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

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.

 


US considering troop boost to counter Iran

Updated 55 min 2 sec ago

US considering troop boost to counter Iran

  • A source has said Defense Secretary Mark Esper was considering plans to move between 5,000 and 7,000 troops to the Middle East
  • Tensions have risen sharply with Iran since Trump last year pulled out of a denuclearization pact and imposed sweeping sanctions

WASHINGTON: The United States said Thursday it was considering deploying fresh forces to counter Iran, with an official saying some 5,000 to 7,000 troops could head to the region.
Testifying before Congress, John Rood, the under secretary of defense for policy, said the United States was “observing Iran’s behavior with concern.”
“We’re continuing to look at that threat picture and have the ability to dynamically adjust our force posture,” Rood told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
A US official told AFP on condition of anonymity that Defense Secretary Mark Esper was considering plans to move between 5,000 and 7,000 troops to the Middle East.
The official did not confirm where the troops would be sent, or in what timeframe, but said that the deployment would be due to frustrations with Iranian-linked groups’ attacks on US assets.
Rood, under questioning, denied a report by The Wall Street Journal the United States was considering sending 14,000 more troops — equivalent to the number sent over the past six months.
Esper also denied the 14,000 figure in a phone call with Senator Jim Inhofe, the chairman of the committee, Pentagon spokeswoman Alyssa Farah said.
US President Donald Trump later tweeted that: “The story today that we are sending 12,000 troops to Saudi Arabia is false or, to put it more accurately, Fake News!“
It was not immediately clear which report the president was referring to.
Tensions have risen sharply with Iran since Trump last year pulled out of a denuclearization pact and imposed sweeping sanctions, including trying to block all its oil exports.
In September, the United States said Iran was responsible for attacks on the major Abqaiq oil processing center in Saudi Arabia, a close US ally and Iran’s regional rival.
Riyadh then asked Washington for reinforcements, receiving two fighter squadrons, additional missile defense batteries, and bringing the number of US troops stationed in the Kingdom to about 3,000.
The United States has also been alarmed by an uptick in attacks on bases in Iraq, where major demonstrations triggered by economic discontent have also targeted Iran’s clerical regime and its overwhelming influence in its Shiite-majority neighbor.
“We’re lucky no one has been killed. There is a spike in rocket attacks,” another US official said.
“It’s clearly not Daesh. Everything is going in the right direction and it’s the right range,” the official said, contrasting Iranian capabilities with those of the extremist Daesh group.
Among the incidents, five rockets hit the Al-Asad Air Base on Tuesday, just four days after US Vice President Mike Pence visited US troops there.
Iran denied involvement in the September attack in Saudi Arabia, which was claimed by Tehran-backed Houthi militia.
The tensions come as Iran itself has faced major protests set off by a sharp hike in gas prices.