The Eighth Annual Forum for Peace, held in Abu Dhabi from Dec. 5-7, was attended by scholars and clerics from around the world from the Abrahamic faith traditions. The opening evening was held at the main plaza at Expo 2020 in Dubai.

The main sponsor was Sheikh Abdallah Bin Bayyah, the highest Islamic authority in the UAE who has written prolifically from a tolerant Islamic perspective and is highly respected by many Islamic scholars.

Every year a different topic is addressed and this year the topic was “Inclusive Citizenship.” Nearly 100 speakers addressed the assembly and, although their perspectives were varied, there were many common themes.

There were two main themes to the subject of inclusive citizenship, one was explicit and the other implicit. How Muslims in the West can be integrated into their societies was discussed at length. Many of the Muslim speakers affirmed the freedom of religion in Islam and the need for pluralism, along with tolerance. They discussed the difficulties encountered by Muslim youth as they are seeking a common identity.

Sheikh Nahyan addressing the opening evening of the Forum for Peace at the Al Wasl Plaza

The inclusive aspect of citizenship was developed, and a difference was made between active and passive coexistence. Passive coexistence includes tolerating others and is characterized by unequal power relationships. However active coexistence was preferred as it includes a respect for differences and is evidenced when people are happy to be amongst people of other faiths.

Many speakers said there is a need to separate religious citizenship and civil citizenship, the latter being needed in order to maintain civility. Actually, the Arabic word chosen for citizenship: mouwatina (مواطنة) comes from the word for homeland (patrie in French) and implies a social contract, as opposed to religious belonging.

Therein lies the implicit theme of the conference. It is very significant that so many Muslim scholars and leaders came together to reject the notion promoted by Muslim extremists that citizenship is uniquely tied to a Muslim state (caliphate). Although this was not stated so explicitly, the message was clear that Muslims should be citizens of the countries in which they live and that the Islamic concept of citizenship entails a social and civil contract.

One Emirati government official was very explicit that the youth in the region have been kidnapped mentally under the umbrella of identity and that extremists have abused religion to serve their own interests. He affirmed that those who refer to a “religious country” have tried to use this concept to use us and separate us. He proposed that we deal with the issue from a modern perspective that comes from Sharia, and at the same time stressed the need for pluralism as well as multi races and ethnicities.

As a Christian, I was very encouraged to hear an Emirati official state that: “Christians and Jews have been part of our history, and they need to be part of our future as well.”

Several rabbis highlighted the emphasis in the Hebrew scriptures on treating immigrants with compassion. They quoted passages that prioritize immigrants even above orphans and widows. One rabbi told a touching story of a young Jewish woman that survived in Nazi Germany because an Egyptian doctor encouraged her to wear a Muslim headscarf. She moved around freely due to his help and protection.

Perhaps the thought that will stay with all the participants the most was the exhortation from a Lebanese professor who cited a list of laudable proclamations similar in concept to this forum. He then asked why not much action has been taken to implement the list of affirmations and proposals. He encouraged everyone to take the step from theory to action.

Hopefully the next conference will be able to report that the Eighth Forum for Peace led to concrete action steps. I am sure that all the participants would be happy for this to become a reality.

Sheikh Bin Bayya speaking at the Al Wasl Plaza at Expo 2020
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