Visit by Pope Shnouda, Pope of the Copts in Egypt
A summary of His Eminence’s speech in the presence of a group of patriarchs and bishops from many countries, Muslim scholars, ministers, ambassadors and MPs
His Eminence Sheikh Ahmad Kuftaro spoke about the meeting, cooperation and coordination concerning matters in common between Islam and Christianity.
The Sheikh Ahmad Kuftaro Islamic Institution, Damascus, Syria
2 May 1997
Islam did not come to abolish previous religions; on the contrary, it came to complete and perfect them. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) refers to this meaning when he said, ‘The likeness of me and the other prophets before me is that of a man who built a house and beautified it except for the space of one brick in a corner. People went around it and wondered at its beauty but said, “If only this brick were put in its place!” I am that brick, and I am the final Prophet.’ Sahih Al-Bukhari.
Almighty God says:
“Say, ‘We believe in God, and the revelation which has been sent to us, and what was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and the Prophets among his descendants, and what was given to Moses and Jesus, and what was given to the Prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them and to Him we submit.’” T.Q., 2:136.
So the Holy Qur’an is a combination of all the heavenly messages and a call to belief in all of God’s prophets and messengers. Islam came to rectify the false and personal opinions that had distorted religions. All religions agree with regard to truth and logic; they even came to make human minds grow so that they can be the most successful. Heavenly religions, in their essence, came to change primitive minds into mature and enlightened ones. People with primitive minds used to take stones as their gods and worship them. They even were so merciless that they buried their own children alive. Almighty God says:
“Do not kill your children on account of poverty.” T.Q., 6:151.
Some of those people despised women and buried them alive. Almighty God says:
“And when the infant girl, buried alive, is asked for what crime she was killed.” T.Q., 81:8–9.
Religions came to make the judiciary, which was controlled by selfish desires and greed, a just and independent one. Almighty God says:
“Verily, God commands justice and the doing of good.” T.Q., 16:90.
He also says:
“O you who believe, stand out firmly for God as just witnesses; and let not the enmity and hatred of others make you avoid justice. Be just; that is next to piety, and fear God. Verily, God is Well-Acquainted with what you do.” T.Q., 5:8.
Religions came to rule all people according to equity in matter of duties and rights. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, ‘If Fatimah (Muhammad’s daughter) stole, I would have her hand cut off.’ Sahih Al-Bukhari.
Religions also tackled people’s affairs and problems and transferred them from poverty to richness, from backwardness to progress, from ignorance to knowledge and from weakness to strength. For these noble reasons religions came, and to these targets prophets and messengers called. Therefore, if we find objectives other than these, we should realise that religions have become distorted and we have expressed them incorrectly.
This means that they need to be renovated and brought back to their fundamental essence, as the noble Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, ‘This knowledge will be passed on by the elite of every generation; they would clear it from the distortion of extremists, the misrepresentations of the wrong-doers and the misinterpretations of the ignorant.’ Sunan Al-Baihaqi.
Indeed, heavenly religions called for and realised human rights. Religion did not come to hold humans back, but to make them civilised, enlightened and happy, and those who claim otherwise are lying to people in regard to religion. Actually, philosophers founded Utopia only on paper, while prophets realised it on the level of the individual, society and nation. If the clergy work to return religion to its authentic nature and clear it of everything that distorts it, the whole world would certainly unite and become one world in its belief in the One Glorious God.
I believe that, if we make a revolution in religion by returning it to its original form, we will not find any atheist in the whole world. I also believe that Muslim-Christian cooperation in the twenty-first century will start very soon. Currently, we share many Arab issues and anxieties, the most important of which is Jerusalem.
Jerusalem must be the focal point of peace in the region as well as in the world. In fact, defending Jerusalem and its holy sites is a basic element in our religious doctrine. This element cannot be weakened or doubted. It must be a blood-like belief that runs in our veins and is born into our children. Indeed, we are heralds of peace. We seek peace for ourselves and for others, but at the same time we reject having our rights taken away by force. We cannot allow any hand-span of our lands to be abandoned. We as Muslims and Christians in our joint struggle against the treacherous Zionist aggression, which is directed against Jerusalem and its holy sites, against Palestine and its people, against Christianity and its churches and against Muslims, Islam and the Holy Qur’an, desperately need to solidify our front and hold fast to God’s strong rope so that we constitute one front line defending the rights of our nation and homelands.
Each Arab, whether Muslim or Christian, must work with the utmost power — material and non-material — to support the struggle and perseverance of the Arab nation, specifically in Palestine. We pray that Almighty God will show us our nation dignified and victorious, and we will witness justice prevailing all over the world. Yet this cannot be achieved without the correct belief. Indeed, I call for the abolition of the so-called right of veto in the Security Council, which has been used against weak nations. The most obvious example of this is the United States’ use of it twice in only one week and against the will of the whole world in support of Israel, who took Palestinian territories by force and established their own settlements on them. Is this equity? Is this democracy? Are these the human rights which they call for?
Therefore, we think that if international law is not carried out truthfully, honestly and justly, the word peace is sure to be a big lie and a mockery of people.
Humanity will keep living in confusion, and wars will continue, unless we return to God’s teachings. Arab and Muslim nations must move in the right direction to support and defend Arab rights without any negligence or lenience.
I think we have been negligent in the field of world media. I am absolutely certain that if we prepare sufficient and efficient media and use them in defending Arab rights by uncovering injustice and aggression committed against Arabs, showing the bright face of Arab culture and clearing up any misconceptions about Arabs, especially in the West, we will surely replace many stereotypes and misconceptions with truth, especially where media are available, such as satellite TV channels, the Internet and such like.
Almighty God has granted Arabs all the material and moral powers they need. Our land contains the cradle of heavenly religions, and we have supporters all over the world. On the other hand, we have to know that if we are negligent towards ourselves, we cannot ask others to do the duty on our behalf. Establishing a prosperous, advanced and strong Arab people is enough to take our rights back and to resist our enemies, and this is better than thousands of conferences, speeches and condemnations.
The Western Christian world and the Western Church in particular have to fulfil their duty in supporting the Palestinians’ rights in their homeland in a way that conforms to the teaching of Jesus Christ (pbuh). They also have to call for the USA to change its attitude towards Arab rights in Palestine. From this position, I welcome our guests again, the leaders of the Eastern churches, and I appreciate their attitude towards Palestine and Arab issues, particularly that of Jerusalem. I am so happy for this historic meeting here in Abu Nour Islamic Foundation (the previous name of the Sheikh Ahmad Kuftaro Islamic Instiution).
I pray to Almighty God to make this meeting an introduction for the meeting between Islam and Christianity in the twenty-first century.
(T.Q. = Translation of the meanings of the Holy Qur’an)
(pbuh = May Allah's peace and blessings be upon him, and may Allah exalt his mention and raise his position more and more)