Arriving in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, February 3, 2019, the Supreme Pontiff was welcomed by the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed al-Nahyan (MBZ), who governs the United Arab Emirates since the stroke of his half-brother the Emir in 2014 On Francis’s programme: a mass for the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos and Christian Indians living in the Emirates. But also a large interfaith conference and a meeting with Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the great imam of the Cairo mosque of al-Azhar , the most prominent institution of the teaching of Sunni Islam.
In a video message published on January 31, the head of the Catholic Church said: “Faith in God unites us rather than divides us; it brings us closer, despite the differences [between religions]; it removes from us hatred and conflict.” The Pope had also paid tribute to the UAE, “a land that strives to become a model of coexistence, human brotherhood, and a meeting place between different civilizations and cultures.”
In first place in the ideological fight against the Muslim Brotherhood (Islamist movement born in Egypt in 1928 in reaction to the “corruption” of Western customs, the Emirates claim to want freedom of religion on their territory. Why not take them at their word? The Argentine Jesuit Bergoglio and the Bedouin Prince al-Nahyan seem to share the same intuition: peace is the daughter of tolerance, which is the daughter of knowledge. To speak with one another of one’s religion in order to know it better is the key to a peaceful Arab-Muslim world.
Interfaith dialogue has become a key instrument today to prevent the clash of civilizations (described 25 years ago by Huntington) from becoming a war of civilizations.
The Pope said something fundamental when he said that faith – in general – brought men closer rather than divideing them. In the term “faith”, the Holy Father encompasses five different but complementary concepts: the will and the effort to adhere to the divine mystery, prayer, inner introspection, study, dialectic with one’s neighbour. These qualities are found in the three monotheistic religions: among the great Rabbis of Judaism, among the fathers of the Church, and among the masters of Sufism. In short, the Pope reminded us that the man who cultivates a rich inner life does not easily get caught up in the hatred of the other.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, just after the magnificent momentum of Renaissance humanism, Christianity was drawn into abominable religious wars, in which Christians, whether Catholic or Protestant, behaved more like men. Doctrines only in men of faith.
Today, it is the Muslim world that has fallen prey to doctrinal intolerance. The great Tunisian philosopher Youssef Seddik once explained to me the difference between a good Muslim and a Muslim Brother: “The good Muslim is one who is constantly worried about the relationship he has with God. The Muslim Brother is the one who is constantly concerned about the relationship between his neighbours and God!” The Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists see religion as a regimentation, whereas it is primarily an inner quest.
By forcing Jesus to appear before him, the Sanhedrin of Jerusalem, jealous of the popular success of the Nazarene, did not honour Judaism. Its members did not act out of faith, but out of doctrinal intolerance. More intolerance, fifteen centuries later, among the Inquisitors pursuing the Marranos of Spain.
Since John XXIII, the Judeo-Christian relationship has fortunately gone from mistrust to mutual enrichment. It remains for Islam to build a peaceful relationship – excluding all servitude – with Judaism and Christianity. It is a movement that called for the great Sheikh of Al Azhar Mohamed Abdou in the late nineteenth century. The following century unfortunately saw two profound regressions in Islam: the movement of the Muslim Brotherhood, then the oil Wahhabism.
The Pope has understood: the Mediterranean world, the Middle East and Asia will not find a lasting peace as their education ministers have not instituted a reciprocal catechism, where young Jews, Christians and Muslims can be systematically introduced to the faith of the other. Because we do not hate what we know in depth.
This article was first published in Le Figaro