ABU DHABI // Religious leaders and senior politicians gathered in the UAE to discuss ways to promote tolerance and understanding.
Among those at the Towards an Integrated World conference were Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, the most senior cleric in the Church of England, and Dr Ahmed El Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar and president of the UAE’s Muslim Council of Elders.
Archbishop Welby said the UAE set a good example by allowing Christians to practise their faith.
“I am concerned that this is becoming the exception rather than the rule though in many parts of the world,” he said.
“It will be a joy to worship today at St Andrew’s Church here in Abu Dhabi.”
The challenge for the conference, he said, was to establish practical steps in societies to ensure freedom of religion.
He said the Marrakech Declaration, signed by 250 Muslim leaders including those from the UAE, which aimed to ensure the protection and citizenship rights of religious minorities in Muslim countries, was an example to follow.
“We need to learn to educate without compromising what we believe,” he said.
A similar programme called Near Neighbours was established to protect minorities in the UK, including Muslims.
Canon Sarah Snyder, the archbishop’s adviser for reconciliation, said: “As the Anglican Church we need to be conscious of the Muslim minorities in the UK and follow on the footsteps of the Marrakech Declaration.”
Sheikh Abdallah bin Bayyah, president of the UAE’s Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, said there needed to be a distinction between freedom of belief and insulting religious symbols in the name of freedom.
He explained that Islam had always accepted religious and ethnic diversity, and the Quran states that this diversity was created by Allah.
While freedom of belief should be respected “no one should insult religious human leaders like [the prophets] Ibrahim, Eissa and Mousa and Mohammed,” he said.
He believed “dialogue is a religious obligation and not an occasional matter. It is of high value and the key to solve problems”.
“As a verse from the Quran says: ‘Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good instruction, and argue with them in a way that is best’.”
Dr El Tayeb also attributed conflict and wars to the spread of atheism, which have “turned its back to divine religions” while religious leaders wanted to establish peace and coherence.
When such ideas started to flourish in the past two centuries, major wars and destructive measures escalated.
“Our meeting in Abu Dhabi today is to save the human society from destruction,” he said.
“Islam welcomes any effort spent in the sake of making a human happy, bestowing mercy on an animal or protecting a plant or object.”
The Minister of State for Tolerance, Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, informed the conference on the projects under way in the UAE to promote tolerance. These include a tolerance declaration for all government employees.
The ministry will also hold a summit for social media celebrities and media channels to promote tolerance, Sheikha Lubna said.
In addition, a union would be formed for youth from various cultures and nationalities to improve and encourage tolerance.