Tolerance & Coexistence in the 21st Century from Abu Dhabi

The Tabah Foundation in cooperation with the Canadian Embassy in the UAE, and under the auspices of His Excellency Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development, organized a nighttime symposium replete with a diverse multitude of attendees on Tuesday March 10th, 2015 at the InterContinental Hotel Abu Dhabi’s Auditorium. The event’s keynote speaker was Dr. John Andrew Morrow—a Canadian scholar who lectures at Ivy Tech Community College, USA—joined by prominent guests including Sheikh Ahmad Al Kubaisi, Sheikh Ahmad Abdul Aziz Al Haddad, Canadian Ambassador in Abu Dhabi Arif Lalani, and Chairman of the Tabah Foundation Habib Ali Al Jifri, alongside a select elite of diplomats and social dignitaries.

The evening was kick-started by a tour of an exhibition showcasing a collection of photocopied documents and manuscripts discovered by Dr. Morrow in his critically acclaimed study on “The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World.” In his speech, Morrow referred to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)’s treaties with the Jews and Christians since the very beginnings of Islam, and mentioned that these covenants continued to be honored during the reign of the Four Rightly-Guided Caliphs, and through the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates, all the way to down the Ottoman Empire. He pointed out that records of these covenants were not only found in Islamic sources but also detected in other sources, such as Christian-Arab sources and translated into a number of languages including Latin, Ancient Greek, Assyrian, and Persian. Dr. Morrow further indicated that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)’s covenants with the Christians of Najran and Persia, as well as Assyrian and Orthodox Christians, Egyptian Copts, and Abyssinian Christians, invariably underpin the values of tolerance, equality and peaceful coexistence amongst all, in an unprecedented and advanced move for an era marked by intolerance of pluralism.

The Chairman of the Tabah Foundation—Habib Ali Al Jifri—then commented on Morrow’s speech, saying: “We are today at a momentous turning point in Muslim history, in light of the presence of those who ascribe the crimes and perversities committed to the Holy Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh); such a correspondence is forbidden and unacceptable, since there is no such thing as a moderate or an extremist Islam, rather, there are moderate Muslims and extremist Muslims.” After that, Sheikh Ahmad Al Kubaisi and Ambassador Arif Lalani each delivered separate short speeches. Subsequently, tweeters interacted with the event on social media networking site Twitter using the hashtag #المعاهدات_النبوية for Arabic speakers and #CovenantsUAE for English speakers.

Furthermore, the Tabah Foundation held a number of specialized debate circles for the purpose of engaging specialists among the attendants in the discussion on par with roundtable debates on the one hand, with its guest Dr. John Morrow on the same topic. A roundtable was held for scholars and researchers, another for Arab diplomats, and a third for non-Arab speaking diplomats, besides a meeting with Arab academics and clerisy. The event also included two televised programs on Wednesday evening: one on Sky News Arabia hosting Dr. Morrow and Habib Ali Al Jifri, and an interview with Morrow on Al Arabiya Channel. Dr. Morrow and Habib Al Jifri then paid a visit to Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, where the former presented the UAE Minister with a copy of one of the prophetic covenants as a souvenir.

The Tabah Foundation has been keen on organizing these wide-ranging activities and events springing from its mission to “Re-enabling Islamic discourse to recover its ability to understand the real world context” and to propagate an international message highlighting that tolerance, coexistence, and respect of different faiths, human beings, and non-Muslim communities in the region is a genuine call launched since the days of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), and to clarify that what we are witnessing today in terms of murder and slaughtering of Muslims and non-Muslims alike amounts to a disfigurement of the commands of the Prophet (pbuh) and a deviation there-from.

Related Links

Video promoting the symposium

– News Release: A “Roadmap” for “Tolerance & Coexistence” from Abu Dhabi – Al Ittihad Newspaper .
– News Release: Returning to the Roots of Islam—A Necessity for the Umma’s Proegression – Al Bayan Newspaper.
– News release: Lecture in Abu Dhabi stresses awareness – about true Islam – The National.
– News Release: Islam is not against other religions, says scholar – Khaleej Times.
– Sky News Arabia Interview Video.
– Sky News Arabia Interview Transcript.
– Al Arabiya Channel Interview Video.

