WCC welcomes Grand Imam of Al-Azhar
“Towards an Integrated World” is the theme of an opportunity for Muslim-Christian dialogue that unfolded during the visit of religious leaders from Egypt to the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva and the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey, Switzerland on 30 September and 1 October 2016.
“…the importance of pilgrimage is recognized in many religions, and certainly in both Christianity and Islam we know that what we learn about ourselves and our world through being on a pilgrimage that can bring us closer to God,” said World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit as he welcomed Prof. Dr Ahmad al-Tayyeb, the Grand Imam of Cairo’s Al-Azhar mosque and university, to the Ecumenical Centre.
Al-Tayyeb came to give a public lecture on “the responsibility of religious leaders for achieving world peace” as well as to participate in dialogues on interreligious peacemaking.
Al-Tayyeb, Al-Azhar, the Council of Muslim Elders and the WCC all consider peace-building an essential part of the vocation of religious leaders and religious institutions, Tveit reflected.
“Indeed, the overarching image and theme within which we are currently seeking to carry out our work and mission is that of a pilgrimage of justice and peace,” he said. “We are using such language for several reasons. First, because the importance of pilgrimage is recognized in many religions, and certainly in both Christianity and Islam we know that what we learn about ourselves and our world through being on a pilgrimage can bring us closer to God. But we also use the language of pilgrimage because of its sense of openness and invitation and movement. We can invite all people of good will to journey with us to work together for justice and peace in the difficult places of our world.”
The importance of proper religious education is essential, added Tveit. “Both of our religions are scriptural faiths in which a holy book, whether the Qur’an or the Bible, plays a very significant role,” he said. “The potential for the misuse of such texts by people who have not had the opportunity of studying the scriptures in context, and as a whole, is very considerable and we know that this has been a factor in much violence that is done in the name of religion.”
Religion should give people hope, Tveit said. “We are not only accountable to the texts as expressions of the Word of God,” he said. “We are also accountable for how we use them (or abuse them) in sharing them with the fellow human beings of today who need hope for tomorrow.”
Dr Agnes Abuom, moderator of the WCC Central and Executive Committees, offered the first lecture on 1 October. She reflected on the global need for peace among peoples and also on the need to understand the specifics of each national and local context in which confrontation is found. She cited examples from her own country, Kenya in east Africa.
The theme “Towards an Integrated World,” she said, “is an important reminder both that we cannot make simplistic divisions, such as between east and west,” and it also “reminds us that events, actions, movements in certain parts of the world affect and are affected by what happens in other regions.”
Looking at the outcome of practical attempts at religious and community “integration,” she demonstrated, shows that “positive integration and questions of identity are inevitably interwoven.” In many contexts, like Kenya’s, “there is clearly a link between religious and national identity.”
She concluded that “issues of religion and violence cannot be considered in isolation from economic, environmental and educational issues. Religion is affected by poverty, deprivation and – above all – illiteracy. If we want to work for an integrated world, we need to do so with a holistic vision that takes account of all these factors.”