This address was delivered at the opening of the International Symposium on Inter-religious Dialogue organized by the Higher Council of Imams, Mosques and Islamic Affairs of Côte d’Ivoire (COSIM) and the Mohammed VI Foundation of African Oulema under the theme “The Eternal Message of Religions” on February 23, 24 and 25, 2022 in Abidjan
In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
May Peace and blessings be upon Prophet Mohammed and all Messengers
السلام عليكم ورحمة الله وبركاته
I should like, first, to convey to you the regards and greetings of His Excellency the Secretary-General of the Higher Oulema Council, as well as his wishes for success to this blessed meeting. His Excellency sends his thanks and appreciation to the organizers of this Symposium and commends the efforts made by the Mohammed VI Foundation of African Oulema, by His Excellency the Secretary-General of the Foundation and its staff and partners. The major work and lofty efforts made to serve the interests of Oulema in African countries in discharging their religious mission and promoting coexistence between Muslims and believers in other religions and faiths are commendable. Our thanks also go the Higher Council of Imams, Mosques, and Islamic Affairs in our sister nation, Côte d’Ivoire, which is hosting this symposium. We also send greetings and express our appreciation to all of the Foundation’s sections in the participating African countries.
The topic of this symposuim is interfaith dialogue and the connection with peace and security between nations and peoples. This question lies at the heart of people’s demands and global endeavors. Religions can be of great service in this regard, given the ideals and values they embody and stand for. Some of the great religious philosophers even made interfaith dialogue a condition for peace among civilizations considering that the origin of major civilizations is none other than religions. Moreover, these religions symbolize innate human values and principles, which are common to all people. They are also consistent with man’s honoring and mission, which is to serve as the Creator’s vicegerent on earth. Man is the bearer of a Trust from the Almighty: “but man undertook it (meaning the Trust)” (surat Al-Ahzab, verse 72); man is the means whereby God’s Words are carried in all religions; he uses them to populate the land and build civilization. That is the message of all prophets: they call for peace, security, brotherhood, love, loyalty, cooperation and guidance towards lofty morals. These are the eternal meanings sent down by the Almighty unto humanity, generation upon generation, phase after phase. Nothing replaces them when it comes to consolidation of the faith and the love that inhabits the hearts, or elevating human behavior to achieve virtuous deeds.
Islam, even if it discusses different beliefs, states that every prophet has his own law and method or way, warranted by different times and places; the Almighty says: “To each among you have we prescribed a law and an open way” (surat Al-Ma’idah, verse 50). Moreover, it establishes universal principles of jurisprudence (usul), which are common to all the Messengers and Messages. In this regard, the Almighty says: “The same religion has He established for you as that which He enjoined on Noah – which We have sent by inspiration to thee – and that which We enjoined on Abraham, Moses, and Jesus: Namely, that you should remain steadfast in religion, and make no divisions therein” (surat Al-Shura, verse 11). These are universal usul that are common to all the Messages. They concern faith, judgments (ahkaam), and values. Suffice it to refer, in this regard, to some of the Ten Commandments prescribed in all of the holy books, which call for preserving human life, righteousness and charity, dignity, safeguarding the neighbor’s rights, and so on. In addition to that, Islam lays out a number of approaches for the promotion and consolidation of these common principles. We shall briefly mention three of them.
Firstly, stipulating the principle of dialogue with wisdom and beautiful preaching in order to bring viewpoints closer to one another, in addition to specifying forms of cooperation and accommodating differences as much as possible: Almighty Allah says: “Say: ‘O People of the Book! Come to common terms as between us and you: That we worship none but Allah. That we associate no partners with him’ ” (surat Al Imran, verse 64). Almighty Allah also says: “And dispute you not with the People of the Book, except with means better (than mere disputation), unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury): but say, ‘We believe in the revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; Our Allah and your Allah is one; and it is to Him (that) we bow (in Islam)” (surat Al-Ankabut, verse 46).
Secondly, stipulating the principle for nations and peoples, to get to know one another, in keeping with what the Almighty says: “(We) made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (not that you may despise (each other)” (surat Al-Hujurat, verse 13). One of the key features of this injunction is that it contributes to the exchange of good deeds, of science and of knowledge; it also implies a recognition by nations and peoples of each one’s right to exist.
