Al-Azhar is the world’s highest Islamic authority, and it is the intellectual and spiritual reference point for Sunni Muslims around the world. It has a history of more than a thousand years of scholarship and service to religion, knowledge and communities. It is respected by world institutions and appreciated by different faith communities, in particular the Christian community. In recognition of its pivotal role, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar and President of the Muslim Council of Elders, Dr Ahmad al-Tayyeb Shaykh al-Azhar, hosted the Al-Azhar International Conference in Support of Jerusalem earlier this month.
The conference was held at the Al-Azhar Convention Centre in Cairo on 17-18 January 2018, under the patronage of the President of the Arabic Republic of Egypt, Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, and keynote attendance of the President of the Palestinian State, Mahmoud Abbas. Al-Azhar has a long-standing history in supporting the rights of the Palestinian people and highlighting the significance of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy city of Jerusalem. This landmark conference of this scale, with representatives from the major world religions and officials from eighty-six countries, is the 12th international conference of Al-Azhar regarding Jerusalem and Palestine held over the course of the past century. The conference came together in the wake of the declaration by the President of the United States, Donald Trump, to recognise the whole of Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel and his intention to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in light of this recognition.
The conference comprised of two days of seminars and discussions covering a range of topics, which included the Arab identity of Jerusalem and its global significance, restoring awareness of the Palestinian cause, and the international responsibility towards Jerusalem. Participants included Pope Tawadros II (Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church), Marzouq Al-Ghanim (President of the Kuwaiti National Assembly), Ambassador Ahmed Aboul Gheit (Secretary-General of the Arab League), Sheikh Saleh bin Abdul-Aziz (Minister of Islamic Affairs of Saudi Arabia), Dr Yousuf bin Ahmad al-Othaimeen (Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation), Dr Mohammad al-Issa (Secretary-General of the Muslim World League), Reverend Dr Olav Fykse Tveit (Secretary-General of the World Council of Churches), Patriarch Moran Mor Bechara al-Rahi (Cardinal of the Catholic Church), Sheikh Mohammed Ahmed Hussein (Grand Mufti of Jerusalem), Shaykh Dr Shawqi Allam (Grand Mufti of Egypt), Dr Terry Rambo (Archbishop of Beirut), and Dr Charles Saint-Prot (Director of the Paris Observatory of Geopolitical Studies) amongst many others.
The final declaration of the conference called for the year 2018 to be recognised as the Year of Jerusalem, during which this religious and geopolitical issue is to be highlighted in an educational manner in order to raise awareness. The declaration made clear various points including that Jerusalem will always remain the capital of Palestine and a spiritual city for all people of all backgrounds; the fact that Jerusalem is Arab is a historical truth and has been so for thousands of years, and this history cannot be falsified; the announcement by the American President lacks legal, juristic and historical justification and if this is not withdrawn, it will lead to further extremism around the world; there is need for official attempts from Muslims, Christians and Jews to end the illegal occupations; the UN, Arab League and other international human rights organizations are called upon to prevent further calamity due to this decision; Al-Azhar will work towards revising the history syllabus and implement it across all its schools and universities to educate the youth and future generations on the genuine history and the significance of al-Quds (Jerusalem); and a committee is to be put together to ensure that the recommendations of this conference are implemented.
The conference also received messages of support from various leaders, including from Pope Francis of the Vatican in Rome. Read his letter here: