On Tuesday, June 30, a special delegation from Al-Azhar University visited Saint Catherine’s Monastery.
Al-Azhar University was founded in the year 972 for the study of the Qur’an and Islamic law. Today, thousands of teaching institutes in Egypt and throughout the world are affiliated with Al-Azhar, which has been called Sunni Islam’s oldest and most prestigious university.
The President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, has called upon Mohamed Ahmed el-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, to foster the principles of a moderate Islam, in an effort to counter extremism and terrorism in today’s world. The faculty of the university have responded positively to this initiative. Referring to recent acts of terrorism, Dr Abbas Al-Shouman, the Under-secretary for Al-Azhar, has said, “It is the duty of every Egyptian to stand against terrorism and it is the duty of every [Muslim] believer to condemn such acts and condemn those responsible for them, or at the very least not express support for them. All Egyptians must show national unity, which is a slap in the face of terrorism and which strengthens national stability. Al-Azhar, for its part, finds such events totally unacceptable.”
In a direct response to this initiative, a conference was held at Saint Catherine’s Village in the South Sinai, from Sunday, June 28, to Wednesday, July 1, 2015. The conference was directed by seven of the leading imams of Al-Azhar, accompanied by three laymen who are the personal assistants to the Grand Imam for public relations. This site was chosen because of the activities of Islamic militants that have been taking place in the North Sinai. It also provided an opportunity to express respect and support for the community of the nearby Saint Catherine’s Monastery.
The imams from Al-Azhar spoke about the Muslim policy of tolerance and care for the Biblical peoples. Examples to the contrary in the history of Islam must be seen as exceptions that are not to be taken as authoritative. All peoples must work together in unity as we seek to transcend divisive issues and move forward for the good of the country.
On Tuesday, the delegates of Al-Azhar visited Saint Catherine’s Monastery, accompanied by the mayor of Saint Catherine’s Village. They were shown the church, the adjacent sacristy (where important icons, manuscripts, and other treasures are on display), after which they visited the mosque located within the monastery, the Chapel of the Burning Bush, and the Burning Bush growing outside the chapel. The monks of Saint Catherine’s Monastery presented the delegates with facsimile editions of The History of Sinai and the Arabs, by Naum Shoucair Bey, first published in 1916, and still the best history of the area in Arabic. They were also given reproductions of David Roberts’ famous lithograph of Saint Catherine’s Monastery, and bottles of olive oil from the monastery’s own trees as a blessing
The visit was an important opportunity for the monks of Saint Catherine’s to point out that the monastery has existed for over fourteen hundred years as a respected Christian institution within the larger world of Islam. The monastery is an intrinsic part of Egypt’s long and multi-faceted history. The delegation from Al-Azhar was glad to learn more about the heritage of the monastery, located at the base of Mount Sinai, revered by Christians and Muslims alike.
Religious devotion does not exclude respect for others. The peaceful relations that exist between Christians and Muslims at this holy place is a sign of hope that Sinai holds for the world.
Donations to help Saint Catherine’s Monastery at this critical time can be made through the Friends of Mount Sinai Monastery, a non-profit organization registered with the United States IRS. Please click here.