In the United Arab Emirates, a federation of seven emirates situated in the Persian Gulf, the official religion is Islam and according to Aid to the Church in Need’s latest report on “Religious Freedom in the World”, the status of religious freedom in the Arabian Peninsula is stable and unchanged.
800 years after the encounter between St Francis and the Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil, the Pope who bears the name of the Saint of Assisi presents himself to the “Muslim brothers” as a “believer thirsting for peace”. Together with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, he signs a Declaration.
Pope Francis embarked on a historic and unprecedented visit to the United Arab Emirates from 3rd to 5th February 2019 and took part in a series of events which brought together hundreds of religious leaders and scholars and was dedicated to examining interfaith dialogue, religious freedom, combatting extremism, and promoting peace.
In a Peace Declaration on “Human Fraternity” signed by Pope Francis and Ahmed el-Tayeb on Monday 4th February 2019, in the United Arab Emirates, the two leaders issue a strong condemnation of terrorism and violence: “God does not want his name to be used to terrorize people”.
The document opens with a series of invocations: the Pope and the Grand Imam speak “in the name of God who has created all human beings equal in rights, duties and dignity”, “in the name of innocent human life that God has forbidden to kill”, “in the name of the poor”, “orphans, widows, refugees, exiles… and all victims of wars” and “persecution”.
Al-Azhar, together with the Catholic Church, “declare the adoption of a culture of dialogue as the path; mutual cooperation as the code of conduct; reciprocal understanding as the method and standard”.
The Bishop of Rome and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar declare that, in the East and the West, believers in different religions, who look upon one another as brothers and sisters, can help each other to seek to avoid the “world war fought piecemeal” from breaking out in all its destructive power.
In the document, “we… call upon ourselves, upon the leaders of the world as well as the architects of international policy and world economy, to work strenuously to spread the culture of tolerance and of living together in peace; to intervene at the earliest opportunity to stop the shedding of innocent blood and bring an end to wars, conflicts, environmental decay and the moral and cultural decline that the world is presently experiencing”.
The two religious leaders ask all people of religion and culture, as well as the media, to rediscover and spread “the values of peace, justice, goodness, beauty, human fraternity and coexistence”.
“We therefore condemn all those practices that are a threat to life such as genocide, acts of terrorism, forced displacement, human trafficking, abortion and euthanasia. We likewise condemn the policies that promote these practices.”, the declaration said.
They also “resolutely declare that religions must never incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility and extremism, nor must they incite violence or the shedding of blood. These tragic realities are the consequence of a deviation from religious teachings. They result from a political manipulation of religions and from interpretations made by religious groups”.
For this reason, “We thus call upon all concerned to stop using religions to incite hatred, violence, extremism and blind fanaticism, and to refrain from using the name of God to justify acts of murder, exile, terrorism and oppression”.
The Pope and the Grand Imam recall that “God, the Almighty, has no need to be defended by anyone and does not want His name to be used to terrorize people.”
Speaking at the Global Conference of Human Fraternity in Abu Dhabi, Pope Francis expressed his “appreciation” for the commitment of the United Arab Emirates “to tolerating and guaranteeing freedom of worship, to confronting extremism and hatred”. The Pope then posed the question: “How do we look after each other in the one human family?”.
Religious freedom, he continued, is not just freedom of worship: it means seeing the other as “a child of my own humanity whom God leaves free, and whom no human institution can coerce, not even in God’s name”.
“War cannot create anything but misery”, he said. “Its fateful consequences are before our eyes”. Here, the Pope mentioned specifically “Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Libya”.