On his “historic” trip to the Arabian Peninsula this week, the pope declared the sharia-governed United Arab Emirates the ‘homeland of tolerance.’ This could not be any farther from the truth.
Had Francis condemned their human rights violations and assistance in Saudi Arabia’s genocidal war in Yemen, then perhaps we would have an opportunity to begin initiating something approaching tolerance in the Middle East.
Francis was in the UAE to take part in the “International Interfaith Meeting on Human Fraternity” and speak to the UAE’s ruling body as well as representatives of other Islamic governments.
At the end of his talk, Francis co-signed with Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, the grand imam of Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, the Document on Human Fraternity, which declares that “religions must never incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility and extremism, nor must they incite violence or the shedding of blood.”
Francis said such “tragic realities are the consequence of a deviation from religious teachings.”
Two factors should be seen here. The first is the co-signee, el-Tayeb, head of Sunni’s Islam premier establishment worldwide. He is considered by some as a moderate within the Sunni world, including the pope. The two of them came together after el-Tayeb breached relations with the Vatican after Pope Benedict XVI requested greater protection for Christians in Egypt following a New Year’s bombing on a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria which killed 21 people.
El-Tayeb is the most influential Muslim leader in the Sunni world, yet el-Tayeb is a advocate of hardline sharia law. In a television interview on June 16, 2016, he stated, “The penalty for an open apostate, departing from the community, is well stipulated in sharia. An apostate must be pressed upon to repent within a variable period of time or be killed.”
In December 2015, when questioned about why al-Azhar University had not yet issued a formal statement condemning ISIS as a genocidal terrorist organization (which would have given the group the status of kufr, or un-Islamic), Tayeb responded, “Al Azhar cannot accuse any [Muslim] of being a kafir [infidel] as long as he believes in Allah and the Last Day – even if he commits every atrocity … I cannot denounce ISIS as un-Islamic, but I can say that they cause corruption on earth.”
Is this someone whom we can count upon to promote peace and human rights?
The pope asserted that “religions must never incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility and extremism…” While historically there have been those who have committed atrocities and who represented Christianity (i.e. the Crusaders), that does not mean that Catholic doctrine or the gospels call for such measures.
For example, the sacking of Constantinople in 1215 was condemned by Pope Innocent III, who excommunicated the Venetians who carried out the raid.
At the same time, it cannot be said that the Muslims who carry out terror attacks are divorced from Islamic doctrine, which encourages jihad.
In other words, we cannot dispel the notion that the perpetrators do not refer to passages found in their religious texts that justify such incursions. For example, take the passage:
“Fight against such of those who have been given the Scripture [People of the Book: Jews and Christians] who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day and who forbid not that which Allah has forbidden by His Messenger, and follow [adopt] not the religion of truth from those who were given the Scripture.”—Sura 9, 29
This is something that Francis did not touch upon.
Yet, had he done so, el-Tayeb surely would not have been at his side, nor would he have been invited to the UAE by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi himself, Mohamed bin Zayed.
While the pope conducted one of the largest public masses in the Arabian Peninsula—the attendance was estimated at 170,000 faithful—that does not mean that the UAE is a country of “tolerance,” nor should the pope have kept silent on the aforementioned atrocities committed in and by the UAE in the name of Islam.