St. Francis Was Pioneer of Dialogue of Civilizations, Muslim Says

Interview with Secretary-General of International Islamic Council

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ROME, JAN. 24, 2002 (ZENIT.orgAvvenire).- Kamel al-Sharif rarely misses a meeting of Christian and Muslim religious leaders.

For years he has been secretary-general of the International Islamic Council for Da´wa and Relief, one of the major Muslim organizations in the world, with offices in Amman and Cairo.

Q: Can you explain the meaning of your participation in the Assisi Day of Prayer for Peace?

Al-Sharif: We appreciate the Holy Father´s initiative to gather representatives of the different religions in order to highlight their common inclination to solidarity and readiness to serve the whole of humanity.

In fact, we are aware of the seriousness of the continuance of wars and military conflicts in the world, especially after the latest international events showed how an event that occurred thousands of kilometers away can cause destruction where no one is spared.

Therefore, the only remedy is the purification of hearts and consciences in order to concentrate on the objective of peace and eliminate the roots of injustice, defeating the temptation to violence. The role of religions in this field is essential, as they call for inspiration in the life of the prophets and saints. From here, our participation is an expression of our adherence to these values, and we do so with enthusiasm and with a great desire for collaboration.

Q: What does the choice of Assisi mean to a Muslim?

Al-Sharif: The saint of Assisi was among the first to appeal for dialogue among civilizations. During the Crusades, he opened a way within the two rival camps to meet with the Sultan, calling him to peace — an invitation to which the Sultan responded with the same spirit of openness.

Of course, that invitation did not accomplish its objectives immediately. However, it stimulated future generations to further the same wish for peace and justice among men.

For all these reasons, the choice of Assisi has great meaning for us Muslims, and I personally, speaking on behalf of the Muslim delegation during the first Assisi meeting, recalled, precisely, the figure of St. Francis, as a symbol of universal dialogue, because he highlighted the fact that truth is never only on one side.

Q: Do you think the appeal to the world, being made by religions from Assisi, will be heard?

Al-Sharif: Political criteria are different from spiritual criteria, and are based on interests, national sovereignty and other material concepts.

It is possible that this spiritual initiative will not have an immediate influence in the political field, but spiritual forces always carry weight, and we are prepared to unite our voice to those who call for peace and justice. Without a doubt, we will have to insist on this, because the alternative is additional wars and destruction.

The wise politician knows that, despite the riches and military strength he might have at his disposal, the world does not belong to him alone, and that many of the weak in history in the end have defeated the strong. We believe that emphasis on religious values will bear fruit and because of this, we pray to Almighty God to accelerate the achievement of this objective and to save us from new anxieties.

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