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Building bridges of peace and coexistence

During a lec­ture at North­eastern on Monday night, Sheikh Ali Gomaa, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, spoke of the need to build bridges between America and the Muslim world to quell the inten­si­fying ten­sions that have been marked by the attacks of 9/​11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the “inter­minable con­flict” between Israelis and Palestinians.

“No matter how pes­simistic the land­scape seems to be, we must not allow our­selves to con­cede to the inevitability of a tra­jec­tory that ends in the prover­bial ‘clash of civ­i­liza­tions,’” Gomaa told 250 people in atten­dance at Blackman Audi­to­rium. “Fur­ther, it is an oblig­a­tion to respond proac­tively to the ten­sions of our world by working actively and method­i­cally to ame­lio­rate them, so as to replace insta­bility with sta­bility, hos­tility with friend­ship and ani­mosity with alliances.”

Denis Sul­livan, a pro­fessor of polit­ical sci­ence and director of the Northeastern’s Middle East Center for Peace, Cul­ture and Devel­op­ment, mod­er­ated the event, which was fol­lowed by a Q&A that ranged from topics such as the sec­tors of reli­gious authority today in Egypt to the role of women in Muslim cul­ture. “I think it was a momen­tous occa­sion having the Grand Mufti speak to us here,” Sul­livan said. “At the core of the Middle East Center is the desire to have these kinds of dialogues.”

Provost Stephen Director intro­duced Gomaa as a pro­lific author and writer who, in his role as Grand Mufti, is a top authority for Islamic legal schol­ar­ship and issuing fatwas — which are rul­ings on points of Islamic law. Later, Director thanked Gomaa for his “thoughtful, stim­u­lating presentation.”

In his lec­ture, which was given in Arabic and trans­lated into Eng­lish, Gomaa rec­og­nized the efforts of many inter­na­tional forums and insti­tu­tions — including North­eastern — to bring diverse groups of people together to engage in inter­cul­tural dialogue.

Dia­logue, Gomaa said, is what can break down bar­riers to peace, demys­tify reli­gious dif­fer­ences to the gen­eral public and “uncover rays of truth that get buried under the rubble of human biases and tendencies.”

“Con­struc­tive dia­logue is a pow­erful tool in con­flict pre­ven­tion, man­age­ment and res­o­lu­tion,” Gomaa said. “It can defuse ten­sion and keep sit­u­a­tions from esca­lating, and a truly con­struc­tive dia­logue main­tains bound­aries of respect and tolerance.”

Spreading this cul­ture of dia­logue to ease the “con­flictual nature of the times,” he said, is the chal­lenge in today’s world, a chal­lenge that’s com­pounded when out­side com­men­ta­tors take the actions of a small but highly vis­ible and dis­rup­tive minority within the Muslim world to rep­re­sent the beliefs of the majority of Mus­lims. This is a problem, Gomaa said, that is often rein­forced through the pre­sen­ta­tion of Islam in mass media.

“There will be no progress until we work together, in faith and trust. There is no more pow­erful a weapon against all sorts extremism than cor­rect edu­ca­tion,” Gomaa said.

– by Greg St. Martin

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