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On King Salman’s meetings with al-Azhar cleric and Tawadros II

If people remain loyal to one rigid concept and strictly and mechanically comply with it, life will be completely meaningless!

Hassan Al Mustafa

Published: Updated:

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz’s meetings with Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, and with Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed Al-Tayeb, during his recent visit to Egypt, highlighted the principles of communication among people belonging to different faith and sects. Such initiatives enhance the values of pluralism, dialogue and tolerance and help us fight against extremism spread by terrorists and people following takfiri ideologies.

The meetings weren’t just about protocol but were meant to send a message that we must stand hand-in-hand in the face of incitement against each other. They also delivered the message that relations are built among people who are equal in terms of duties and rights and who have the same characteristics. This is because we are respectable human beings who have the right to choose their faith without any fear or favor or the “guards of dogmatic enclosure”, as Algerian philosopher Mohammad Arkoun describes it.

If people remain loyal to one rigid concept and strictly and mechanically comply with it, life will be completely meaningless!

Hassan Al Mustafa

Arkoun refers to fundamentalists who seek to generalize religion based on their limited understanding of it and without cooperating with others or taking them into consideration. According to him, these fundamentalists are first and foremost zealous politicians with a dogmatic ideology. He adds that they are not thinkers and they only venerate power and that their dogmatism can go as far as eliminating you if you don’t agree with them or follow them.

Arkoun’s accurate and frank description of people with extremist ideologies is not an invective but the product of what the philosopher studied for decades. He observed the nature of these extremist groups’ work and how they resorted to violence and assassinations to achieve their objectives.

Manifestations of terror

One doesn’t have to go far to find evidence of this. Recent acts of terror in Europe and operations conducted by ISIS, al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda and other extremist groups in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Yemen and the Gulf countries expose the extent of violence that unfolds before us every day. Such mindless violence not only leads to financial losses but also has social and religious repercussions and widens the sectarian and cultural rift in the society.

This is why King Salman’s meetings with Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II and Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed Al-Tayeb are significant. The former is a Christian figure while the latter is a Sufi Ash’ari cleric. They represent two ideologies different from what is practiced in Saudi Arabia. The king celebrated this difference and sent a message of religious pluralism. The meetings proved that exchange among people belonging to different sects is a legitimate practice and enriches society.

The faith of each individual is “a personal experience” exclusive to the believer. Iranian thinker Abdolkarim Soroush says that each one of us follows our own faith and dies alone. Soroush maintains that individual religious practices are for salvation of the hereafter. “The religious community is based on free faith. Faith does not accept compulsion and does not accept uniting (with other faiths.) However religious communities become diverse thanks to people’s religious diversity,” Soroush says.

This explains the large number of ideologies witnessed for centuries. This diversity has produced a source of enrichment and led to the development of humanity. If people remain loyal to one rigid concept and strictly and mechanically comply with it, life will be completely meaningless!

This article was first published on AlRiyadh on April 15, 2016.

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Hassan al-Mustafa is Saudi journalist with interest in Middle East and Gulf politics. His writing focuses on social media, Arab youth affairs and Middle Eastern societal matters.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.