February 4, 2019 — Pope Francis is currently on an official visit to the United Arab Emirates. This is the very first time a Roman Pontiff has ever made such a visit to the Arabian Peninsula, the cradle of Islam.
Placing this journey under the sign of peace and interreligious dialogue, the Jesuit pope stresses the fraternity that must unite Christians and Muslims. “I am here as a brother,” he said shortly after his arrival in the United Arab Emirates, referring to the fraternal encounter between Francis of Assisi and Sultan Malek al-Kamel in 1219, at the time of the Crusades.
The Pope made strong gestures during this journey. Today, he signed the declaration on human brotherhood for world peace and peaceful coexistence, co-signed by the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmad Al-Tayeb, of Al-Azhar University, a pillar of Sunni Islam, whom the Pope had met in Egypt in April 2017.
This statement bluntly condemns terrorism and religious violence: “We call on all to stop exploiting religions to incite hatred, violence, extremism and indiscriminate fanaticism and to stop using God’s name to justify homicide, exile, terrorism and oppression”.
The document also advocates freedom of worship and religion: “Freedom is a right of every person: everyone enjoys freedom of belief, thought, expression and action. Pluralism and diversity of religions, colours, gender, race and language are a wise divine desire. It is from “Divine Wisdom” that “the right to freedom of belief and freedom to be different derive. For this reason, the document condemns forcing people to adhere to a particular religion or culture. In this regard, “any attempt to attack or threaten places of worship by attacks, explosions or demolitions constitutes a deviation from the teachings of religions as well as a clear violation of international law”, probably referring here to the waves of attacks perpetrated against Christian minorities (Copts) in Egypt, among others.
This trip is not without resonance with Canadian religious and political events. Last week, Quebeckers and Canadians commemorated the attack on the Great Mosque of Quebec City on January 29, and invited the political class to take note of the climate of Islamophobia prevalent in the country.
A few days ago, the Canadian government also offered political asylum to the Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi, shortly after her acquittal by Pakistan’s highest court, and after several years of incarceration and death threats by Pakistani religious fanatics.
This call for peace, religious pluralism and peaceful coexistence is therefore very topical.