Egypt's Al Azhar calls for respect between religions
The Grand Imam's comments come at a time in which the region is plagued with sectarian and religious violence.
Egypt's Al Azhar has formally adopted the "Al Azhar Declaration of Islamic-Christian Mutual Co-existence" in Cairo, condemning the use of violence in the name of religion and calling on people of different faiths to live together in harmony and with mutual respect.
The declaration came at the end of the two-day "Freedom, Citizenship, Diversity and Integration" conference organized by Al Azhar and the UAE-based Muslim Council of Elders, which brought together religious leaders and dignitaries from over 50 countries.
In the final session of the conference, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Dr Shaikh Ahmad Al Tayeb, noted that the Declaration "condemns all crimes committed in the name of religion", which he said is "conduct refused by all religions and norms."
The Grand Imam's comments come at a time in which the region is plagued with sectarian and religious violence, including a string of recent high-profile attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt.
"Christians are targeted in their own homelands," Dr Shaikh Al Tayeb said. "Regardless of (the efforts) of terrorists, they will never undermine our determination to secure a common livelihood."
"The joint will of a national state is based on citizenship, equality and rule of law," he added. "(Not establishing this) will lead to the failure of these countries, and will undermine human development and progress."
Additionally, the Declaration vows that Al Azhar will continue working to establish relationships and lines of dialogue with representatives of other faiths and sects.
"(We will) strengthen the bonds of cooperation between religious entities, in order to promote religious and moral education and the the principles of citizenship," Al Tayeb said. "This will create a better life for forthcoming generations."
"It is incumbent on us to secure solidarity and collaborate to preserve our human and social interests," he added.
A Voice from America
Among the religious leaders present at the conference was Reverend Jim Winkler, Secretary General of the National Council of Churches in the United States.
Speaking to Khaleej Times on the sidelines of the conference, Winkler - the only American participant and an early opponent of America's involvement in Iraq - said that he believes the United States has a special responsibility to help mend some of the social and religious rifts in the region caused by the US invasion.
"I wish that that the result of that war had been some sort of miraculous outcome, where there were very few people who died, a peaceful, functioning, multi-party democracy in Iraq and that I had been wrong," he said. "But quite frankly those of us who had even scant knowledge of the Middle East knew this would unleash hell, and it has."
"Therefore, we Christians in the United States have a special responsibility to do whatever we can to build peace in the Middle East and to develop understanding with Muslims," he said, adding that American Christian leaders are also working to help Christians in the Middle East suffering from persecution or marginalization.
Addressing the crowd of religious leaders at the conference, Winkler also extended an invitation to the Grand Imam of Al Azhar to come to America.
"In order to advance the cause of peace, understanding, and inter-religious co-operation, it is my hope and prayer that the Grand Imam be able to visit the United States," he said.
"The Grand Imam's (previous) visits to the Vatican, to the World Council of Churches, and to the Archbishop of Canterbury, were very important steps for international peace and understanding," he added. "We need him to visit the United States next."
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