US offends Arabs Jan02
UK Foreign Office invited me to be part of a small delegation visiting
Cairo and Riyadh. I attended the Inter-Faith Seminar at the People’s
Assembly, presided jointly by the Speaker of the People’s Assembly, the
Chief Imam of Al-Azhar and the Pope of the Coptic Church. The Seminar was
attended by the leaders of the Catholic, Anglican and Coptic Churches in
Egypt, Members of Egypt’s People’s Assembly as well as Members of the
Shura Council (Senate).
addressed this distinguished Assembly depicting Christianity and Islam as
two great religions - two wheels of a bicycle bound by a single chain of
monotheistic belief, common philosophy and shared values. I stressed that
Christians and Muslims must recognise this common heritage and pedal in
the same direction to move forward to enable all followers to live in
peace and prosperity.
the Chief Imam of Al-Azhar as well as eminent scholars and businessmen who
were curious to know about the Muslims living in Europe, especially
Britain. I declared that there were about 3 million Muslims and over 1500
mosques in the UK. In Britain, this large Muslim population displayed
diversity of ethnic origin, lifestyle, cultural traditions and language.
Sadly, the media portrayed Islam in a negative way and there was a need to
ensure that eloquent Islamic scholars had an opportunity to clarify the
misconceptions perpetuated by the media.
Shenouda of the Coptic Church received me at his residence. We discussed
the situation of the Coptic Christians in Egypt. The Pope pointed out that
until recently there was discrimination against Coptic Christians and some
Churches had been burnt. Fortunately,
the situation has improved and the Copts are now able to
participate in the civic and political life of Egypt. The Church has no
difficulty in securing permission to build new churches. .
detailed discussions with Speakers of the Egyptian Shura Council (Senate)
and the People’s Assembly (Parliament) as well as the leading Members of
both Houses. The Egyptian Parliamentarians expressed their deep
reservation about US policy in connection with Palestine, the bombing of
Afghanistan, and the media perception of Islam. They were keen to
establish that there was no link between terrorism and Islam, as Islam was
a religion that rejected violence.
Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) I met the Speaker and leading members of the Majlis
Al-Shura that advises the King. I was also privileged to meet two brothers
of King Fahd - the Governor of Riyadh and the Saudi Foreign Minister. The
Saudis do not accept US criticism of its traditional Islamic society and
implementation of Sharia. They are offended by media insinuation of Saudi
support for terrorism and they reject that Islam is a religion based on
violence. They point to the stability and security of Saudi Arabia based
on traditional Islamic values despite having almost 6 million expatriates
living peacefully with their indigenous population of 14 million. They
claim that they have maintained good relations with the West, the Arab
world and continued to guarantee the flow of oil. They are disappointed
that the US does not recognise and respect this level of co-operation.
drew the distinction between Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan and stated that:
“Afghanistan is a country that has been unruly for over a century whilst
Saudi Arabia has enjoyed security and peace since King Abdul Aziz founded
the Kingdom in 1902. Afghanistan, occupied by external powers,
impoverished by civil war, plagued by the hazards of drug trade and with
every citizen owning arms cannot be compared with the stability, security,
affluence and regularity of Saudi Arabia. The Taliban regime used violence
to rule, the Saudis use Islamic tradition.
European Union is hosting this year an International Conference on
“Understanding Islam” and I look forward to taking an active part in