Interfaith Dialogue Forum on Abu Dhabi’s Document

“Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together”

15TH JUNE 2019, CARDINAL OTUNGA PLAZA, NAIROBI

Saturday 15th June 2019, thanks to Mr. Mustafa Genc, Director of Harmony Institute, the IRD Commission has been invited to take part in an Interfaith Dialogue Forum in Nairobi at Cardinal Otunga Plaza.

Cardinal Otunga Plaza, Nairobi

The IRD Commission has been honored to attend this event, represented by Chiara Gallarini, project officer for the Commission. This invitation has been a unique opportunity for dialogue and collaboration as well a chance for personal growth and learning.

The Forum begun at 13:30 with the lunch offered by the Catholic Archdiocese of Nairobi and Harmony Institute, organizers and hosts of the event.

During the lunch the participants had the chance to introduce to one another and share their work, studies and activities related with interreligious dialogue. 

After this we all moved to the Archangel Michael Conference Hall, were the Forum would have taken place.

Moderator was Prof. Macharia Munene, professor of international relations and history at USIU who introduced the panelists: His Lordship Bishop Alfred Rotich; Sheikh Ibrahim Lethome; Dr. Reginald Maudlin Nalugala; Mr. Faith Akdogan.

The Panelists: His Lordship Bishop Alfred Rotich; Sheikh Ibrahim Lethome; Dr. Reginald Maudlin Nalugala; Mr. Faith Akdogan

Also Prof. Fredrik Kangethe Iraki, Chairman of Harmony Institute an Mr. Mustafa Genc, Director of Harmony institute attended the Forum.

Prof. Fredrik Kangethe Iraki, Chairman of Harmony Institute an Mr. Mustafa Genc, Director of Harmony institute

The main purpose of the Forum was to foster dialogue between Catholic and Muslim faith communities, underlining “The Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Leaving Together” signed by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in Abu Dhabi on 4th February 2019.

In fact, the forum started with a video documentary about Pope Francis’ Apostolic Journey to the United Arab Emirates (3-5 February 2019) during which the Document has been signed.

“The Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Leaving Together” signed by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in Abu Dhabi

The video presented the Document as a landmark declaration which will indicate the way to follow for interreligious dialogue relations. This Document came up after many fraternal and open discussions between the Pope and the Grand Imam seeking the same vision of a bright future for all human beings.

The Declaration is ending with a request from Pope and Grand Imam, that this Document will become object of research and reflection and that will be translated into practice with policies, decisions, legislative texts etc.

The aim of the panelists’ interventions so, was to understand and help us understand how the Document could be translated into practical life, in our own small or big realities.

His Lordship Bishop Alfred Rotich

First intervention was led by His Lordship Bishop Alfred Rotich, Bishop Emeritus of Kenya, Military. He looked back to the history of interreligious relationships, starting from the experience of Pope John XXIII when he was a Bishop.

It was January 14th 1953 when Angelo Roncalli, newly appointed Cardinal, kneeled in front of the French President. This was a prerogative in force until about fifty years ago and involved those apostolic nuncios who, at the end of their career, had been called to be Cardinals. If the last nation in which they had lent their work was a country by Catholic tradition, the Head of State could have claimed the privilege of replacing the Pope in the imposition of the Cardinal’s hat.

The episode who involved Angelo Roncalli was a sensational one, cause at that time the President of the French Republic was Vincent Auriol, a socialist and avowedly atheist. However, Roncalli didn’t refused the ceremony either he was willing to do it as a recognition for the important mediation’s work carried out with the President in a complex historical moment.

Angelo Roncalli, newly appointed Cardinal, kneeled in front of the French President Vincent Auriol

Later Bishop Rotich remembered the example of John Paul II who invited the representatives of the Christian Churches, Ecclesial Communities and of the World Religions for “The World Day of Prayer” on 27th October 1986 in the Italian city of Assisi.

John Paul II in that occasion was underling that “as religious leaders you have come here not for an interreligious Conference on peace, where the emphasis would be on discussion or research for plans of action on a worldwide scale in favor of a common cause. The coming together of so many religious leaders to pray is in itself an invitation today to the world to become aware that there exists another dimension of peace and another way of promoting it which is not a result of negotiations, political compromises or economic bargaining’s. It is the result of prayer, which, in the diversity of religions, expresses a relationship with a supreme power that surpasses our human capacities alone”.