Thirdly, establishing the principle of positive checking, which preserves the physical and spiritual existence of all people; Almighty Allah first says: “And had Allah not checked one set of people by means of another, the earth would indeed be full of mischief” (surat Al-Baqarah, verse 251). Thus, the land is spared mischief, which means good comes to it. In another surat, God Almighty says: “Had not Allah checked one set of people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques, in which the name of Allah is commemorated in abundant measure” (surat Al-Hajj, verse 40); thus positive checking preserves the places of worship of all faiths from corruption or ruin.
We all remember the historic visit His Holiness Pope Francis paid to the Kingdom of Morocco in late March 2019, at the gracious invitation of the Commander of the Faithful, His Majesty King Mohammed VI, may God be with him. That visit strengthened Morocco’s position in terms of advocating interfaith dialogue, as reflected by that event, which brought together two symbols and two global religious leaders. One of the visit’s most prominent results was the publication of a message of peace, security and faith to humanity, given that spiritual values and the meanings of life have shrunk. It rehabilitated the ideals of getting to know one another as well as the values of tolerance, which help to ward off the scourge of fanaticism and extremism. In the address he made on the occasion, the Commander of the Faithful – may God protect him – said, and I quote: “The three Abrahamic religions were not created to be tolerant of one another out of some unavoidable fate, or out of courtesy to one another. The reason they exist is to open up to one another and to know one another, so as to do one another good. Radicalism – whether it is motivated by religion or not – is due to failure to know one another” (end of quote from His Majesty’s speech).
Remembering these common religious meanings in today’s world would help tackle differences and diversity in a rational manner, especially as God Almighty has made diversity one of the norms of the universe. Today, our African continent is in dire need of such a dialogue and such meetings, which are based on interaction between various religious figures, particularly between Muslim and Christian leaders. In this regard, we should build on the many elements that are common to all faiths and benefit from the advantages that stem from them in life. This would also help ward off the scourge of dominance and fierce material competition, into which globalization has plunged mankind today. This phenomenon has harmed the values of society, the family, health, the environment… and other matters that are vital to people’s livelihoods and interests. At the same time, these principles, which all religions have in common, help ward off the scourges of radicalism, extremism, discrimination, fanaticism, conflict, and strife, whatever their origin or motivation. That is because religions make the ideals of humanism and brotherhood, which are based on compassion tolerance, moderation, forgiveness, and cooperation in performing good deeds basic determinants within the fabric of individual and collective relationships and bonds.
One of the goals of this symposium is to highlight the contribution of the monotheistic religions to consolidating the value of peace, to which humankind is aspiring today. This is a central element in Islam, which makes seeking peace and committing to it the core original goal, and everything else is an exception, in keeping with the words of the Almighty: “O you who believe! Enter into Islam whole-heartedly; and follow not the footsteps of the evil one; for he is to you an avowed enemy” (surat Al-Baqarah, verse 208). God Almighty also says: “But if the enemy incline towards peace, do thou (also) incline towards peace, and trust in Allah, for He is One that hears and knows (all things)” (surat Al-Anfaal, verse 61). He also says about Islam “wherewith Allah guides all who seek His good pleasure to ways of peace and safety” (surat Al-Maa’ida, verse 16); as for the believers, the Almighty says: “For them will be a home of peace in the presence of their Lord” (surat Al-An’aam, verse 127), and “And ‘Peace’ will be their greeting therein!” (surat Yunus, verse 10). Above all, ‘salam’ (meaning ‘peace’) is one of Allah’s most beautiful Names, whereby He is worshiped when they are mentioned.
All of the above calls for making relentless efforts – in terms of research and academic work – to ensure dialogue under the aegis of the Mohammed VI Foundation of African Oulema, with the contribution of the Foundation’s various sections. The fruits of those efforts would be reaped by the continent and the sister nations composing it, in the form of peace, security and serenity, by the Grace of the Almighty.
May Allah guide our steps to that which pleases Him and make this symposium a success.
والسلام عليكم ورحمة الله تعالى وبركاته