Members of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Commission on Youth (ECHOS), visited Al Azhar Mosque and University on 12 May for a meeting with the grand sheikh and the Egyptian minister of Religious Affairs.
The purpose of the meeting was to strengthen commission members’ understanding of inter-religious dialogue, with a particular focus on its relevance for the challenges facing youth today.
In meeting with the Egyptian minister of Religious Affairs, ECHOS chairperson Martina Viktorie Kopecká, from the Czechoslovak Hussite Church, inquired about what the minister sees as the role of youth in inter-religious dialogue today.
“Young people are half of the present, and all of the future. Therefore, we must give space for young people to build their own vision,” the minister said. He stressed the importance of raising awareness that Islam, like Christianity, is a religion of peace. ”And wherever there is an active youth in inter-religious dialogue, we strengthen peace,” he added.
With the Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, ECHOS commissioners reflected on issues of inter-religious marriage, the increase in atheism among youth, and the possibility of future cooperation between ECHOS and Al Azhar.
“I see you as ambassadors of heaven. We recognize Christianity and Judaism, like Islam, as religions of the Book, and therefore accept these as forming one community,” the sheikh said. “Al Azhar is ready and willing to cooperate with ECHOS in any way you wish, so we can spread our faith to people in the East and in the West.”
The ECHOS visit to Al Azhar was part of a four-day meeting in Cairo, during which the commission worked on strategies for their future work, as well as discussing the role of young people in the church and in society, youth contributions to issues of justice and peace, and youth responses to current challenges in the areas of religion and violence, discrimination, gender-based violence, and youth unemployment.
The ECHOS meeting also involved visits of Christian representatives and institutions in the Cairo area, such as Bishop Moussa of the Coptic Orthodox Bishopric of Youth Affairs, and the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate; and Bishop Yohannes, president of the Bishopric of Social and Ecumenical Services.
WCC ECHOS Commission begins pilgrimage in Cairo, Egypt (WCC press release of 12 May 2015)