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‘Answer to problems of our time’: Experts commemorate signing of historic document

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As the world marks the anniversary of the signing of the “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together” on Friday, members of the fraternity committee discussed the importance of such an agreement for modern interfaith relations.

Expo 2020 Dubai is commemorating the occasion with events and gatherings of multi-faith representatives, as the memorandum itself was inked in the UAE capital of Abu Dhabi three years ago exactly.

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The intentions of the agreement by Pope Francis and Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar Ahmed al-Tayeb were to create a lasting legacy of tolerance and understanding that is reflected in the annual International Day of Human Fraternity.

“We must believe in the importance of the Document on Human Fraternity, which is not just a set of principles, but a historical document that came after years of estrangement and a history of wars that employed religions to achieve political gain and access to power,” urged Judge Mohamed AbdelSalam, Secretary-General of the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity.

Pope Francis receives the trophy for the Zayed Award for Human Fraternity. (Supplied)
Pope Francis receives the trophy for the Zayed Award for Human Fraternity. (Supplied)

“Many of them sowed hatred and intolerance among the followers of religions, noting that the eminence of the Grand Imam, Dr. Ahmed al-Tayeb, Sheikh of al-Azhar, and His Holiness Pope Francis, Head of the Catholic Church, presented us with the ark of salvation when they presented to the world this document, after they shared the piece of news and prayed and prayed for God to protect humanity.”

The International Day of Human Fraternity highlights the principles and values of the Document on Human Fraternity, while advocating for world peace, peaceful interfaith coexistence and explores good practices towards its implementation as a pathway to building a more peaceful world, commemorating the Document.

On December 21, 2020, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution, co-sponsored by the UAE and Egypt, making February 4 the International Day of Human Fraternity.

“As we commemorate the International Day of Human Fraternity, let us commit to do more to promote cultural and religious tolerance, understanding and dialogue,” said the UN’s Secretary-general Antonio Guterres, in a statement issued by the intergovernmental organization.

Born from a discussion between Pope Francis and the al-Azhar Grand Imam, the document emphasizes the imperative need for fraternal ties, aiming to foster a global climate and “culture of mutual respect” and “guide future generations.”

Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (L) watches as Pope Francis (C) and Egypt's Azhar Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb sign documents during the Human Fraternity Meeting in Abu Dhabi on February 4, 2019. (AFP)
Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (L) watches as Pope Francis (C) and Egypt's Azhar Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb sign documents during the Human Fraternity Meeting in Abu Dhabi on February 4, 2019. (AFP)

Based in Abu Dhabi, the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity – an international independent committee instituted to promote human fraternity values - includes religious scholars and international figures in the fields of culture and education from the UAE, Egypt, the US, Spain, Bulgaria, Liberia, and Romania.

Several members of the Higher Committee discussed with Al Arabiya English the importance of this document on the occasion of the International Day of Human Fraternity and why the world needs it now more than ever before.

A ‘historic document’

“The historic document signed by His Holiness Pope Francis and His Excellency the Grand Imam, speaks about our common humanity, which speaks about our diversity, which speaks about the necessity of mutual respect and the necessity of knowing about each other and living cross-sections here between work to preserve heritage and the work of the Higher Committee,” former Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Irina Bokova, told Al Arabiya English.

“I believe that the Pope and the Grand Imam coming together to say: ‘Let's have a conversation about our human fraternity’ is something that governments should be paying attention to,” stated Leymah Gbowee, a Liberian peace activist responsible for leading the women’s non-violent peace movement, Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, during the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003.

Leymah Gbowee speaks at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Goalkeepers event in Manhattan, New York, US, September 20, 2017. (File photo: Reuters)
Leymah Gbowee speaks at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Goalkeepers event in Manhattan, New York, US, September 20, 2017. (File photo: Reuters)

Known for her activism and for bringing Muslim and Christian women together during the second civil war in her country Liberia in 2003, the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner said that once she read the Document on Human Fraternity, she immediately realized its importance.

“If you are a leader and you're concerned about the collective humanity of your people, you will be concerned about the collective humanity of others because our human fraternity is basically saying: ‘We're the same. Treat me right! Don't treat me on the basis of my skin color- that’s racism. Don’t treat me on the basis of my gender, don’t treat me on the basis of my economic or social status,’” added Gbowee.

‘An answer to the signs of our time’

“Human fraternity for me is an answer to the signs of our time. I was very impressed when I came to understand it and what it was promoting,” said Dr. Ioan Sauca, a priest of the Orthodox Church in Romania who serves as Director and Professor of Missiology at the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey in Geneva, Switzerland.

Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca of the Higher Committee for Human Fraternity and the World Council of Churches (WCC). (WAM)
Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca of the Higher Committee for Human Fraternity and the World Council of Churches (WCC). (WAM)

Drawing from his 36 years of experience in the education sector, Sauca believes that the key to shifting peoples’ perspectives about diversity and enhancing peaceful interfaith coexistence is through education.

“We have common values which bring us together… the values of human fraternity, that we all come from one creator, from one family, we belong to one another, we are interdependent,” Sauca said.

Echoing his sentiment, Gbowee also told Al Arabiya English that she was glad to see that the document was now being incorporated in many school curriculums.
“We need to begin [raising awareness] with our children,” she said.

Bokova also believes that the document is “of paramount importance” and that it is “at the heart of the challenges” that are being faced today.

Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO, addresses the United Nations Security Council after the Council voted to adopt a resolution on the protection of cultural heritage in armed conflict at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, US, March 24, 2017. (File photo: Reuters)
Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO, addresses the United Nations Security Council after the Council voted to adopt a resolution on the protection of cultural heritage in armed conflict at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, US, March 24, 2017. (File photo: Reuters)

“There is lot of stereotyping. There is a lot of manipulation around different cultures and religions. There is a lack of knowledge [on the matter]. Something is missing from education systems,” said Bokova, emphasizing the need for more educational institutions to incorporate the document, adding that diversity and mutual respect need to be taught.

“What I believe and so highly appreciate in the Document on Human Fraternity is that it is open to everybody. It is not a religious document. It has been signed by two great religious leaders who happen to have common views from their respective great religions. But it's open to everybody; to believers and non-believers,” the former and first female UNESCO Director-General added.

“It is deeply humanitarian and human, I believe meaning is unmatched today as a message to the whole of the world.”

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