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Speeches

O. El-Mallakh: Address to the International Leadership Conference

Address to the UPF International Leadership Conference
Seoul, Korea, February 6-10, 2011

Ms. Olfat El Mallakh teaches World Religions and Arabic Language at the College of DuPage in Chicago, USA. Originally from Egypt, she began publishing poetry and stories at age 15. For eight years she produced a television show with her kids called “Training Your Parents” with the idea that a family should have only one TV and watch it together. She has degrees in French Literature, Art History, Theology and Church History. She is interested in people and their art and culture and how they express themselves and how God is expressed in many different ways.

Interfaith cooperation is the only way to go! It is the logical, practical, and natural path.

Religion is a system of beliefs which are mirrored in its rituals and directed toward that which is perceived to be sacred, divine, or hallowed by a people. The word religion comes from Latin and means to bind. Religion’s raison d’etre is thus a particular human need: the desire of belonging. Religion fills an inner void.

In other words religion is that which binds the human to whom he/she considers inviolable, holy, or supernatural. Anthropologists and archaeologists, by studying early human settlements and civilizations, confirmed that fact. In most of all the early communities they found an "altar” or center of worship.

They also found correspondence between the various gods of different regions, as Pliny the Elder makes the point that the deities in the world are known by different names to different people (God in Translation, Mark S. Smith, p. 243). For example, Isis, a well-known ancient Egyptian goddess who existed in many cultures and civilizations explains herself in the following quotations: “My divinity is one, worshipped by all the world under different forms, with various rites, and by manifold names…The Egyptians who excel by having the original doctrine honor me with my distinctive rites and give me my true name of Queen Isis.” (Mark S. Smith p. 244)

Mark S. Smith in his book God in Translation mentions that Marduk, a main god in Mesopotamia, had 50 names. Some of his names are Asaru; Asar-alim-nunna; Tutu; Addu, Enbilulu; Asharu; Niburu.

The monotheistic God is known to the Jews by many names found in the Old Testament, albeit 12 are very popular:

  • Elohim (Universal God; this is the plural form of the name El, known in Mesopotamia as El; this is the god who talked to Abraham)
  • Yahweh (this is the personal name, I am what I am, meaning I am from ever to forever)
  • El-Shaddai (God Almighty)
  • Adonai (My Lords, the plural form of Adon, Lord or master)
  • Yahweh-Jireh (the provider)
  • Yahweh-Rophi (the healer)
  • Yahweh-Nissi (my banner)
  • Yaweh-M’Kaddesh (Yahweh who sanctifies, Book of Leviticus)
  • Yahweh-Shalom (God is Peace)
  • Yahweh-Tsidkenu (Yahweh the Righteous, Jeremiah 23:5,6)
  • Yahweh-Rohi (God is my Shepherd, Psalm 23)
  • Yahweh-Shammah (God is there, Ezekiel 48:35)

