“I have an absolute confidence in your youthful and great enthusiasm and your heightened state of awareness that you will be ambassadors of peace, mercy and cooperation among all peoples.” This message, from Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Dr Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, visibly uplifted and inspired young people attending a seminar, “Youth Engagement, Religion and Violence,” in Cairo this week.
About 40 young people from Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East met with Al-Tayyeb and other religious leaders to discuss the impact of religious discourse on contributions to peace-building.
Al-Tayyeb added: “The divine religions, sealed by Islam, affirm that man is honored and respected. They prohibit shedding the blood of, assaulting or terrorizing the innocent.”
He had a clear vision to share with today’s young people: “Your first cause should be how to create a new world where there is no place for blood-shedding, poverty, illness or ignorance.”
Participants also visited the Arab League, meeting with deputy secretary-general Ahmed Bin Heli, who said: "Religion holds a divine message of peace on earth. Christian and Muslim religious texts hold imperatives of dialogue, conviviality, and mutual understanding. Our values are one. Today we are facing critical challenges incarnated in terrorism and fanaticism, in values of exclusion. Those values are against our teachings, not only against the teachings of religion but also against the teachings of humanity.”
Bin Heli proposed a collaboration between the World Council of Churches (WCC), Al-Azhar University and the Arab League to help face the challenge of extremism. He explained how programmes of education as well as economic empowerment for young people and women, and special projects for children, are important for sustainable peace, in addition to political and religious approaches.
Pope Tawadros II also met with young people in Cairo, sharing his key messages about the impact of religious discourse on Christian-Muslim dialogue and on fanaticism. After pointing out that most Egyptian people are brought up on moderate teachings, he also said that not everyone has the right to interpret religious texts. He highlighted the important role of young people in peace building.
The seminar also offered sessions about building citizenship from social, political, economic and educational perspectives in order to have integrative and inclusive societies and prevent violence. Investing in building citizenship was considered as a measure to prevent young people from being preyed upon by extremist groups and falling into fanaticism.
Another important session covered religious discourse. Participants discussed the role of Al-Azhar University in forming imams and investing in continuing formation. Religious discourse has a great impact on the society especially in communities in which people are under social or economic hardship, living under threat of discrimination, or after a terrorist attack when people are particularly sensitive to religious discourses.
A session also focused on social justice and the importance of linking it to just and sustainable peace. Young people asked themselves which social conditions create an atmosphere that lead to engagement in extremist groups or extremist discourse.
Seminar will address youth engagement, religion and violence (WCC press release of 19 August 2016)