CAIRO // The recent Palm Sunday attacks in Egypt that left dozens dead had no basis in faith and stood against the principles of all religions, Muslim and Christian leaders at a conference in Cairo said.
Religious and political figures from across the globe were speaking on the first day of an international peace conference on Thursday co-organised by the UAE Muslim Council of Elders and Al Azhar, ahead of Pope Francis’ two-day visit to the Egyptian capital.
Violence and rejection of the faiths of others go against the ideals of religion, speakers at the conference said, just weeks after the attacks on Coptic churches this month killed at least 45 people.
One Coptic bishop brought with him gestures of peace after arriving at the event following a visit to Tanta, the Nile Delta city where 28 people were killed on Palm Sunday.
He said that to counter terror, a culture of peace had to be planted in people’s hearts.
“I bring an olive branch because it represents peace and a palm branch to indicate support,” said Bishop Bola, who was representing Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria.
Accepting different religions and people is an innate part of Islam, said Dr Ahmed Al Tayyeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar, the global seat of Sunni Muslim learning.
Embracing this ideal will naturally lead to courteous discussion, understanding and cooperation among people of different beliefs, said Dr Al Tayyeb, who is also chairman of the Muslim Council of Elders.
Dr Amal Al Qubaisi, Speaker of the UAE’s Federal National Council, said the recent attacks were not only on Christian Egyptians, but all Egyptians.
“Peace is no longer about the relations of states but must be an essential pillar of the countries’ laws,” Dr Al Qubaisi said.
As a politician, she said, she knew about the responsibility governments shouldered when it came to instilling values of tolerance among their people.
“From my background in politics I know it is our place to cultivate the culture of peace.”
Using the platforms of law to achieve this should not be underestimated, said Dr Al Qubaisi. She alluded to the UAE’s tolerance law and reiterated the Emirates Association for Human Rights’ call on countries to adopt similar policies for rejecting intolerance, hatred, terrorism and violence.
The Archbishop of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, said that although religion could lead to conflict, it still must be part of the peace process.
“Religion can divide by imposing intolerance and violence, but this is rather its failure, not its essence, which is the protection of human dignity,” said the head of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Religions can serve as bridges between people, he said. Like other speakers, the archbishop defended Islam.
“We would like to oppose at least one prejudice. Islam does not equal terrorism because terrorism is a stranger to any religion,” he said.
Another Christian leader said his organisation stood with Dr Al Tayyeb to combat Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment.
“We refuse to let the Christian faith be used for anti-Muslim rhetoric,” said Rev Dr Jim Winkler, president of the National Council of Churches in the US, a partnership of 38 Christian groups with 40 million followers.
Pope Francis and Dr Al Tayyeb’s speeches on Friday will close the conference, taking place at Al Azhar’s Centre for Conferences on its university’s campus.