[Fr. Joel Tabora, Lead Discussant
Ateneo de Davao University, 21 February 2019]
Salaam! The Peace of God be upon you all!
As members of the Ateneo de Davao University with its mission of the promotion of faith, the pursuit of justice, inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue and the protection of the environment as “our common home,” and as members, friends and collaborators of the Al-Qalam Institute for Muslim Identities and Dialogue in Southeast Asia, we gather today to acknowledge and appreciate the importance of the meeting recently of Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates.
Just the fact that these two religious leaders, one coming from Rome, the other coming from Cairo, came together in the Arabian Peninsula is already historical.
The Catholic Church recognizes the Pope as its head who in communion with the other bishops governs and guides it.
Islam on the other hand, does not have a Pope. Its guiding norms are determined greatly by Muslim scholars. Among the most authoritative of these is Ahmad Al Tayyeb, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar – the foremost Islamic (Sunni) University in Egypt.
Between the Catholic Church and Islam there has been a long history of conflict, violence and war. Both believe in one God of Compassion. Both are religions of peace. Both respect human life as the work of God’s creation and so to be cherished and protected. Yet both bear responsibility for centuries of mutual “othering”, for misunderstanding, contempt, and hatred, that have allowed their religions to be used as battle cries of rulers and politicians driven not by submission to God’s holy will but by mundane power. We know: there is nothing that can make the exercise of political power more absolute and thereby more diabolical than the claim that it does “God’s will.”
That is why we must not overlook that fact that in Abu Dhabi the Pope and the Grand Imam came together. They crafted an extraordinary document, their “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together.” It was issued earlier this month on February 4th. It states:
“Al Azhar and the Catholic Church ask that this Document become the object of research and reflection in all schools, universities and institutes of formation, thus helping to educate new generations to bring goodness and peace to others, and to be defenders everywhere of the rights of the oppressed, and of the least of our brothers and sisters.”
For us in the Philippines it could not have been more timely.
Just before its issuance, the Bangsamoro people of the Philippines ratified the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (RA 11054). The ratification was a historic yes to peace in Mindanao and in the Philippines between Muslims and Christians who had been at enmity with each other for centuries. Because of issues of who had the right religion, who truly worshipped the one God, whose religious values and traditions were to shape the culture of the land, who was legitimately or fully “Filipino”, who had the real right to govern, an Islamic revolution had demanded independence from the Philippines. The Republic countered the revolution. Thousands were killed. Hundreds of thousands displaced. An arduous peace process determined that the historical injustice committed against the Bangsamoro could be righted in the creation of an autonomous homeland for Filipino Muslims who respected the diversity of religions and the mutual coexistence of Muslims, Christians and Lumad in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region within the Philippines.
Before the votes ratifying the Bangsamoro Organic Law could be counted, two bombs exploded in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Jolo. Foreign suicide bombers identified with the Abu Sayaff or with the ISIS killed twenty-two Catholic worshippers and wounded over a hundred others.
Two days later, a grenade blast in a mosque of the city of Zamboanga killed two Muslim worshippers.
Again, precious Filipino lives lost to political violence in the name of religion!
On the international level, the Document on Fraternity is issued in the context of the war in Yemen; there some sixty thousand have been killed in what is said to be a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. In Syria, in a war between Muslims and Muslims, which created the ISIS and involved superpowers like the United States and Russia, 560,000 people have been killed and 6,200,000 people displaced. The successful international campaign against the ISIS in Syria has forced them to search for new territorial footholds. One of these is the Philippines, supposedly through Marawi with its Maute sponsors. Its military defeat there has driven them underground. But they are still active and recruiting supporters. These do not accept the Bangsamoro “political entity” created under RA 11054. They do not accept the Philippine State. Their religious belief insists that God rules if and only if he rules through an Islamic State, meaning of course, through them.