The monotheistic God is known to the Muslims by 99 names revealed in the Qur’an, the Sacred Scriptures of Islam. The names are: Allah, the name that is above every name; al-Awwal, the First; al-Akhir, the Last; al-Badi’, the contriver; al-Bari’, the Maker; al-Barr, the Beneficent; al-Basir, the Observant; al-Basit, the Spreader; al-Batin, the Inner; al-Ba’ith, the Raiser; al-Baqi, the Enduring; at-Tawab, the Relenting; al-Jabbar, the Mighty One; al-Jalil, the Majestic; al-Jami’, the Gatherer; al-Hasib, the Accounter, al-Hafiz, the Guardian; al-Haqq, the Truth; al-Hakim, the Judge; al-Hakim, also means the Wise; al-Halim, the Kindly; al-Hamid, the Praiseworthy; al-Hayy, the Living; al-Khabir; the Well-informed; al-Khafid, the Humbler, al-Khaliq, the Creator; Zhu al-Jalal wa al-Ikram, Lord of Majesty and Honor; ar-Ra’uf, the Gentle; ar-Rahman, the Merciful; ar-Rahim, the Compassionate; ar-Razzaq, the Provider; ar-Rashid, the Guide; ar-Rafi’, the Exalter, ar-Raqib, the Watcher; as-Salam, the Peace-Maker; as-Sami’, the Hearer; ash-Shakur, the Grateful, as-Shahid, the Witness; as-Sabur, the Forbearing; as-Samad, the Eternal; ad-Darr, the Afflicter; as-Zahir, the Outer, al-‘Adl, the Just; al-‘Aziz, the Sublime; al-‘Azim, the Mighty; al-‘Afuw, the Pardoner; al-‘Alim, the Knowing One; al-‘Ali, the High One; al-Ghafur, the Forgiving; al-Ghaffar, the Pardoning; al-Ghani, the Rich; al-Fattah, the Opener; al-Qabid, the Seizer; al-Qadir, the Able; al-Quddus, the Most Holy One; al-Qahhar, the All-Victorious, al-Qawi, the Strong; al-Qayyum, the Self Subsistent; al-Kabir, the Great One; al-Karim, the Munificent; al-Latif, the Gracious; al-Muta’akhir, the Deferrer; al’Amin, the Faithful; al-Muta’ali, the Self-Exalted;, al-Mutakabir, the Proud; al-Matin, the firm; al-Mubdi’, the Originator; al-Mujjib, the Answerer; al-Majid, the Glorious; al-Muhsi, the Computer; al-Muhyi, the Quickener; al-Mudhill, the Abaser; al-Muzil, the Separator; al-Musawir, the Fashioner; al-Mu’id, the Restorer; al-Mu’izz, the Honorer; al-Mu’ti, the Giver; al-Mughni, the Enricher; al-Muqit, the Well-Furnished; al-Muqtadir, He who prevails; al-Muqaddim, the Bringer-Forward; al-Muqsit, the Observer of Justice; al-Malik, the King; Malik al-Mulk, Possessor of the Kingdom; al-Mumit, He who causes to die; al-Muntaqim, the Avenger; al-Muhaimin, the Preserver; an-Nasir, the Helper; an-Nur, the Light; al-Hadi, the Guide; al-Wahid, the One; al-Wahid, the Unique; al-Wadud, the Loving; al-Warith, the Inheritor; al-Wasi’, the Wide-Reaching; al-Wakil, the Administrator; al-Waliy, the Patron; al-Wali, the Safeguard; al-Wahhab, the Liberal Giver.

To the Christians the monotheistic God is known by one name, “Love,” “God is Love” (1 John 4:8, 16).

From a quick survey of all the names given to the monotheistic god, in the three Abrahamic faiths, we find that all those names are referring to the same attributes.

  • Christianity teaches the Golden Rule: Do unto others what you want others to do unto you.
  • Confucianism teaches the Silver Rule: Do not do unto others what you do not want others to do unto you.
  • In Daoism, god is known as the Dao, the way. The religion is about harmony: live in harmony and respect.
  • In Hinduism, god is the Brahman, the Universe and the only reality.
  • In Shinto, god is the Kamis, spirits. Shinto teaches beauty, balance, and cleanliness.
  • Buddhism teaches that life is dear to all.
  • Jainism teaches the concept of nonviolence: do not harm anything.

Basically all religions agree on the most important tenets of respect, and from all combined we see how the world is really beautiful.

Religions show striking commonalities and share numerous similarities among each other. This is because we are humans created by the same hand. We as humans have needs, desires, hopes, and fears. We experience similar feelings, sadness and joy. Encounter difficulties and undergo successes and failures.

It is the cultural aspect that differentiates between the human families. For instance Thoth, the ancient Egyptian god of writing, giver of the Hieroglyphic alphabet to the Egyptian people, is equal to Hermes in the Greek civilization, appears as Enoch in Genesis in the Old Testament, and is called Idris in the Qur’an. They all share the same attributes and qualities that are due to the righteous; however, they have different names in their perspective milieu. “Deities of different polities…must necessarily be the same as those worshiped by other nations but under different names.” (God in Translation, p. 43)

This is evident in ancient international treaties, correspondence between rulers, and intercultural contacts whenever they invoked the names of their perspective gods at the end of the document, thus calling on the gods to be their witness. This fact is demonstrated in the treaty signed between Ramses II of Ancient Egypt and the King of the Hittites, Hattusili III; in it, main deities of both countries are invoked as witnesses to the treaty.

