Towards a new language of dialogue to strengthen security in Islamic society

20th Conference of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs – Cairo
16 March 2008

Considering the elements that would ensure security in Islamic societies, there is not enough time for me to cover them all here today. So, I will focus on just one of these elements – the relationship between Muslims and the other.

In the Qur’an, God asks Muslims to be kind to the other. He asks them to avoid hatred and clashes with the followers of other religions. So, when discussing how best to deal with the other, we must use the language of well-intentioned dialogue, the style of dialogue that I have practiced for more than a quarter of a century.

One might well ask: “What good has all this dialogue done? Is it really fruitful?” And most would have to admit that what has been achieved is much less than what was hoped. This self-criticism may upset some of my fellow proponents of dialogue. Nevertheless, we must change the language of dialogue before those around us lose hope in the face of global cruelty and violent attacks on Islam.

Some of our colleagues in the dialogue committee have helped develop foundations that add new thinking to the language of dialogue: Ambassador Fathi Marei, Ambassador Nabil Badr, Dr. Zeinab Radwan, Dr. Taysir Mandour and Dr. Fathi Amer.

So, what might be the broad lines to describe this idea of a new language for dialogue?

1. We have to have the courage engage in self-criticism and confess that we have not yet succeeded in conveying the message of dialogue from the elite to the masses.

2. When we speak of dialogue and peace, we must not forget the importance of associate them to justice as “no dialogue without peace and no peace without justice”. In this sense, I say to the men of dialogue when we look for a new language for dialogue we must also recognize that dialogue will not be fruitful unless all of us dare to anger a part of his group and stand for Justice and truth”.

3. I think the link between dialogue and coexistence requires attention to cultural exchanges and cooperation between peoples as cultural ignorance of each of us of the other fortiori ignorance and illiteracy lead to confrontations and conflicts, so no separation between interfaith and intercultural dialogue. We are grateful to the work leadership of the 20th General Conference for their choice of the subject “interfaith dialogue and intercultural cooperation” to be discussed in one of the seminars that is parallel to this conference.

4. As everyone must have noticed the points of contention between Islam and the West in recent years were mainly because of some Western media outlets exceeding all red lines by infringing on the values of others and on the sanctity of Islamic thought and values. In order to solve those points of contention, we must build bridges of trust between Islam and the West so as to avoid a “dialogue of the deaf”, This will be the topic of the second seminar organized by the head of the conference, Minister Hamdy Zaqzouq, which I coordinated, as head of the dialogue committee, with those coming from the West and the Islamic personalities present.

5. Regarding the media and the press, I suggest a third seminar; to discuss and search for was that Islamic countries and the West can cooperate to uphold respect for religious and cultural values. From this we will hold a round-table that brings together media experts in the West, and the same from Islamic countries to find a way to reconcile freedom expression with respect for the red lines that protect the rights of others to have their beliefs and symbols respected.

In conclusion, I’d like to say that in this world of increased aggression and confrontation I honestly believe that there is no conflict between religions. The conflict is only between competing political groups who take religion hostage so as to control its followers and destroy political opponents.

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