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How Zayed Award for Human Fraternity Amplifies Open-Minded Voices of All Religions and Cultures

DUBAI: Pope Francis, head of the Roman Catholic Church, delivered a message of hope and tolerance during a recent meeting in the Vatican with the selection committee for the Zayed Prize for Human Fraternity 2022.

“We must maintain and support” the path of human brotherhood, he told the committee at its Oct. 6 meeting, which took place less than two months before nominations for this year’s award close on. 1st December.

The award was created to build on the historic February 4, 2019 meeting in Abu Dhabi between Pope Francis and Al-Azhar Grand Imam Ahmed Al-Tayeb.

Their meeting, which marked the very first papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula, resulted in the co-signing of the Document on Human Brotherhood for World Peace and Living Together, also known as the Abu Dhabi Declaration.

It was born out of a fraternal discussion between the two religious leaders to guide others in promoting a “culture of mutual respect”, which Francis would later describe as “not a mere diplomatic gesture, but a reflection born out of dialogue and of a common commitment “.

The document led to the establishment of the Higher Committee of Human Brotherhood and the Zayed Prize for Human Brotherhood under the patronage of Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.

The award, now in its third edition, is named in honor of Sheikh Mohammed’s late father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, founder of the United Arab Emirates. It is an independent global award launched in recognition of those who make a profound contribution to human progress and peaceful coexistence.

The 2021 prize was awarded jointly to Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, and to the Franco-Moroccan activist Latifa Ibn Ziaten, founder of the Imad association for youth and peace, who, after losing her son in an act of terrorism, transformed his grief. in raising awareness among young people.

His Holiness Pope Francis with members of the Zayed Prize for Human Fraternity at the Vatican. (Provided)

Among the award’s selection committee are Mahamadou Issoufou, former President of Niger and winner of the 2020 Ibrahim Prize for Excellence in African Leadership, and José Ramos-Horta, former President of East Timor.

Also on the committee are Judge Mohamed Abdelsalam, Secretary General of the Higher Committee on Human Fraternity and co-author of the Document on Human Fraternity, and Leah Pisar, President of the Aladdin Project.

“It was an amazing gathering, and the meeting really gave me hope at a time when we need hope,” Pisar told Arab News following his meeting with Pope Francis.

“We are at a critical moment in human history, and we have no choice but to seize it because humanity could really go one way or the other if we are not vigilant. . I see this statement as a very bold and courageous call to action.

The Aladdin Project is an international NGO that was started by the late French President Jacques Chirac and several other heads of state to promote the rapprochement of cultures and the use of the lessons of history to overcome hatred and extremism. It has a partnership with UNESCO.

Pisar said that having the award overseen by Al-Azhar’s Pope and Grand Imam gives it immense credibility, as well as the strength, depth and resonance needed to inspire the public and community leaders to s sit down and listen.

“I am the only Jewish member of this jury and I was received very warmly,” said Pisar. “I felt embraced and welcomed, and this is something very important because it highlights the fact that everyone in it understands the term ‘brothers and sisters’ – we all pray to the same God there. has a common humanity and far more that unites us than distinguishes us.

Despite their religious differences, the spiritual and intellectual leadership of the committee is a “federation of open-minded voices from all cultures,” which in essence uphold broadly similar values ​​and can learn a lot from each other, Pisar said. .

The 2021 Zayed Prize for Human Fraternity was awarded jointly to Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General, and Franco-Moroccan activist Latifa Ibn Ziaten. (AFP / photo file)

“We’re not necessarily going to agree on everything, but we have to understand where we’re all coming from. And if we can have the courage and the openness to do it, then we will find more and more common ground and foster tolerance, and we urgently need tolerance. “

The United States is emerging from a period of “horrible” hatred, she said, in which the rhetoric of the past four years has pitted people against each other.

Pisar’s goal is to make sure that such negativity doesn’t escalate. To do this, the Aladdin Project defends tolerance through various cultural exchanges and educational initiatives.

From sports-focused youth programs to annual summer schools that bring together students from 70 partner universities, the Aladdin Project offers people of different cultures the opportunity to get to know each other, learn to respect their differences and develop an understanding. common.

“I think it’s a powerful way of doing things,” Pisar said. “It’s about exchanging and listening to others. Since I was elected president of Project Aladdin four years ago, I have met amazing people in different countries, and I want to learn from them. If we can just stop and listen sometimes, we’ll get far.

The Aladdin Project has published several books in Arabic and Farsi covering topics ranging from history to literature. A new text on religion, titled “Know Your Neighbor’s Religion,” was written by senior clerics of the three “Abrahamic” monotheistic religions – Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.

The book serves as a tool for theology students in religious schools of the three denominations to learn directly about other belief systems, rather than through the strict lens of their own doctrine. The book, currently available in French, is being translated into Arabic, English, Italian and German.

“We hope it will be something that becomes a teaching method,” said Pisar. “There is a lot to do in the world of education for tolerance.

President of the Aladdin Project Dr. Leah Pisar. (Provided)

“We are also working on early childhood education programs on how to open the eyes of children of K-6 age (kindergarten to sixth grade). I have a six year old son, and I know from personal experience that parents find it difficult to explain certain dark chapters in history and human behavior to their children.

The overarching goal of Project Aladdin is to counter all kinds of hatred and fanaticism, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, because “we’re all in the same boat,” she said.

The Abu Dhabi Declaration was a landmark in interfaith relations, but Pisar believes it is only a symbolic first step on the road to building a world of greater religious and cultural tolerance. .

“If the answer was simple, the problem would have been solved,” she said. “We each bring our part and my mission and the mission of this group is to bring a brick or a stone to this edifice.”

For this, she says, only dialogue, human fraternity and respect will make coexistence and tolerance possible.

“We have no choice but to act,” said Pisar. “When I meet people who want to make a difference, I find optimism. We have tools, like technology, and there is a lot to do, but we must not only believe that we can do it, but also move forward in a concrete way.

Pope Francis greets Egyptian Grand Imam Azhar Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb after signing documents during the meeting of the human brotherhood at the founders’ memorial in Abu Dhabi on February 4, 2019 (AFP / File Photo)

Having the blessings of major religious leaders and institutions shows people that they are not alone and that there are influential supporters sharing messages that really resonate, she said.

The 2019 declaration, she said, is a courageous and essential document that should become as inclusive and comprehensive as possible, so that all faiths and cultures feel they can relate to it.

“Here we have two leaders representing different faiths, who agreed to sign a common text knowing that its importance was greater than the differences that could distinguish them,” said Pisar.

“What strikes me is that the extremists make a lot of noise and the moderates do not. It’s time for moderates from different cultures and religions to pool their energies and start making more constructive noise. In this way, we will make significant progress. “

The winner of the 2022 Zayed Prize for Human Brotherhood will be announced on February 4, 2022.


Twitter: @CalineMalek

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