The second meeting of a delegation of the Muslim Council of Elders led by the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, His Eminence Professor Dr Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, and a delegation of the World Council of Churches (WCC) led by Dr Agnes Abuom, Moderator of the Central Committee of the WCC and Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary, took place at Al Azhar, Cairo, Egypt, 26 April. Dr Al-Tayyeb opened the gathering by welcoming the World Council of Churches to this important meeting which was taking place at a critical time in the history of the Middle East and the world.
The WCC general secretary offered public remarks, along with Bishop Angaelos, general bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, and Prof. Dr Heidi Hadsell, president of Hartford Seminary, Connecticut, United States.
Tveit reflected that, together, Christians and Muslims represent about half the world’s population. “So as we are here, we are not talking about only ourselves,” he said. “We are talking about humanity in many ways. We should address these questions from a basic theological perspective. What does it mean to believe today in one God that created the one humanity?”
He also emphasized that, because we are accountable to God, we have to see how that leads to an accountability to every human being. “This is our mutual accountability to one another, to every human being, whatever belief or non-belief we have,” he said. “I think this is a very important reflection, working jointly toward equal citizenship. It is not only a political or a legal principle; it is also a principle that expresses our deepest faith in one God creating the one humanity.”
Prof. Al Tayyeb said “Citizenship and peaceful co-existence are the greatest challenges that have to be focused on and built upon to counter fanaticism, terrorism and baseless theological claims and conceptualizations. He added "Citizenship is the major guarantee for achieving absolute equality in rights and duties.”
Al-Tayyeb was chosen as Grand Imam of the Al Azhar mosque in Cairo 2010 and is an outspoken advocate for religious dialogue and peace as well as a strong critic of religious extremism.
Bishop Angaelos noted the difference between reactive and proactive leadership. “We ourselves are being very reactive,” he said, “and reactive leadership is good in times of crisis. It is good to solve problems: we have a crisis, we have an attack, we try to solve it. But what we need is a proactive leadership - a leadership that looks beyond the problem and tries to address the future.”
Bishop Angaelos asked: “Where would we like to be in five years, 10 years, the next generation? Let us address the whole world together instead of just speaking to ourselves.”
Prof. Hadsell discussed ways leaders can promote citizenship and co-existence from a Christian perspective.
“God’s vision of what should be in our human social world has been described and understood in many ways,” she said.
“The moral nature of the vision includes a shared sense of the dignity of every being; just relations within communities and between communities and peoples; the recognition of the intrinsic worth of every human being so that all human beings are viewed as ends in themselves, created by God, and not as means to an end.”
The capacity to cross borders and boundaries, including especially the boundaries of religious communities, has been one of the most important attributes of leadership in the histories of our communities and remains so today, she continued.
“For without the capacity to see commonalities in the other, and to cross boundaries to build relationships with the other, one cannot construct peaceful interactions and co-existence between peoples of different communities.”
Representatives of each of the WCC member churches in Egypt also attended the day of dialouge, which precedes an International Conference on Peace organised by Al Azhar. Participants also visited the Coptic Cathedral and the Anglican Church in the heart of Old Cairo. Pope Francis is expected to address the conference on 28 April.
Watch video streaming from the meeting
Read the full speech by Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit (also available in Arabic)
Address by Dr Heidi Hadsell, president of Hartford Seminary, Connecticut, United States (also available in Arabic)
WCC welcomes Grand Imam of Al-Azhar (WCC press release, October 2016)