The last three days saw four organizations; Al-Azhar Al-Sharif, the Muslim Council of Elders, Nizami Ganjavi International Center and the Al-Azhar Library organize an international symposium which focused on a host of contemporary issues related to Islam and the West. It has been proven to many reasonable people that Islam is not an unusual religion or belief system that is infiltrated by extremists, jihadists or terrorists seeking to wreak havoc between Muslims and the West. Populist political figures in the West have used the rise of terrorism to push their narrative which targets immigration and pluralism and which calls for a wholesale defense against a foreign invasion of European values and structures. I do not wish to revisit all emotional tirades used by the media to unfairly connect Islam to terrorism because I believe that it is far more important to address the divide between Muslims and the West instead. It is also important to further develop relations between the two parties to fully understand the contemporary issues related to the recent rise in tensions. His Eminence Dr Ahmed El-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Al-Sharif and Chairman of the Muslim Council of Elders was clear in addressing the world at the opening of this symposium by saying, “I have long thought about what I will be saying at this opening and instead I have found myself in a situation of repeating issues discussed previously. It is these issues which have called for an increase of dialogue among various cultures, to help rescue them from the clutches of violence and conflict and to reach an attainable peace. Despite countless noteworthy efforts from many wise people from East and West, the road is still an uneasy one which requires a great effort to navigate through. I have tried to reflect on the differences between reality and hope, and it seems that many obstacles remain in place which are unfortunately blocking dialogue between cultures. Islam is currently being forcibly abducted by horrendous terrorists in full view of its believers, which has led many to label Muslims as violent and brutal, when in reality they are the real victims of this “black terrorism”. It is our duty to find the true causes of these problems and stem the use of religious values by various international entities to further their neo-colonial agendas.”
The Grand Imam has long championed the strengthening of ties between East and West. I have true hope that the hearts and minds of people searching for peace will be further drawn to integration and cooperation with others. Positive integration of Muslims in their communities and ensuring coexistence and cooperation as active citizens who are seeking to defeat stereotypes of them it the best form of identity and religious preservation.