[ACNS] In significant meetings in Cairo last week alliances were formed for peace between Muslims and Christians in Sudan, South Sudan and Malaysia. The Primate of Jerusalem and the Middle East, Archbishop Mouneer Anis, organised meetings between Anglican leaders and the Grand Iman of Al-Azhar – the renowned Islamic university, mosque and centre in Cairo – and the Coptic Pope.
The Archbishop of Sudan, the Most Revd Daniel Deng, thanked the Grand Imam, Dr Ahmed el-Tayyeb, for making statements that “have brought moderation into Sudanese society and saved lives.”
The leaders encouraged the Dr el-Tayyeb to “play a role in combatting false Islamic teaching that is propagated by extremists, especially in Africa.” In response, the Grand Imam said that Al-Azhar is committed to correcting such false teachings which often lead to terrorism and violence.
During their meeting, Dr el-Tayyeb was asked about the use of the word “Allah” by Christians to describe God. This is the name used for God in the Malay language but the Malaysian supreme court has ruled that its use by Christians is contrary to Malaysian law, leading to the confiscation of Malay language Bibles.
Dr el-Tayyeb said that Allah is one and is the creator of the whole universe and that all human beings can use His name whether they be Christians, Muslims, Jews, or even Atheists. He said that politics lay behind the banning of the use of the name Allah by non-Muslims.
The Grand Imam expressed his appreciation for the “brotherly relations with the Anglican Church in Egypt” and stressed the importance of the partnership and collegiality between religious leaders for the common good of humanity.
“It is important that we work together to overcome the challenges that are facing the world,” Dr el-Tayyeb said. “In the 1930s, Sheik Maraghi sent a message out to all religious leaders. In it he said, ‘Atheists are united, we are not’.
“The danger is that division between religious leaders is almost always politically backed. Instead of leading to better humanity, politicised religion leads to wars.”
He said that Christians of the East held on to the teachings of Christ, saying that “When Christianity moved from this region [the Middle East] to the West, it didn’t make the West Christian, it made Christianity Western.”
The archbishops at the meeting support Lambeth I.10 – the resolution on human sexuality from the 1998 Lambeth Conference. The Grand Imam raised changes to traditional teaching on the subject by some Anglican churches, saying that the issue in the west was seen from the viewpoint of human rights rather than a moral and ethical issue. “I personally see this as an insult to [the teaching of] Jesus Christ by one of His own churches,” he said.
The issue was also discussed when the archbishops met the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Tawadros II. “We need to stand firm and keep the Church traditions,” he told them. “If this issue is a human rights one, where is God the Creator’s right?”
In their discussions, the leaders welcomed the latest achievements of the Anglican-Oriental Orthodox International Commission, and particularly the historic agreed statement on Christology.
They also discussed the possibility of a unified date for Easter celebrations. Currently, Easter is celebrated on different dates in the eastern and western churches. There have been a number of unsuccessful attempts to reach agreement over a unified date over the past 100 years.
In May 2014, Pope Tawadros wrote to Pope Francis asking for a renewed effort at reaching agreement on a unified date. Pope Francis replied that it was “important that we all celebrate the resurrection of Christ together.”
In their meeting, Pope Tawardros told the archbishops that such a move “will help all Christians, especially if they are minority in their context.”
The archbishops were given a brief history of the Coptic Orthodox Church, which began in Egypt in the first century through the witness of Saint Mark the evangelist.
During the meeting, Pope Tawadros emphasized the importance of Christian unity, saying: “We have good relations with all churches, especially with the Anglican church here in Egypt.”
The archbishops at the meetings were Bolly Lapok of South East Asia, Daniel Deng of Sudan, Henry Isingoma of Congo, Glenn Davies of Sydney, and Mouneer Anis of Egypt. They were joined by Archbishop Foley Beach of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) and Archbishop Charlie Masters, moderator of ACNA’s Canadian branch, the Anglican Network in Canada.
Archbishops meet with the Pope Tawadros II, leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church. Photo: Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa