A MUSLIM VOICE FOR PEACE FROM THE PULPIT – ‘A FIRST FOR THE WORLD’
Dr Amal Abdullah Al Qubaisi is the first senior Arab Muslim politician to give an address from a Christian pulpit in Ireland.
She is also the first woman to have been elected to an Arab parliament. The mother of three who is President of the Federal National Council of the United Arab Emirates is the most senior woman politician in the Arab world. She is also an architectural engineer and a long-time advocate of the importance of education, the empowerment of women, parliamentary process and the conservation of cultural heritage.
She spoke in Christ Church Cathedral, Waterford last Saturday, June 24th 2018.
“Hers is a voice that we need to hear in an age when reasoned
discussion is at a premium. This is a rare occasion to hear an inspiring speaker of such standing in person, with something truly meaningful to say,” said Dean of Waterford, the Very Reverend Maria Jansson ahead of Dr Amal’s visit.
You can read Dr Al Qubaisi’s full speech below. She spoke about the need for tolerance, peace and brotherhood between people of different faiths and cultures. ‘There is no God in extremism,’ she said.
Afterwards Dr Mary McAleese paid tribute to Dr Al Qubaisi’s work to ensure that the Gulf states enter a strong relationship with the EU, learning from one another and listening to each other.
She also said that those who would use religion and turn it into a military or political force should be challenged. Instead ‘religion should be a force for infusing our world with love’.
Music at this gathering was provided by the National Youth Orchestra of Ireland, which performed in the United Arab Emirates on St Patrick’s Day 2011 along with young Emirati musicians at a multicultural concert there.
Bishop of Cashel, Ferns & Ossory, Michael Burrows, who attended the occasion said that it was a remarkable and historic event.
“Above all I was inspired by being in the presence of powerfully prophetic women with a great vision to share,” he added.
“I realized anew that the God sought and loved by countless people of faith is not to be encountered in extremism, but rather in the hospitable space courageously crafted by those who strive to occupy the middle ground.’
Dr Al Qubaisi’s speech:
Your Excellency Dean Maria Jansson
Your Excellency Dr. Mary McAleese Former President of Ireland
Your Excellency Dr. Martin McAleese Chancellor of Dublin City University.
My brothers and sisters in humanity from across nations, faiths, genders and races.
Al Salam Alyakum Wa Rahmet Allhah wa Baraktuh
May God’s Peace, mercy and blessings be upon you.
A greeting is the initiation of any human interaction. In Islam, as it is in Christianity, the greeting of peace, mercy and blessing is the promise we make to each other and the terms of reference for our relationship. A relationship that should be built on respect.
Respect is a core value of humanity, because it is the stem cell of peace.
Peace is the corner stone of coexistence, without it, struggle and conflict will mark our life, without it, we will destroy more than we will build, and die more than we live. This is not the mission of humans on Earth.
We are tasked to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28).
Filling the earth is prosperity and we need peace to prosper.
Peace is based on sanctity of human life, respect for others “O people, we have created you as man and women and made you in different nations and tribes so you would know each other and the most honored by God are those who fear” (Sourat Al Hujurat 13)- Versus from Al Quran.
The similarities between the Quran and the Bible are striking, and as a friend of mine continues to repeat they are different books by the same author.
These values of being industrious, of building this land of cooperating together are shared values across religions and all of these are dependent on peace and respect for each other and for our differences.
That is why I am deeply grateful for Dean Maria for the great honor of allowing me the opportunity to be here today, and sincerely grateful for all of you to have accepted me to be at your cathedral’s pulpit in my Hijab and greeting you with the greeting of Islam.
This is a true testimony of your commitment to the values of tolerance and respect to human beings regardless of faith, nationality and race.
In many parts of our world we are driven to confront each other when we are so much like each other.
People fight, kill and die for what they believe when they think that their belief is part of their existence and their existence is threatened by annihilation.
Sometimes these people are of the same race, same faith, same country and most terrifying sometimes …. from the same family.
Irish people have lived that and decided that they will not go through it again. We need to learn from that lesson.
I come from a culture and belong to a religion which are routinely misunderstood, and it is important to invest time and to create opportunities to understand each other, in order to drive away misconceptions and to open up the prospect of friendship.
We have to challenge stereotypes, we have to challenge ignorance of each other, to challenge preconceptions, and replace them with a better and deeper understanding of each other, to realize how much we are similar, how much we share in common.
We also need to understand the differences between us, and most importantly, to accept them, without trying to change each other. Tolerance is the respect of each other’s differences and is a fundamental value for coexistence.
Once we know each other, not only we no longer fear each other, but we learn how to appreciate each other, and value the richness of these differences.
When the bombing attacks in Brussels in 2016 happened I was strongly urged to cancel my scheduled official visit to Belgium out of fear of that Islamophobia would cause a security threat to my life. But I insisted to go to pay respect to the victims of the Maalbeek Metro Station, the site of the bombings that hit Brussels. There, I saw a young girl crying, who lost a very dear friend in that attack, an attack by Muslim fanatics and next to her I was a woman who shares the same religion of those who killed her friend.
I know that we were two strangers, but believe me I couldn’t feel closer. I found myself naturally driven to her.