In this context, the Pope and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar say:
In the name of God…
In the name of innocent life that God has forbidden to kill…
In the name of the poor, the destitute, the marginalized…
In the name of orphans, widows, refugees
and those exiled from their homes and their countries…
In the name of peoples who have lost their security, peace, and the possibility of
living together, becoming victims of destruction, calamity and war…
In the name of human fraternity that embraces all human beings, unites them and renders them equal…
In the name of this human fraternity torn apart by policies of extremism and division, by systems of unrestrained profit or by hateful ideological tendencies that manipulate the actions and the future of men and women…
In the name of freedom…
In the name of justice and mercy…
In the name of all persons of good will…
In the name of God…
Al-Azhar al-Sharif and the Muslims of the East and West together with the Catholic Church and Catholics of East and West declare the adoption of
a culture of dialogue as the path;
mutual cooperation as the code of conduct;
reciprocal understanding as the method and standard.
This Document declares that it upholds the following, some of them stunning.
First: “The firm conviction that authentic teachings of religions invite us to remain rooted in the values of peace, to defend the values of mutual understanding, human fraternity and harmonious coexistence… to re-establish wisdom, justice and love; and to reawaken religious awareness among young people so that the future generations may be protected from the realm of materialistic thinking and from dangerous policies of unbridled greed and indifference that are based on the law of force and not on the force of law.”
I think this means it is not enough just to cite religious texts and teachings; they must be authentically interpreted. The Pope and the Grand Imam are of the “firm conviction” that religious texts and teachings are authentically interpreted when they invite us to remain rooted in the values of peace, mutual understanding, human fraternity and harmonious existence.
We are challenged to reawaken religious awareness among the youth. That is to be addressed to all our Catholic schools and madaris, as well as to our youth movements, like the Salaam, with which we are associated. Religion protects the youth, the Pope and the Imam are convinced, from materialism, unbridled greed and indifference to the suffering of humankind.
Stunningly the Document says such materialism, greed and numbness to suffering is rooted in the law of force rather than in the force of law. The law of force is coercion and power to subdue freedom, out of the barrel of a gun; the force of law is commitment to the common good, out of crafting and obeying laws that promote it. The law of force promotes conformity; the force of law unity.
Second, Freedom is the right of every person; each individual enjoys the freedom of belief, thought, expression and action. The pluralism and the diversity of religions, color, sex, race and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which he created human beings. This divine wisdom is the source from which the right to freedom of belief and the freedom to be different derives. Therefore the fact that people are forced to adhere to a certain religion or culture must be rejected, as too the imposition of a cultural way of life that others do not accept.
This is a reaffirmation of religious freedom both by Islam and Catholicism. God created us diverse. One group is not blessed with a with a monopoly on truth, while all other groups damned because they have no truth. Together, we affirm religious freedom and the “freedom to be different,” aware that we have had our Inquisition, aware that we taken off people heads in the name of God, aware that we have burned people at the stake for not accepting our religious dogmas, aware that we have fought wars to force religion on whole peoples, aware that have considered peoples of other faiths condemned by God, imperfect in their humanity, second-class citizens, inferior human beings. The statement is a declaration we should never do this again, and certainly not in the name of God.
Third: Justice based on mercy is the path to follow in order to live a dignified life to which every human being has a right.
This is stated where we often believe: True Justice is merciless; it is unfeeling, cold. It is a blindfolded woman of stone. It is achieved by power and force. But justice based on mercy is the justice of a God of Compassion; it is divine. Together, we must discern how to achieve this.
Fourth: Dialogue promotes a culture of tolerance, and reduces economic social, political and environmental problems
This is stated where we often believe: Tolerance is wishy-washy,
Listening to others’ convictions endangers one’s own. Intolerance and dogmatism are virtues, since we already possess the truth. Implementation of policies based on power, force and killing of dissenters is the most efficient way.
But here we are saying the culture of dialogue is the true path.
Fifth: Dialogue among believers means “coming together in the vast space of spiritual, human and shared social values and “transmitting the highest moral values that religions aim for.”
This is stated where we are afraid of the religious “other”, afraid we will lose our faith. But we are encouraged to dialogue. Dialogue among believers strengthens individuals in their beliefs, enriches religious communities and the world.
Sixth: Places of worship are to be protected.
This is stated in the context of suicide bombers in cathedral of Jolo and lethal grenade blasts in the mosque of Zamboanga
Seventh: Terrorism is deplorable.
This is stated because many believe terrorism is a legitimate political means of oppressed people.
