Pope Francis and Al-Azhar’s Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb sign declaration of fraternity in Abu Dhabi

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Pope Francis and Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb stand after signing a document on fighting extremism, during an inter-religious meeting at the Founder's Memorial in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, February 4, 2019. (Reuters)
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Pope Francis shakes hands with Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb after signing a document on fighting extremism, during an inter-religious meeting at the Founder's Memorial in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, February 4, 2019. (Reuters)
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Pope Francis shakes hands with Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb after signing a document on fighting extremism, during an inter-religious meeting at the Founder's Memorial in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, February 4, 2019. (Reuters)
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Pope Francis (L) and Egypt's Azhar Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb greet each other as they exchange documents during the Human Fraternity Meeting at the Founders Memorial in Abu Dhabi on February 4, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 05 February 2019
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Pope Francis and Al-Azhar’s Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb sign declaration of fraternity in Abu Dhabi

  • The pope's address centered on the themes of fraternity, education, justice, and human development built on inclusion
  • Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb said he would work with his “brother and friend Pope Francis to protect all communities”

ABU DHABI: The first day of the historic visit by Pope Francis to the Arabian Peninsula ended with the signing of a “Human Fraternity Document” by the leader of the Roman Catholic Church and one of the highest authorities in Islam, Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, grand imam of Al-Azhar Mosque.
The declaration of fraternity — which pledges the religious leaders to work together in perpetuity and to reject violence and radicalism — was also signed by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, prime minister of the UAE, which hosted the ceremony in its capital Abu Dhabi.
The pope told an audience: “Fraternity is established here at the roots of our common humanity, as a vocation contained in God’s plan of creation.”
His address centered on the themes of fraternity, education, justice, and human development built on inclusion.
“There is no alternative,” he added. “We either build the future together, or there will not be a future. Religions, in particular, cannot renounce the urgent task of building bridges between peoples and cultures.” The speech was delivered in Italian translated into Arabic for most in the audience.


Al-Tayeb said: “The document is historic, and it calls for policymakers to stop bloodshed and conflict. Muslims must protect their Christian brothers. I will work with my brother and friend Pope Francis to protect all communities.”
The grand imam added: “It is encouraging to see the UAE investing in human resources, and especially the youth. Far-sightedness and wisdom transformed the UAE into a bright country that hosts such a meeting.”
He said: “Muslims in Western countries must follow and respect the rules and regulations of the countries in which they reside.”
The Western media “exploited” the 9/11 attacks in the US “to show Islam negatively as a bloodthirsty religion, and to show Muslims as savage barbarians who pose a danger and threat to modern societies,” he added, quoting numerous Qur’anic verses about the value of life.
The pope aimed a slanted barb at modern economic inequality, saying: “The world’s religions also have the task of reminding us that greed for profit renders the heart lifeless, and that the laws of the current market, demanding everything immediately, do not benefit encounter, dialogue and family … Religions should be the voice of the least, who are not statistics but brothers and sisters.”


He added: “Here, in the desert, a way of fruitful development has been opened which, beginning from the creation of jobs, offers hope to many persons from a variety of nations, cultures and beliefs.”
He continued: “Religious freedom is not limited to freedom of worship, but to others as brothers in humanity … We must have the courage to accept and recognize freedom of the other.”
The pope also held out the promise of further visits to Islamic countries, saying: “It is in this spirit that I look forward to concrete opportunities for meeting, not only here but in the entire beloved region, a focal point of the Middle East.”
Al-Maktoum offered a deed for the plot of land on which the first church in the UAE was built. There are an estimated 76 churches and other non-Muslim places of worship in the country.

 


Why the Armenian Genocide won’t be forgotten

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Why the Armenian Genocide won’t be forgotten

  • Up to 1.5 million Armenians were wiped out by the Ottoman Empire beginning on April 24, 1915, a reality Turkey continues to deny
  • The day will be commemorated around the world today as a growing number of countries recognize the atrocity

DUBAI: More than 100 years on, Armenians and experts alike remember the brutal atrocities and forced exodus from what is now Turkey, which left up to 1.5 million Armenians dead.