As I hugged her to console her grief she cried on my shoulder and whispered in my ears “I know Muslims are not like this”.
Simple words that have shaped my firm belief in human sanctity.
These are the moments that tell us how much alike are we and how much absurd are the conflicts that pit us against each other.
We are so consumed by finding the differences that distinguish us and miss the opportunities our similarity offer: The unity of our communities, their security and their common future.
We have seen hate speech spread and become the common place in our discourse. We have seen hate get organized and turn into political parties and armed militias. We have seen hate used to win elections and referendums. We have seen hate turn into a high value political currency.
It is our responsibility to stop this digression and prevent its fall out. We can only do this if we manage to look past skin color, gender, and method of prayer.
In the UAE, where we have more than 200 nationalities from different races, religions and cultures. We found our unity in the challenges and promises of the future.
The UAE ranked first in the world in the peaceful coexistence of these nationalities on its territory, according to the annual report 2014 of the World Organization for Peace, Care and Relief of the United Nations
UAE is a country powered by aspirations. Our mission to Mars is as much of scientific endeavor as it is a social endeavor.
People, young and old, are now actively involved in imagining our future, and what can we do today to bring a better tomorrow.
We also find similarities in the past, we look at the traditions and values of our forefathers for inspiration and to develop policies and practices.
This year, we are celebrating the centennial of our founding father sheikh Zayed: celebrating his values, ethics and a vision for a modern tolerant and proud country that contributes to the world as much as it benefits from it.
Values like generosity have driven the UAE to be the number one country in the world in providing humanitarian assistance according to OECD.
We are not the wealthiest country in the world, but our rich values drive our work.
Our value of helping the oppressed is what motivated us to help the legitimate governments in Iraq, Bahrain and Yemen.
This is the same sense of duty and responsibility that has marked 60 years of Irish involvement in peacekeeping missions. 87 martyrs have spilled blood to honor the values that Ireland live by and we have offered so far a similar number of UAE martyrs in Yemen to honor the values we live by.
But dying is not the only way values sustain. Living is what makes the life go on and that what makes us endeavor to protect the sanctity of human life. But to live together we need to respect our difference, tolerate it if not celebrate it. This is why we have a ministry for tolerance in the UAE and we have a law against religious discrimination, we have launched national tolerance programs and a dedicated international institute for tolerance. In the UAE, we have zero tolerance towards intolerance.
Tolerance is the antidote to radicalization. Antidote to populism and antidote to terrorism. There is no such thing as radical or extreme Islam nor radical Christianity. Religion is by definition peaceful. We shouldn’t allow few people to hijack Islam nor hijack Christianity. We shouldn’t allow them to hijack our humanity and dignity.
Brothers and Sisters
As I made my way here today, I was wondering how would you feel having a Muslim woman addressing you from a place that is so sacred for your faith.
I also asked myself how would my fellow Muslims feel about speaking from a pulpit of church that is not of my faith, but I kept reminding myself that religion is about human beings and beneath the symbolism of our clothing and relics we are the same human beings.
The UAE has 40 churches some catholic, some protestant and others orthodox church. We have two Hindu temples. But the latest place of worship in the UAE was called “Mari, Mother of Jesus” and it is not a catholic nor protestant church, it is not Jesuit nor eastern orthodox. It is a mosque.
When we worship the almighty we are engaging in a private relationship with him. The way we pray or the language we use is context. The substance is our internal spiritual link.
But when we engage with each other, what governs us are the principals of human interaction: Peace, Mercy and Prosperity.
We are far more alike than we are different, both in our history and our future aspirations.
The National Youth Orchestra that will bless us today with their music are also embodiment of things that join us. They have come from every county of Ireland, North South East and West. They, as young as they are, are bound by the love of music, and they, as young as they are, will bind us together with ideas, emotions and beauty that transcends gender, ethnicity and religion.
I still recall the valued moments we shared with these young talented musicians while they performing in UAE with young Emirati musicians. The fusion of cultures through music this young generation brought is what we really need to inspire us in the present and future. They created a music that crossed borders and religions and bound them together. It is this kind of fusion we need to safeguard the future.
I need to express my sincere thanks and gratitude to all the young musicians at the National Youth Orchestra that are with us today and their highly talented conductor Gearóid Grant.
As I stand here amongst you, in the historical Cathedral and Abby Church of St. Alban, talking about future aspirations this couldn’t have been truer.
History, present and future has the potential to unite us if we allow it. We must work together so that my children and your children can live, play and work together for a shared universe that is not divided by hate or dogma. We may be different in language, traditions, belief systems but across all of that we have shared values… values that bind us.
To all the young people who are present here today, those who will be our future leaders and could possibly be in a pulpit one day addressing people of a different faith. Think of what message you would want to give to them and then act today to achieve it. That is you responsibility, that is your calling.
Finally, I would like to thank you, all of you, for allowing me this opportunity to reflect on my own humanity and how does it affect my belief, my work and my relationship with the world.
And for allowing me the opportunity to wish you peace, mercy and prosperity.
Al Salam Alykum Wa Rahmat Allah Wabaraktuh
Photo credit: David Manser