Eighth. Citizenship is based on equality of rights and duties, under which all enjoy justice. Full Citizenship. Reject term “minorities”
This is stated because many do not care about the responsibilities of citizens for the common good. They believe in private rights over others’ rights.
Ninth. Good relation between east and west: fundamental human rights
This is stated because some world leaders urge: Just the east!
Just the west! America first! Saudi Arabia has the true Islam
Iraq has the true Islam.
Tenth. The right of women to education and employment and to exercise their own political rights
Eleventh. The right of children to grow up in a family environment, to receive nutrition, education and support.
Twelfth. Elderly, weak, the disabled, the oppressed. Their protection is a serious obligation.
The Document concludes with a joint “aspiration” – a stated hope that:
- this Declaration may constitute an invitation to reconciliation and fraternity among all believers and non-believers, among all people of good will
- this Declaration be an appeal to every upright conscience that rejects deplorable violence and blind extremism; an appeal to all those who cherish the values of tolerance and fraternity that are promoted and encouraged by religions;
- this Declaration be a witness to the greatness of faith in God that unites divided hearts and elevates the human soul;
- this Declaration be a witness to the closeness between East and West, between North and South, and between all who believe that God has created us to understand one another, cooperate with one another and live as brothers and sisters who love one another. That is what we hope and wish to achieve with the aim of finding a universal peace that all can enjoy in this life.
This Document on Fraternity of Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar begs for an appropriate response from ADDU, the Al Qalam, and the groups and organizations of men and women of good will with whom God brings us together in fraternity and mutual understanding.
I would suggest:
That this Document on Human Fraternity be read, meditated and reflected on, comprehended, and prayed over by all of us, that it may become part of our faith and part of our daily life in faith.
That this Document on Human Fraternity become material for reflection, prayer and mediation in recollections, silent retreats and during the holy season of Ramadan.
That we undertake measures to make the Document on Fraternity known understood and treasured by our Muslim and Christian individuals and organizations, and that we collect and publish the signatures of those who subscribe to this Document of Fraternity, beginning with our own.
That we request the Bishops-Ulama Conference of the Philippines to take the lead in the effort of spreading understanding of and subscription to this document, but that we voluntarily assist them in this effort as members of the ADDU and the Al Qalam.
That we request the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippine (CEAP) and the National Association of Bangsamoro Education, Inc. (NABEI) to spread appreciation of this Document of Human Fraternity in associated Catholic schools and Bangsamoro madaris. That our Catholic and Bangsamoro classrooms be incubation cells of peace through culturally-sensitive dialogue, peace and mutual understanding.
That we request the Catholic Bishops’ conference of the Philippines (CBCP), the Mindanao Catholic Church Leaders for Peace (MCCLP), and the various Muslim Associations of Ulamas and Ustadzes to spread appreciation of this Document of Human Fraternity in our respective faith community/umah.
That we urge the Government of the Republic of the Philippines through the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process adopt this Document as a guide to peace-building in the country.
That we urge the Bangsamoro Transition Authority to adopt this Document as a guide towards the successful implementation of the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (RA 11054).
That we urge the security forces in Mindanao, namely the military and police forces, to adopt this Document as a guide to waging peace and maintaining law and order in Mindanao, especially in urging not the law of force in suppressing freedom, but the force of law in promoting freedom responsible to the common good..
That our youth organizations, especially the Salaam, take the lead in spreading appreciation for this document among the youth especially in its challenge for a refreshed awareness of religion so that youth may be moved not by the rule of force but by the force of law, that is, the common good upon which all good laws are based, and that this challenge be the basis of their life-determining decisions.
That we promote research in Islamic and Christian theologies, philosophies, social sciences, arts and culture that would promote a deepened understanding of this Document of Fraternity.
That our instruction, formation and leadership development be culturally-sensitive instruction and promote dialogue, mutual cooperation and reciprocal understanding as our way of advancement.
That we promote face-to-face and life-to-life encounters between Christians, Muslims, Lumad throughout the Philippines in order in the Bangsamoro to spread our conviction that:
The culture of dialogue is the path;
Mutual cooperation is the code of conduct;
Reciprocal understanding is the method and standard.