Welcoming Pope Francis to the Middle East will help deliver a rebuke to “murderous fundamentalists” who promote a warped and violent interpretation of Islam, a senior Emirati diplomat has said.
Writing for Politico magazine, Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE ambassador to the US, said that promoting a vision of tolerance and peaceful coexistence with people of other faiths could prove more effective than force in defeating the ideology of ISIS and its "crazed followers".
In an article headlined ‘Why we invited the Pope to the Arabian Peninsula’, Mr Al Otaiba wrote that populations across the Middle East are facing the “the menace of extremism” with the region becoming a “cauldron of conflict”.
“Radical interpretations of Islam represent a tiny minority of those who practise the faith,” said Mr Al Otaiba, who has been ambassador to the US for 10 years. “But often the shrillest voices shout the loudest — whether it is on TV, on the internet or in a mosque. They twist and obscure the fact that Islam is a religion of peace.”
Mr Al Otaiba cited an extract from an article in Daqib, an ISIS magazine, which told secular readers that they hated them because they "reject the oneness of Allah — whether you realise it or not." He said it was an example of "extreme voices [that] seek to incite crazed followers to do their bidding".
He added: “They give rise to zealots like who carry out hateful, violent deeds against religious and ethnic minorities. Christian Coptic churches are attacked in Egypt. The Yazidi homeland is destroyed in Iraq. The Jewish Museum is bombed in Brussels. And fatefully, it is Muslims — Sunni and Shia — that suffer the heaviest price of all from the murderous fundamentalists.
“Ignoring the threat or being complacent is too dangerous and will only feed the cycle of sectarian violence that has gripped the region for more than a generation. Removing the extremists by force is also not the answer as long as the poisoned ideology and the conditions that nurture it endure.”
The solution in breaking the cycle and encouraging people to accept people who are different, Mr Otaiba said, involves promoting an approach “close to the centre of the Muslim world”, which is already found in the UAE.
He told his US audience about more than 40 churches in the UAE, and plans for a new Hindu temple. He described the country’s Jewish community as “vibrant and growing”.
Pope Francis is due to arrive into Abu Dhabi on Sunday evening, and will take part in interfaith meetings before delivering a public Mass on Tuesday. Although the audience will be mostly Catholic, Muslim leaders are also expected to attend.
“These ideas and principles of mutual respect and genuine tolerance should be universal,” he said. “Faith and belief are instruments of good for noble goals — not the pretence for death and destruction. The voices of moderation and acceptance must be lifted over those of division and hatred.
“As the birthplace of the three Abrahamic religions, the Middle East today has become a cauldron of conflict among and within them. Religion today is a treacherous fault line that divides the region. But the true faith of Muslims, Christians and Jews has never been about hate or fanaticism. There is no clash of civilisations or ideas — only a rash of ignorance and a deficit of courage and moral leadership.
“Sixty years ago deep in the desert, missionary doctors and Bedouin villagers built a bridge between two faiths with acts of kindness and understanding. We can do it again. This weekend, Pope Francis and the Grand Imam will unite their voices in prayers and homilies to the billions of Catholics and Muslims across the world. It will come from the heart of the Arab world in a country that embraces and lives these ideals every day.”