a global Congress where participants of the member Churches come
together to discuss the faith they have in common.
So it was that
in November 2013 around four thousand Christians from all across the globe
gathered in Busan, South Korea, for the 10th. such Assembly of the World
Council of Churches.
The choice of
venue was itself significant since Korea has been physically divided in two for
the last sixty years. Under the Assembly theme of "God of Life Lead Us to
Justice and Peace", the participants prayed together, talked together and even
argued vigorously together for ten days of meetings and workshops.
Many of the
World's religious leaders attended. The Archbishop of Canterbury, for example,
the spiritual leader of the world's eighty million Anglicans, brought a message
of greeting and urged the delegates to work passionately for greater unity for
the sake of the world.
In all this,
then, I was present at the gathering as the Muslim guest of the General
Secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Rev. Dr Olav Fykse-Tveit, a
Lutheran Pastor from Norway. We had first met in Edinburgh, Scotland, and had
spoken from the same platform about our respective faiths. Since then I had
also visited the headquarters of the WCC to discuss with him the issue of
Muslims and Christians in the Middle East.
So what was I
It took a little
persuasion on facebook to convince some of my friends that I hadn't "gone over
to the other side." In fact, far from it. I was there as a Muslim. I was there
to listen and to learn, but more importantly to witness quietly to Islam.
Speaking on the same platform as the Archbishop of Canterbury, for example, I
was able to tell one workshop group that although they believed Jesus to have
died on the Cross, the Quran tells me that he didn't and although they believe Jesus
is the Son of God the Quran tells me that he isn't.
beliefs, though, is no reason for us to fight one another. People believe
different things and in a world torn apart by religious violence it is
desperately important that people of faith can get on well together and work
together for the poor in their midst. Respecting your neighbor's right to
believe something different to you in no way compromises your own belief.
people of faith, we should never be afraid of goodness, wherever it comes from,
and in Busan I met many good people. They remained good people, even though as
a Muslim I believed that their own beliefs were mistaken and their
understanding of God was wrong.
Christians, just like not all Muslims, believe in dialogue between faiths and
the Assembly was not without controversy as there were some local Christians
protesting outside the Assembly venue with placards and posters, claiming that
the WCC has strayed from what they believe to be the teaching of Christ by
talking to people of other religions and promoting modern interpretations of
scripture. This group, though, was a tiny distraction.
week, I did hear talk of Christians being persecuted in the Middle East. These
words were painful to me since I live in Egypt and know that this is not true.
At every opportunity I tried to make clear that whilst some people are
suffering terrible things in the Middle East, Islam is not the reason for this
since Allah Almighty allows people to believe whatever they want and Muslims
are commanded to protect the Christians in their midst.
I found that
whilst some were intent on spreading this message of persecution, many people
were open to listen and to hear all sides of the story.
what did I learn in South Korea?
worthwhile traveling halfway across the globe to listen for ten days to
Christians debating with one another? I would say that it was worthwhile,
although ten days is a long time and it was heavy going. Halfway through I was
First of all, I
was very humbled to have been invited in the first place and I was impressed by
the way the Assembly was organized. For months beforehand, the organizers were
sending me emails with information about what was to come. The logistics of holding
such a large gathering over such a long period were enormous, but it was all
done very efficiently and well and I was made to feel very welcome and that my
contribution was valued.
Secondly, I was
deeply impressed by the way the participants were concerned about justice. As a
Muslim, there were areas of injustice in the world which I thought were not
addressed by the Assembly, but there was nonetheless a real thirst for
improving people's lives across the globe, either because of poverty,
exploitation or disease. I reflected that at Muslim gatherings we are not
always seen to be concerned about the poor. There was also a very impressive
concern for the earth itself and the way we treat the earth. Again, I wondered
if as Muslims this is not always one of the themes closest to our hearts, even
though we clearly believe that Allah created the earth and everything in it. I
was certainly impressed by the respect the delegates showed to one another.
This is clearly an area where we, as Muslims, can learn.
Many of the
traditions represented at the Assembly were so different from one another that
they almost seemed like different religions, yet people were prepared to listen
to other opinions and ideas with respect. I do wish that as Muslims we could
listen to other Muslims with the same respect, without condemning them or
damning them to hell. So even though as Christians and a Muslim at this
Assembly we started from very different backgrounds, there was much to learn.
Ambassador for Islam
Christian delegates learned a little from me as I talked to them about Prayer
in Islam and Freedom in Islam. The delegates prayed together each morning and
then spent time in Bible Study. Of course, I didn't attend either of these
daily events. Instead, when it came time for Salah I would find a quiet corner
and pray. Whilst not making a big song and dance about this, I could
nonetheless be seen praying as a Muslim.
There are some
who would witness to Islam differently, and I respect their opinions. For me,
being in South Korea was about being an Ambassador for Islam - and Ambassadors
don't shout, but do their job in a very quiet way.
As I was getting
on the plane to fly back to Egypt, one woman minister who had been at the
Assembly came up and spoke to me. "Thank you," she said, "for being yourself. I
enjoyed your contributions this week more than anything else." None of us will
ever know the effect our efforts have in telling others about Islam.
will accept Islam and become Muslim. Countless more, though, will come to see
Islam in a different light to the one portrayed on TV and in the newspapers by
our good manners and the respect with which we listen to others. It is possible
to tell others that what they believe is wrong, but we don't have to do that by
shouting or by aggressive language.
In the process
we, too, might learn something. Our world would be a lot better if only we
could listen to one another.