And when Nefertari, wife of Ramses II, sent a correspondence to her Hittite counterpart, she wrote: “Re and the weather-god of the (Hittites) shall uphold the treaty and Re will make it a prosperous peace, and he shall make excellent the brotherhood between the great king, the king of Egypt, and the great king, the king of Khatte, his brother, forever and ever.” (God in Translation, p. 56)

We read in 1 Maccabees 12:20-23:

“This is the copy of the letters they sent to Onias: King Arius of the Spartans to Onias the high priest, greetings. It has been put in writing regarding both the Spartans and the Jews that they are brothers, and are both of the family of Abraham. So now that we know this, please write us concerning your welfare. Thus we are writing to you that your cattle and possessions are ours, and ours are yours. Therefore we order our ambassadors to report to you accordingly.” The reasoning here is that they belong to the same family.

We find a striking similarity between the hymn to the Aten, at the time of the Pharaoh Akhenaten, and Psalm 104 in the Old Testament. Amazingly we see much of the material parallels between the hymn and the Psalm (The Legacy of Egypt, edited by J. R. Harris, pp. 285, 286):

Hymn to Aten:

When thou dost set in the western horizon,
The earth is in darkness, like to death.
Men sleep in a bedchamber, their heads covered,
One eye unable to behold the other
Were all their goods beneath their heads stolen,
They would be unaware of it.
Every lion has come forth from his lair;
All the reptiles bite.
Darkness prevails, and the earth is in silence,
Since he who made them rests in his horizon

Psalm 104:

Thou appointest darkness, that it may be night,
In which all the beasts of the forest prowl:
The young lions roaring for their prey,
To seek their food from God

Hymn to Aten

Ships sail up and down stream alike,
Since every route is open at your appearing
The fish in the river leap before thee,
For thy rays are in the midst of the sea

Psalm 104

Here is the great and vast sea,
Wherein are teeming masses without number,
Living things both great and small
There the ships go,
Leviathan, which thou did create to play in it

Hymn to Aten

How manifold is that which thou hast made, hidden from view!
Thou sole god, there is no other like thee!
Thou did create the earth according to thy will, being alone.

Psalm 104

How manifold are thy works, O Yahweh!
All of them thou hast made by wisdom,
The earth is full of thy creations.

This is what Mark S. Smith defines as the “phenomenon of cross-cultural recognition of deities” He explains: “The practice of translating the names of gods created a concept of similarity and produced the idea or conviction that the gods are international." (God in Translation, p. 39)

The monotheistic religions claim the same lineage; they belong to the family of Abraham.

Abram lived in Mesopotamia with his beautiful wife Sarai, in the house of his wealthy father. Then one day El, the Almighty and powerful God, called on Abram to take his wife Sarai and follow him to the land of plenty, that He would show him. He would also make him a father of nations. God made a covenant with Abram and promised many children and the land of Canaan. However, with both of them advancing in years, Sarai, with an empty womb still, took matters in her hands and offered Abram her maidservant Hagar.

Abram, without consulting with God, took Hagar and fathered a child. However, jealousy on the part of Sarai and arrogance on the part of Hagar were the beginnings of the feud between the two women, and Sarai went to Abram to complain and Abram told her to do what she wished with her maid. Sarai dealt harshly with Hagar, who fled with her son. The angel of the Lord found Hagar by a spring of water; he questioned her on her going and coming, and asked her to go home after blessing her saying: “I will surely multiply your seed exceedingly, that it may not be counted because of its multitude.” And he continued, “Behold, you are with child, and you shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, for the Lord has taken notice of your humiliation. He shall be a rustic man. And his hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him. He shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.” (Genesis 16: 10-12)

