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There Are No Minorities, only Citizens

The al-Azhar declaration calls for a renewed alliance between all Arab citizens: Muslims, Christians and those of other religions

Al-Azhar Great Mosque | 13 April 2017
Mosque and University of al-Azhar

At the end of the conference “Freedom, Citizenship, Diversity and Integration” held in al-Azhar 28th February – 1st March 2017, the participants signed a common declaration of which we propose a translation here

1. The notion of “citizenship” is deep rooted in Islam. Its first demonstrations can be found in the Constitution of Medina and in the subsequent documents and agreements in which the Prophet of God – prayer and peace be upon him – have defined the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims. This declaration states with conviction that citizenship is not an imported solution, but the recovery of the early Islamic system of government applied by the Prophet of God – prayer and peace be upon him – in the first Islamic society founded by him: the State of Medina. This practice did not imply any sort of discrimination or exclusion of any social group of the time, but it included policies founded upon religious, ethnic and social pluralism. This pluralism could not function outside the context of full citizenship and equality stipulated in the Constitution of Medina, according to which social groups of different religion and ethnicity constituted “one community to the exclusion of others” and non-Muslims had the same rights and responsibilities of Muslims. Based on all this, the Arab and Islamic societies can boast a very ancient tradition in the practice of coexistence in a single society, founded on diversity, pluralism and mutual recognition.

Since these elements, these values and these habits of tolerance have faced and continued to face internal and external challenges, al-Azhar, the Muslim Council of Elders and Eastern Christians meet again today, on grounds of their shared faith rooted in equal rights and responsibilities in their respective countries between Muslims and Christians. They are “one community, Muslims with their religion and Christians with their religion” according to what has been stipulated by the Prophet – prayer and peace be upon him – in the Constitution of Medina. The responsibilities of the country are in fact responsibilities shared by all.

2. The adoption of concepts of citizenship and equality necessarily imply condemnation of the opposite behaviour, such as those practices, which the Islamic sharia never established and which are founded on the distinction between Muslim and non-Muslim. It is such practices that bring about contempt, marginalisation, evaluations based on double standards, as well as persecutions, oppression, expulsions and homicides and other types of behaviour disapproved of by Islam and condemned by all other religions.

The first factor of consolidation and reinforcement of the collective will is the National Constitutional state, founded on the principles of citizenship, equality and the rule of positive law. Therefore, the exclusion of the concept of citizenship as a contract stipulated between citizens, society and the state, leads to the failure of a state, its religious institutions and its intellectual and political élites, to the halt of its development and progress and allows the enemies of the state and of its stability to threaten the future and destiny of their country. Furthermore, a lack of understanding of the concept of citizenship and what it entails leads to talking about “minorities” and their rights.

With this as a starting point, the declaration wishes that all men of culture and intellectuals be cautious regarding the risks implied in the use of the term “minorities”. In fact, while it claims to affirm certain rights, it veils a sense of discrimination and separation. In the last couple of years, we have witnessed the re-appearance of the term “minorities”, which we thought we had overcome with the end of colonialism. But it has recently come back into use to create differences between Muslims and Christians, but also between Muslims themselves, considering that it leads to dispersion of allegiance and favours foreign interests.

3. Regarding phenomena which have worsened in the last decades, such as extremism, violence, terrorism whose leaders justify themselves with religion and the fact that members of different religions and cultures are victims of pressures, intimidation, deportation, accusations and kidnappings, the Christian and Muslim participants present at the conference of al-Azhar, declare that no religion is responsible of any form of terrorism, which they denounce and condemn.
The participants request that the association of Islam or other religions with terrorism be brought to a stop, which is a fixed idea in the minds of many because of this error, however intentional or not it was.
According to the participants of the conference, condemning Islam because of the criminal actions of some of its followers, leads to the association between religions and terrorism. This would justify the extremism of modernists who, with the pretense of social stability, sustain the need to free oneself of religion altogether.

4. The primary duty of a national state is to protect the life of its citizens, their freedom, their possessions, their dignity, their humanity and all rights to which citizens are entitled to. It is a duty they cannot shrink from and a duty that no other institution can carry out.
Both recent and remote history is full of very clear examples which show that the weakness of a state leads to the violation of the rights of its citizens and that its strength lies in the strength of its citizens. National and cultural élites and those who look after public affairs in the Arab nation have important responsibilities, alongside the state, in the battle against episodes of uncontrolled violence, be the causes religious, ethnic, cultural or social.

Today, by virtue of a common belonging and of our shared destiny, we are all called to solidarity and cooperation to protect our human, social, religious and political existence: the injustice of which we are all victims, just like our common interests, require joint shared action on which we all agree. We must translate this sentiment into action in all aspects of life: religious, social, cultural and national.

5. In the last couple of years – individually and as institutions – we all have put an effort of revision, correction and education.
We – Muslims and Christians – are called to further revisions in favour of a renewal and of the development of our culture and activities within our institutions.
As far as revisions are concerned, there was the need to consolidate relations between religious institutions of the Arab world and the rest of the world in general; we have in fact re-established relations with the Vatican, with the Archbishop of Canterbury, with the World Council of Churches and with other institutions.
We hope to establish further ties of cooperation with all the religious, cultural and media institutions of the Arab world, to work together in activities of leadership and religious and moral education, citizenship education and in the development of relationships based on mutual understanding with Arab and global religious institutions, in order to reinforce Islamic-Christian dialogue and dialogue between civilisations.

6. Al-Azhar and the Muslim Council of Elders aim to institute during this conference a renewed collaboration and alliance between all Arab citizens, Muslims, Christians and those of other religions, founded upon mutual understanding, mutual recognition, citizenship and freedom. What awaits us in the future is not only a decisive choice but on this in fact depends the life and progress of our societies, our own states and of our generations to come.
The Prophet of God – prayer and peace be upon him – spoke about perfect coexistence and of the pact in force within a community by using the example of a group on a ship with two floors: those on the bottom floor were uncomfortable as, in order to drink, they had to go up to the higher floor. Some said: “If we made a hole in our part of the ship we would have water without causing trouble to our neighbours on the higher floor.” The Prophet – prayer and peace be upon him – commented saying: “If the group on the higher floor let their neighbours do whatever they wanted, they would all die, and if they prevented them, they would all survive.”
We are people that live on the same ship and within one society: we face common dangers which threaten our lives, our societies, our states and all our religions. We want, with a common will, a common sense of belonging and a common destiny, to contribute, working seriously to save our societies and our states, correcting our relations with the world, to give our sons and daughters the opportunity of a promising future and a better life.

The participants of this conference, Muslim and Christian, renew their pact of fraternity and their refusal of any attempt to create differences between them. They also highlight the fact that Christians are struck in their countries and they confirm that whatever terrorism has done – and does – between us to try and injure our experience of sharing, by striking the vital components of our society, it will not threaten our determination to continue to develop our life in common, reinforcing citizenship, in theory and in practice.
In this the Most High sustains us. He is enough and our greatest defender.

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