April 24 marks the start, in 1915, of the Armenian Genocide. “Every Armenian is affected by the repeated massacres that occurred in the Ottoman Empire as family members perished,” said Joseph Kechichian, senior fellow at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies in Riyadh.

“My own paternal grandmother was among the victims. Imagine how growing up without a grandmother — and in my orphaned father’s case, a mother — affects you,” he added.

“We never kissed her hand, not even once. She was always missed, and we spoke about her all the time. My late father had teary eyes each and every time he thought of his mother.”

Every Armenian family has similar stories, said Kechichian. “We pray for the souls of those lost, and we beseech the Almighty to grant them eternal rest,” he added.

“We also ask the Lord to forgive those who committed the atrocities and enlighten their successors so they too can find peace,” he said. “Denial is ugly and unbecoming, and it hurts survivors and their offspring, no matter the elapsed time.”

Donald Miller, professor of religion and sociology at the University of Southern California, said: “The ongoing denial of the genocide by the government of Turkey pours salt into the wound of the moral conscience of Armenians all over the world. On April 24, the genocide will be commemorated all over the world.”

On that day, the Ottoman government arrested and executed several hundred Armenian intellectuals.

Ordinary Armenians were then turned away from their homes and sent on death marches through the Mesopotamian desert without food or water.

Ottoman killing squads massacred Armenians, with only 388,000 left in the empire by 1922 when the genocide ended, from 2 million in 1914.

Many were deported to Syria and the Iraqi city of Mosul. Today they are scattered across the world, with large diasporas in Russia, the US, France, Argentina and Lebanon.

To date, only 28 countries have officially recognized the tragedy as a genocide. The only Arab country that has done so is Lebanon, although a bill is pending in Egypt’s Parliament to do so as well, while Muslim clerics in Iraq have called on Turkey to end the denial.

“The other significant consequence of the Armenian Genocide is the denial that successive Turkish governments have practiced, even though the last Ottoman rulers acknowledged it and actually tried a number of officials who were found guilty,” Kechichian said.

“Denial translates into a second genocide, albeit a psychological one. Eventually, righteous Turks — and there are a lot of them — will own up to this dark chapter of their history and come to terms with it, but it seems we’re not there yet.”

For some 3,000 years, Armenians had made their home in the Caucasus, with Christianity their official religion. During the 15th century it became a part of the Ottoman Empire, whose rulers were Muslim.

Soon enough, Armenians were viewed as “infidels,” having to pay higher taxes than Muslims and with very few political and legal rights.

Despite this the Armenian population thrived, causing great resentment among their Turkish neighbors.

And shortly after World War I began, atrocities against Armenians started taking place, with crucifixions, drownings, live burnings and mass murders.

Some children were kidnapped, converted to Islam and given to Turkish families. Meanwhile, women were raped and forced to join Turkish “harems” or work as slaves, and Armenian properties were seized.

“The Armenian Genocide was the first major calamity that hit an entire nation in the 20th century,” Kechichian said.

“Although the term genocide wasn’t in use at the time — it was coined by Raphael Lemkin in his 1944 book ‘Axis Rule in Occupied Europe’ — the Polish attorney applied it to the Armenian case.”  

Turkey still denies the persecution of Armenians after World War I. But Hamdan Al-Shehri, a political analyst and international scholar in Saudi Arabia, said: “We know that the genocide happened. The Ottoman Empire in that era conducted many massacres against many people, including Arabs and Armenians.”

He compared the situation to that of Turkey today, with its President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “We still see that he wants to have his empire again,” Al-Shehri said. “He thinks he’s the sultan of that empire.”

Al-Shehri also drew a parallel with Iran and the Persian Empire. “They (Iran) want to control the whole region, so they’re living with that era in their mind and (trying) to apply it on the ground,” he said.

“This is the difference between us and them — they don’t want to leave countries alone, and this is what we’re facing with Iran.”

Dr. Theodore Karasik, senior advisor at Gulf State Analytics, said the Armenian Genocide remains a “contentious” issue because of “the acrimonious debate over how to define genocide, particularly from the Turkish point of view. Ankara doesn’t recognize genocide because of many reasons, all of them extremely poor.”