When Abram was 99 years old, God talked to him again about the covenant he made with him, telling him: “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your seed after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be your God, and the God of your seed after you. Also I will give you and your seed after you the land you are occupying as a sojourner, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17: 4- 8) “This is the covenant you shall keep, between Me and you and your seed after you throughout their generations. Every male child among you shall be circumcised; and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin. It shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you.” (Genesis 17: 10-11)

God changed the names of Abram and Sarai to Abraham and Sarah because of their important new roles, the parenthood of nations! They are the parents of many; resulting in the family ties between the Jews, the Christians, and the Muslims.

Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son they named Isaac, which means laughter. And Isaac was circumcised when he was eight days old, according to the covenant. When Isaac was weaned, Sarah asked Abraham to let Ishmael and his mother Hagar go, as Abraham was paying too much attention to Ishmael. Abraham was saddened, but God told him to listen to Sarah. Though the covenant is with Isaac’s line, God promised a great nation of the son of Hagar, because he is the seed of Abraham.

Abraham had to endure yet another test from God. God asked Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son, but there are two versions of the story: one in the Old Testament and another version in the Qur’an. The beloved son in the Old Testament is Isaac, son of Sarah. The beloved son in the Qur’an is Ishmael, son of Hagar. The place of the sacrifice of Isaac is in Jerusalem, on top of Mount Moriah. The place of the sacrifice of Ishmael is in Mecca, in modern-day Saudi Arabia. Both accounts agree on the angel of God interfering and presenting a ram or a lamb to sacrifice in place of the boy in question.

In Genesis in the Old Testament we read after the sacrifice: “By myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you did this thing, and for my sake did not spare your beloved son. I will certainly bless you, and assuredly multiply your seed as the stars of heaven and as the sand on the seashore; and your seed shall inherit the cities of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed because you obeyed my voice. (Genesis 22: 15-18)

In the Qur’an, God asks Abraham and Ishmael, after sparing the life of Ishmael and offering a lamb in his place, to build an altar for God. This is the place of the pilgrimage in Islam, and the Kaabah, the black stone, is what remains of the altar that Abraham and Ishmael built. “And remember Abraham and Isma’il raised the foundations of the House (with this prayer): Our Lord! Accept (this service) from us: For thou are the All Hearing, the All-Knowing.” (Qur’an 2:127)

“Say, Oh Muslims, we believe in Allah and that which is revealed unto Abraham and Isma’il and Isaac and Jacob and the bribes and that which Moses and Jesus received and that which the Prophet received from the Lord. We make no distinction between any of them and unto them we have surrendered, (We are Muslims).” (Qur’an 2:136).

The religion of Islam understands itself to be a universal religion for all times and all places and all peoples. It believes in one god, Allah, with no partners, being the creator of the universe and humankind.

We go back and we read In Deuteronomy 32:8, 9:

“When the Most High divided the nations, When He scattered the sons of Adam,
He set the boundaries of the nations by the numbers of God’s angels
For the Lord’s, portion became the people of Jacob; the allotment of His inheritance is Israel”

Esau, the brother of Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham, married the daughter of Ishmael, brother of Isaac, and son of Abraham. Thus the two nations are family members, the nation of the Judaism and the nation of Islam.

And at that point I am reminded of the many peoples who believe in the same gods, but with different names, different languages, and cultures since the beginning of time. Since the beginning of time the world was plagued with jealousy from the time of Cain and Abel. I wonder why we haven’t yet learned that, as a humanity we worship the same ideals in the person of the name of god that was revealed to us in the manner and the language, we embrace and comprehend?

It is time to adopt the “Interfaith Concert,” in other words, interfaith cooperation, which is the only way to go if we want to proceed into a bright future. It is the only logical, practical, and natural path of all and for all humankind, albeit with different geographical locations, cultures, and languages. Our home is earth. We have no excuse to do otherwise! The diversity of all religions will help us see how beautiful our world is.