Values of UN's Human Fraternity day needed now more than ever

Inspired by the declaration signed by Pope Francis and Dr Ahmed Al Tayeb four years ago in Abu Dhabi, the global day celebrating coexistence is a vital response to hate and prejudice

Pope Francis greets Dr Ahmad Al Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, after an inter-religious meeting at the Founder's Memorial in Abu Dhabi in February, 2019. AP
Powered by automated translation

A hundred dead in a suicide bombing at a Pakistan mosque. Seven shot dead at a Jerusalem synagogue. The persecution of minorities in Afghanistan and Myanmar. The desecration of a Quran in Sweden. When we pick up a newspaper or read the headlines on our phones, the drumbeat of division can seem relentless.

The UN’s International Day of Human Fraternity, which falls on Saturday, comes at a time when polarisation, religious and ethnic violence, injustice and inequality are still leaving their baneful mark on millions of people across the world.

In Europe, Muslims face provocation from fringe figures and would-be demagogues with a taste for publicity. Even more troubling is anti-Muslim prejudice at an institutional level, with an Organisation of Islamic Co-operation report last year criticising European “government policies and public sentiments targeting Islamic identity”.

In the Middle East, Christian communities with histories stretching back centuries have suffered mistreatment and displacement. In February 2019, Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, Patriarch of Baghdad and head of the Chaldean Catholic Church, told The National that at one point Christians represented a fifth of Iraq’s population. Now, they are just 2 per cent.

Cardinal Sako was speaking just days before two men met in Abu Dhabi to offer a vision of a different world. Pope Francis, the spiritual leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics, and Dr Ahmed Al Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar – the renowned centre of Islamic scholarship in Cairo – signed the Document on Human Fraternity.

The rush of bad news from around the world can be overwhelming, but as the championing of human fraternity shows, it is still better to strike a light than to curse the darkness

Their daring declaration presented a plan for a more unified world, free from the scourge of terrorism, with equal rights for women and an appreciation for all religions and places of worship. It also inspired the UN to adopt a day to champion these principles internationally.

This heartfelt appeal to the world’s people – rooted in the best ethical and moral traditions of the two men’s faiths – stood in stark contrast to the hatred that scars too many societies.

It was fitting that the UAE hosted this rallying cry for tolerance. The country has presented the world with an example of how a nation can cherish its own religion and culture while welcoming – and celebrating – the faiths and practises of others.

From the Abrahamic Family House – a mosque, church and synagogue – on Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island to hosting people from all over the world able to practise their religious beliefs freely, the country is proving that it is unafraid of diversity and will take a strong stand against the dangers of extremism and intolerance.

The Zayed Award for Human Fraternity, which allocates $1 million to an individual, group or organisation from any walk of life working for peaceful coexistence, also forms part of this commitment to tolerance.

These are all examples to take inspiration from. Wednesday’s news that the EU had appointed Marion Lalisse, a former deputy ambassador to Yemen, as its new chief for tackling anti-Muslim hatred shows that other regions recognise the need to fight intolerance wherever it raises its head.

The rush of bad news from around the world can be overwhelming and dispiriting, but as the championing of human fraternity shows, it is still better to strike a light than to curse the darkness.

Published: February 03, 2023, 3:00 AM