“The World Day of Prayer” on 27th October 1986 in the Italian city of Assisi

Bishop Rotich made us understand that now, us, together with Pope Francis and Grand Imam, are gathering the fruits of these actions of dialogue.

The Holy Seen has a Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, the Dioceses Interreligious Dialogue Commissions, interfaith forums and Interreligious dialogue is thought in the universities.

After this Bishop Rotich remarked that also in Kenya during difficult moments religious leaders have reunited to solve political or social problems through prayer. He continued saying that “the Document for Human Fraternity” should be used with political leaders of the Country, as a strategic document to bring peace and that should be thought in schools and universities.

As a conclusion he remembered his invitation to an “Iftar dinner” as a special and unique occasion for dialogue and mutual understanding with our Muslims brothers and sisters.

Sheikh Ibraim Lethome

The second panelist was Sheikh Ibraim Lethome who started stating that what this Document is teaching us is to focus on our similarities, on what is uniting us either than on our differences.

To do this is essential to look back of what our faiths are really teaching us and recognize that God with His wisdom has created us different and therefore with different ways of worship Him, different religions.

Some of us are not fully aware of their own faith’s teaching, instead we all should kwon that all religions praise for the good and service to humanity.

As an input to accept these differences Sheikh quoted a passage of the Quran, where God creates mankind from a single man, Adam, without specifying his color, race etc. He also reminded a quote on Mohammed Ali’s grave which says: “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room in Heaven”.

Mohammed Ali’s grave

He added that our places of worship are the places where we have to preach to make possible living together in peace; in fact those who are using religions as an excuse to kill people and arise hate are just hypocrites, as Prophet Mohammed was teaching: “By Allah, he is not a Believer! By Allah, he is not a Believer! By Allah, he is not a Believer!” It was asked “Who is that, oh Messenger of Allah? He said “One whose neighbor does not feel safe from his evil”.

Sheikh Ibraim underlined that Mohammed is not talking about a Muslim neighbor, but any neighbor.  

He concluded affirming that all religions should be used as a tool to build peace and not the opposite.

Dr. Reginald Maudlin Nalugala

Third panelist was Dr. Reginald Maudlin Nalugala, professor at Tangaza University, who reminded us that both Qumran and Bible are firm in recommending help to the widows, orphans, poor as Pope Francis and Grand Sheikh of Al-Azar did.

He explained that in “the Document on Human Fraternity” we read that Pope and Grand Imam, with all Catholics and Muslims, are meeting in the name of God and in the name of all those who are weak and that our religions demand us to defend. As believers we all need to remind this.

Tangaza University, as an effort for interreligious dialogue, is bringing together students of different religions and origins to see how they integrate one to each other, without the shadow of radicalization or extremism.

Even those students who came from very remote areas, for example from Sudan, they are peaceful and well integrated. Why this? Because they have had good elderly who thought them the right principles and teachings of their religion.  Also in Tangaza University there are courses to study the similarities between Christianity and Islam.

Fourth and last panelist was Mr. Faith Akdogan, from Harmony Institute. His contribution was focused on the great importance of the Document.

He said that, first, Pope Francis’ visit to UAE has been widely seen as a milestone in interreligious dialogue.

Second it was the first time for a Pope to sign in a Muslim country a document with an Imam bringing together all Muslims and Catholic Church; more, Pope Francis visited the United Arab Emirates in the eight centenary of the meeting between Saint Francis of Assisi and Sultan Al-Malik Al-Kalim, defining himself as a believer thirsting for peace.

Mr. Akdogan also underlined that this Declaration, that must be studied, isn’t a theological document, even if God is widely mentioned. Important is the fact that is always God to be mentioned, in a way to unite and never the name of Jesus as God. For 15 times, in fact, in the Declaration we can read the pronoun “We”.

He also suggested that believers from Catholicism and Islam cover half of world’s population, if this part will follow the directions of this document, for sure the other half will follow their example.

Cause is true, this Document is especially for believers, but not only. It is also addressing all the men of good will and is promoting a culture of mutual understanding and respect for the one human family.

After the panelists’ inputs the Forum continued with a Q&A sessions were the participants had the chance to speck and comment the document, as well to ask for questions and clarifications.

As a conclusion for the event we all joined the panelists for a group photos and for the last words of thanks.

Chiara Gallarini

IRD Commission-Project Officer

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