On the occasion of the visit of
The Pope John Paul II
The Head of the Vatican State
and Pontiff of the Catholic Church in the world.
Main Reception Hall, Umayyad Mosque,
Damascus, 6th May 2001
In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
Praise be to God, the Lord of the worlds. The most blessed greetings and peace be on Prophet Muhammad, on his brothers Moses and Jesus, on his forefather Abraham and on all prophets and messengers, their families and companions.
Your Holiness, head of the state of the Vatican and Pontiff of the Catholic Church, esteemed guests, I greet you with the greeting of Islam: Peace be upon you all and the mercy and blessings of God be with you. I welcome you to this blessed land of Syria, the cradle of heavenly religions and the homeland of prophets and righteous people.
Honourable guests, Islam is the religion of peace and mercy to all the world. Our Lord is the Lord of all mankind; He is the Peace. Muhammad used to address God as follows: “O God, You are the Peace, and from you comes peace and to you goes peace.” God calls Paradise the Land of Peace, to which all humanity is called to live in peace in this life and in the afterlife.
Fourteen centuries ago Islam came to unite all members of humanity into one family. It came to perfect and complete the messages of the previous prophets. God says in the Quran, addressing Muslims:
“He has established the same religion for you as that which He enjoined on Noah — which We have sent by inspiration to you — and that We enjoined on Abraham, Moses and Jesus: namely that you should remain steadfast in religion and make no division therein.” (Surah XLII, v.13)
Prophet Muhammad, son of Abdullah, says: “The likeness of me and the Prophets before me is that of a man who built a house which he made all complete and beautiful except for one brick in a corner. People visited and admired it but said: ‘Shouldn’t that brick be put in?’ I am that brick and I am the last of the prophets.” (Narrated by Bukhari) That is the very call of Jesus, who said:
“I have not come to pull down, but I have come to complete.” (Matthew Ch. 7, v.17)
True religion has always been a call for people to come together and help one another. It has never supported division, hatred or hostility, so it is necessary for the followers of religions to meet and get to know each other despite their differences. It is God Who made us different, for He says in the Quran:
“O mankind, We created you from a single [pair] of male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other.” (Surah XLIX, v.13)
Honourable Guest, we have been living in this blessed land as Muslims and Christians for centuries, sharing its gifts and the sweet and bitter moments of life, together confronting our enemies and shedding our blood as Muslims and Christians on its soil. Our oppressive enemies have left, but we have remained. Our fraternity and mutual co-operation, which you have seen for yourself with the mosques hugging the churches, is clear-cut evidence of our distinguished unity of faith, which we take pride in, through the grace of God, the Almighty. We invite the whole world to follow our example of living in mutual harmony, which emanates from our commitment to the teachings of Islam and our Christian brothers’ commitment to their teachings.
Today mankind is distressed by many problems and difficulties, all because humanity has distanced itself from the teachings of the heavenly messages, so much so that man’s danger to his fellow men is greater than that of wild animals to man. We are suffering from the oppression of the powerful, the domination of the rich and the manipulation of the majority by the few all over the world. Consequently, world security and peace are threatened or damaged. The incidence of hunger and poverty is increasing and has driven many people, especially the young, into the world of crime and corruption. Chronic and incurable diseases have increased as well as immorality and environmental pollution.
The responsibility lies largely on the shoulders of all religious leaders, in addition to statesmen and men of integrity. We are all responsible before God, the Almighty. No one is immune from His reckoning, be he Muslim, Christian or otherwise. There must be active dialogue and fruitful meetings between us so that we can strive together with all sincerity and devotion to support the oppressed and the weak, to assist the needy and to spread mercy, which is a nobler sentiment than peace. God, the Almighty, sums up the mission of Prophet Muhammad when He says:
“We have not sent you save as a Mercy for all creatures.” (Surah XX1, v.107)
Honourable Guest, we are in a house of God, the Almighty, in a city of goodness and generosity, in a country of civility and mutual coexistence. However, we should not forget that a few miles away there is a holy and blessed land — Palestine, the symbol of virtue, faith and peace across all history. Scores of prophets and messengers lived there. It is the cradle of early Christianity. In it is the Church of the Resurrection and others. In it is the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque, which was the first Qibla of Muslims and their third most sacred sanctuary. It was the destination of Prophet Muhammad’s night journey, peace be upon him. Ever since the Islamic liberation of Jerusalem, and the covenant signed between Caliph Omar and the Patriarch of Jerusalem, this holy land prospered in peace and security, with Muslims and Christians unified in their efforts against any invaders. This peace was not disturbed except during the Crusades. However, this blessed land no longer lives in peace and security, or in religious freedom. Ever since its invasion by Jews and Zionists and the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, Zionist and Jewish oppression and atrocities have been committed against our Muslim and Christian Arab people in Palestine.
Regrettably, the world merely watches the massacres, the demolition of houses, the uprooting of trees, the forced migration of the innocent, the killing of scores of women and children, and the wounding of hundreds. The sanctity of mosques and churches alike has been violated and ruin has become widespread at the hands of the Israelis. Where is the Security Council? Where is the United States of America? Where is the evidence that Israeli statesmen seek peace?
We aspire to a more active stand than mere prayer, supplication and goodwill. We aspire to a practical stand by all honourable and peace-loving people and followers of religions to put a stop to these savage massacres perpetrated against the children of Christ and Muhammad in Palestine, the land of bounty. We request the Catholic Church all over the world, with His Holiness the Pope at its head, and all the Christian governments of the West to stand in support of justice and put pressure on Israel by every means to curb its atrocious aggression. I believe that this is the least that Christianity, as a proof of its allegiance to Jesus Christ, can offer the world.
We Muslims, across our long history, have opened our hearts to all mankind and to Christians in particular, motivated by our Islamic faith. Today we should not linger over past mistakes made by those who alleged they followed the teaching of their religion. We open our hearts and arms in love to Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) because Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) says: “I am foremost in caring for Jesus, son of Mary, in this life and in the hereafter.” (Narrated by Bukhari)
We Muslims believe in Allah as our only Lord and God. We believe in all prophets and messengers of God. We believe in all heavenly messages. We love Jesus, his mother, his religion and his Gospel, and we believe in him.
God addresses mankind saying:
“When a greeting is offered you, meet it with a greeting still more courteous, or of equal courtesy.” (Surah III, v.86)
So we hope that our Christian brothers reciprocate by opening their hearts as we have opened ours, with love and faith, and meet our greeting with one more courteous — and they are surely worthy of that.
In conclusion, I wish our noble guest a happy stay in Syria, and I pray to God, the Almighty, for the good of all mankind. He is All-Hearing, All Responding. Praise be to God, the Lord of all creation.