The Archbishop of Canterbury’s visit to Al-Azhar
Islam and Christianity in Today’s World
Cairo - November 1999
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His Grace, Dr. George Cary, made his second visit to Al-Azhar in November, 1999 and delivered a speech titled “An Agenda for Action: Islam and Christianity in Today’s World” The Archbishop spoke about Islam, the commonalties among the monotheistic religions, and the role of religion in development.
Archbishop Carey spoke highly of the teachings of Islam: “My study has led to a greater respect and appreciation of Islam: its devotion, its commitment to prayer, its concern for the poor and the welfare of all. I am impressed by the Quran’s tolerance and understanding of Christians and Jews as “ people of the scriptures” with whom Islam has a great deal in common – reaffirming many of the truths also found in the Old and New Testaments.
The Archbishop said, “Our two faiths believe in the sanctity and permanence of marriage. Both believe that obedience of children to their parents and love is central to family life. The kernel of faith in both Christianity and Islam is embedded in the rich soil of peace and justice. Both believe in the importance of community and charity as the heart of neighborliness. In this regard, I am struck by Islam’s emphasis on ‘zakat’ or ‘obligatory charity’ – the notion that helping the poor is a moral vocation. There are counterparts of this in our Scripture, too.”
On the issue of tolerance, the Archbishop said, “ As People of the Book, together with our brother and sisters in Judaism, we cannot conceive of a world that is perceived as God-forsaken. This means, equally, that we cannot conceive of a world without faith. Yet faith cannot be imposed. It has to be lived and taught in believing, caring relationship.”
Finally, the Archbishop spoke of faith and development. “The serious problems facing the human family compel us to do more together. The president of the World Bank stated that he “saw the importance of religious communities and saw that religious leaders are there on the ground with their people, while politicians and economists are often far removed from their communities.”
This “World Faith Development Dialogue” has the makings of a very significant initiative for reducing poverty. We have effective networks for distributing aid, we hear the cries of the very poor, and we are moved by their desperation and despair.”
The Archbishop closed with the words of the Persian poet Saadi: “All men are members of the same body, created from one essence. If fate brings suffering to one member, the other cannot stay at rest. You who remain indifferent to the burden of pain of others do not deserve to be called human.”
Immediately following the visit, the Archbishop, the Grand Imam, and Dr. Aly El-Samman traveled together to Amman, Jordan to attend a United Nations Peace and Religion conference.