Leaders of all faiths set to gather in Abu Dhabi next week

Fraternity meeting to take place on Sunday and Monday at Emirates Palace

CAIRO, EGYPT - JANUARY 17 : Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed el-Tayeb delivers a speech during the international conference 'in support of Jerusalem' organized by Al-Azhar Al-Sharif in Cairo, Egypt on January 17, 2018. (Photo by Al-Azhar Press Office / Pool/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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Some of the world’s most prominent religious leaders will gather in Abu Dhabi next week in the hope of finding a road to global peace by understanding our common bond.

The Global Conference of Humanity takes place during the visit of Pope Francis to the UAE, and will include a historic meeting between the pontiff and Dr Ahmed Al Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar Al Sharif University and Chairman of the Muslim Council of Elders.

They are expected to be joined by dozens of other religious leaders, scholars, and cultural figures, including representatives of the Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh faiths. 

An estimated 700 individuals are expected to attend.

The conference organisers say the UAE is committed to the principle “that peace should be enjoyed by people all over the world, and this can only be achieved through an unwavering will and belief in these principles, as well as sincere intentions and a shared sense of responsibility among mankind.”

Its aim is “reaching a common framework of co-operation with devotees of peace to eventually achieve human fraternity”.

Taking place over two days from Sunday, the formal meeting between Pope Francis and Dr Al Tayeb with the Muslim Council of Elders will take place at the Founders’ Memorial, which is dedicated to remembering those who lost their lives in the service of the country.

The rest of the conference will be devoted to three themes, beginning with a session devoted to the ‘Principles of Human Fraternity’ examining interfaith dialogue, religious oppression and ways to combat extremism. 

The first session will be led by the UAE Minister of Culture Noura Al Kaabi and will be dominated by women speakers.

"We intended to do this to deliver a message that women play a main role in religion and society, and that religion is not dominated by men only," said Dr Sultan Al Remeithi¸ Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Elders who is organising the conference.

Delegates will then consider the ‘Common Responsibility to Achieving Human Fraternity’, or global peace, encompassing “the responsibility of international and humanitarian organisations, the role of educational, cultural and media organisations and institutions in building and spreading fraternity and the role of youth from different religious and cultural backgrounds in achieving these objectives”.

The final session,’Human Fraternity: Challenges and Opportunities’ will look at how the lack of religious morality can contribute to extremism and its part in conflict and war.

It will examine current initiatives to promote peace and dialogue while looking at the ways religious leaders can end conflicts rooted in the misunderstanding of different faiths. 

Among those taking part are Bishop Yulius of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, secretary-general of the World Council of Churches, Dr James Zogby, founder and president of the Arab American Institute, Rev Kosho Niwano, president of Rissho Kosei-kai, HB Cardinal, Bechara Rai, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East of the Maronites, and Ali Al Amin, a member of the Muslim Council of Elders.

Representatives of the Bahai and Zoroastrian faith are also expected to attend, along with international and academic organisations like the UN Alliance of Civilisations and the Royal Institute of Interfaith Studies based in Jordan.

The conference will be opened by Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister of Tolerance, followed by a series of keynote speeches beginning with Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the secretary-general of the Arab League. 

Dr Al Remeithi said this conference is different than previous interfaith meetings, because “before it used to be dialogue for the sake of dialogue, this time we are exploring something that we all have in common, fraternity.”

He added that the meeting would "provide a global stage for multiple faiths to discuss key issues relating to peaceful coexistence, tolerance and human values, driven by open interfaith dialogue”.

Prof Salvatore Martinez, president of the Vatican Foundation who will be joining the Pope’s visit, said this meeting was important because “the three monotheistic religions will not be able to withstand the challenge of atheistic modernity if they do not demonstrate a fraternal attitude in mutual acceptance and welcome.”

“There is still much to be done and there is hope that the visit of the Holy Father opens the hearts and the minds of many to true change.”

He added that the Pope’s decision to visit Abu Dhabi “surprised everyone”.

“The Year of Tolerance promoted by the UAE government is enriched by the presence of Francis, a pilgrim of peace.”

“It is difficult to say if other countries will be visited, but it is easy to foresee that the good promoted by the Holy Father will go beyond the UAE borders,” he concluded.

Max Ferrari, adviser to the president of the Italian delegation to OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe), said that despite European media and opinion-makers’ constant complaints about the lack of moderate interlocutors in the Muslim world, “the Pope has identified in the UAE a valid interlocutor”.

“This journey will unveil to the Christian world an Arab-Muslim country champion of tolerance and master in the coexistence of ethnic groups and religions, of which little is known.”

“The Emirates are known as hubs for business and holidays, but its outstanding social and cultural characteristics are not well known,” he added.

“After this trip everything will change and I am convinced that the positive effects will be strong on even the neighbouring countries.”