15 Centuries of Love & Affection

At Zayed University auditorium on Wednesday 19 January in Abu Dhabi, H.E. Sheikh Nahyan Mubarak Al-Nahyan initiated a symposium on Muslim and Coptic Christian Relations in Egypt, co-organized by Zayed University, the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments and Tabah Foundation. The symposium included Pastor Ishaq El Anba Bishoy, Pastor of the Saint Anthony Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Abu Dhabi, and Al Habib Ali al-Jifri, General Director of Tabah Foundation. Among the attendees was Dr. Suleiman Al Jassim, Chairman of Zayed University, in addition to diplomats, parliamentarians, university teachers and the general public.

Proceedings began with an introduction by H.E. Sheikh Nahyan who emphasized the importance of the event in the aftermath of the tragic incident in Alexandria on Christmas eve. He said the event was to honor and recall the long history of love and affection which governed Muslim-Coptic Christian relations in Egypt, and that Arab Christians are brothers for Muslims and that all should stand together in forging a common future as one people without discrimination. He also stated that while religion is for God, the land is for all, and that such principles were expressed through more than 14 centuries of respect and appreciation for the people of the Book.

He stated that the event is a sincere expression of commitment to work together for a brighter future within the same country that is rooted in the Abrahamic heritage, regardless of differing beliefs, and that diversity should be seen as an enrichment to people’s lives. He ended by talking about the principles of co-existence and toleration that were embodied by the late Sheikh Zayed (may God have mercy on his soul) and the United Arab Emirates under H. H. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

Pastor Ishaq began his word by saying that the Holy Books were not sent for the misfortune of people, but to enlighten humanity and help them attain felicity in this life and the hereafter. He added that there were many things in common between Muslims and Coptic-Christians, and that both lived together through 15 centuries of love and affection, standing as an example of toleration in the Middle East. Pastor Ishaq followed with an insight into the history of the Muslim-Coptic Christian relationship in Egypt; how both communities stood together against foreign invasions and how Coptic Christians refused to migrate after being given the offer from abroad. He gave examples of the loyalty displayed by Coptic Christians from the time the Muslims first arrived in Egypt up until the present age, and how that set up the foundations of brotherhood between the two communities.

Pastor Ishaq emphasised that bonds of brotherhood, cooperation and mutual respect must be strengthened more today than any other time before, and concluded by expressing his best wishes of stability and prosperity for the government and people of the UAE.

The final word of the evening was delivered by Al Habib Ali al-Jifri. He praised Pastor Ishaq’s sincerity in participating in the symposium and selecting the title “15 Centuries of Love and Affection,” and called for a more balanced understanding of how religion is applied to society despite there being theological differences between religions, and that these differences are not meant to be points of divergence and conflict, but rather a proof in and of themselves that religion can foster ties of mutual respect and love despite their presence.

Through the Quran and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace, Al Habib Ali explained the strong link between Muslims and Christians, emphatically stating that this link prohibits the causing of any harm to them, and whoever kills one of them, shall never smell the fragrance of Paradise. He mentioned the counsel of the Prophet, upon him be peace, to his followers to protect the people of Egypt against any harm and to treat them well. He further illustrated through narrating historical events, evidence of the strong link between the two communities, adding that it was demonstrated in our time when both communities stood together as one after the tragic events at the Alexandria Church.

He continued with a story of how Sheikh Ibrahim al-Bajuri, an erudite scholar and head of the Al-Azhar University in his time, refused to issue a fatwa for the ruler, Abbas Hilmi, to expel Coptic Christians from Egypt to the Sudan, saying to him that they are rightful citizens of the land, and causing them the slightest harm is categorically forbidden for God has placed them under the protection of the sharia until the end of time. He used this to mention how institutions like Al-Azhar need to reclaim their historical role as the conscience of religion in Egypt, and that history testifies to the balance which permeated society when they were so, as exemplified in Sheikh Ibrahim al-Bajuri. Al Habib Ali also praised the efforts of the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Dr Ahmad Tayyab, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Dr Ali Gomaa and the Minister of Religious Affairs & Endowments for their strong condemnation of the Alexandria incident.

He concluded by stating that both Christians and Muslims should assume responsibility in unequivocally standing against extremism that arises from both sides. Finally, he expressed the need to implement the “A Common Word” interfaith initiative, which was a success in the West, to the service of interfaith dialogue in the Middle East.

A discussion and question and answer session followed, with participants including Dr. Zainab Ridwan, parliament speaker for the Assembly of Egypt, who passed on a message from the President of the Assembly, Dr. Fathi Surour, with a report on the Alexandria incident and Dr. Nour Hayati al-Saqqaf, vice-president of the Indonesian Parliament who expressed her happiness attending such an event.