03/06/2017, 14.07
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Speaking about the al-Azhar conference, Bechara al-Rahi calls for the disappearance of the word 'minority'

by Fady Noun

The patriarch is satisfied after returning from Egypt. Participants "spoke the same language", he said, in "a world that needs to breathe, a world that needs freedom, diversity and complementarity." For Antoine Courban, the "Al-Azhar conference will be a milestone in the reform of Muslim thought.” The salvation of the Arab world comes from the unity between Christians and Muslims.

Cairo (AsiaNews) – Maronite Patriarch Card Bechara al-Rahi returned from Egypt, where he addressed the conference organised by Al-Azhar on "Freedom and citizenship: Diversity and complementarity (28 February-1 March) stressing the point that "The term minority must disappear from our dictionaries".

Like the 260 or so religious, academic, and political leaders from 60 Arab and Muslim countries who attended the event, the head of the Maronite Church emphasised the exceptional importance of the Al-Azhar conference for both for Islamic-Christian relations and intra-Muslim relations.

On his return to Lebanon on Friday, the patriarch expressed his appreciation for debates that are "off the beaten path" that addressed "with courage" topics that, he said, "may be familiar in Lebanon, but have never been laid out so openly before."

The conference allowed 260 speakers to "speak the same language", said the patriarch, "that of a world that needs to breathe, a world that needs freedom, diversity and complementarity."

The patriarch noted that he discussed all these themes with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Coptic Pope Tawadros II. "The word minority must disappear from our vocabulary and be replaced by that of citizenship," insisted the patriarch.

"I felt during my meeting with President al-Sisi that he was deeply aware that the very salvation of the Arab world and that of the Arab culture we built together, Muslims and Christians, comes at this price,” he added. “He also insists that it is through our internal solidarity that we can stand up against fanaticism, violence and crimes committed in the name of religion. The same goes for Pope Tawadros II. We also felt at home, and this is a motive of pride and joy, a great love for Lebanon."

All the speakers who came back from Cairo share this feeling. For Antoine Courban, a professor at the Université Saint Joseph, the Al-Azhar conference will be a milestone in the reform of Muslim thought.

The academic, who was associated with the final phase of the conference, noted in particular that the Great Imam Ahmed al-Tayeb himself read the final declaration despite the reservations of some of his deputies who were hesitant to give it this solemnity and advised him to have it read by someone else.

It is not a simple opinion that the Imam of Al-Azhar expressed, but "a solemn religious commitment" that he took, insisted Prof Courban. The conference at Al-Azhar, he added, should mark "the primacy of a Mediterranean Islam over the Islam of the Arabian Peninsula."

Vocabulary without complacency

"An extraordinary event, with a new vocabulary and without complacency - without hostility either," is how Antoine Messarra, a scholar who is a member of the Lebanese Constitutional Council, describes the Al-Azhar conference.

"What is new is that the terms of minority and Islamic state disappear. The State is the State," Prof Messarra added, welcoming the fact that" legal pluralism is perfectly compatible with the Arab constitutional heritage, as expressed in particular by the constitution of Madinah, which is a founding document."

The scholar also welcomed the "exemplary" Lebanese presence in Cairo. "Our example is expected," he said, "and is requested. The Lebanese truly worked as a single group, reflecting the reality of the Lebanese model, quite contrary to the dominant media discourse, which highlights the monstrosities of the Islamic State group and fuels the idea of ​​its invading presence. In Cairo, the prospects were reversed, and it was the moderate Islam that came out most clearly, whilst radical Islam took on its true pathological dimension.”

Let us remember here the first point of the declaration of Al-Azhar:

"The notion of citizenship is firmly rooted in Islam. Its first manifestation is in the constitution of Madinah and the pacts and documents of the Prophet that followed, which regulate the relations between Muslims and non-Muslims [. . .]. This practice did not entail any discrimination or exclusion against any group in society at the time, but provided for the exercise of policies based on the plurality of religions, races and social strata, a plurality operating within the framework of a fully egalitarian citizenship as set out in the constitution of Madinah [. . .] which stipulated that non-Muslims and Muslims share the same rights and duties."

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