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A. Kanaan: Address to the International Leadership Conference

Address to the UPF International Leadership Conference
Seoul, Korea, February 9, 2011

Essay published in Dialogue & Alliance: A Journal of the Universal Peace Federation
Vol. 26, No. 1: Spring 2012

Sheikh Ahmad Kanaan has been an imam for 11 years and an assistant judge in the Sunni religious court of Lebanon for 10 years. He has a Ph.D. degree in Islamic banking and is a member of the Association of Islamic Banks in Bahrain.

Islam has given special attention and importance to the call for peace and made it the first of its goals. The Holy Qur’an also mentioned it (the concepts of peace and security are found in dozens of references). Moreover, peace is one of the names of God, who has made a vow of peace with His servants and they are ordered to use the word peace when greeting each other and in their communication in all areas of life, at the mosque, school, factory, and shop. Paradise is named the “Abode of Peace.”

Hence, peace has been the slogan of the Muslims East and the West ever since the advent of Islam. It is a slogan that a Muslim uses whenever he encounters a friend, and before leaving him, he says: “Peace may be upon you.” In addition, the Muslim utters this expression at least five times in day while reciting the obligatory prayers. Then he concludes his prayer by saying: “Peace may be upon you” twice, once to the right and another to the left. Therefore, this slogan repeated by Muslims every day and every hour must be one of the greatest religious values.

Islam derives from the peace that calms the opponent's aggression: (1) peace between a person and himself, (2) peace between himself and God, and (3) peace between himself and others.

This latter meaning is appropriate for the concerns of the present era. The world is invaded by fear, worry, and anxiety — fear of falling into a devastating war which destroys the earth. There are nations calling for war and preparing the means for it while others call for peace.

Islam is a religion that calls for peace and places the highest value on it. It calls people to do good deeds in the world and take the hand of all.

The first Islamic nation in the world was established by the great Prophet Mohammed Bin Abdullah and based on the ingredients mentioned above and stressing their importance in establishing national unity. At that time, this nation’s children followed more than one religion. The constitution of the first Islamic state was determined by a treaty between Muslims and Jews, extending the wing of security, peace, and brotherhood to the people of the cities that are all at same level. The full equality of rights and duties left no room for the shadow of distinction to reign between the Muslims, who were in the majority and held the presidency, and the Jews, who were in the minority, and the Christians, who had close, solid, and unbreakable ties with the Muslims. These links remain immortal and are commemorated forever.

The value that is opposite to peace is aggression; the two values are in conflict. There are nations who call for peace and others who adopt the principle of war. We also feel the effects of global conflicts at this moment and experience their repercussions in our everyday environment. Even hourly, we are indeed in the midst of a great two-way conflict and pulled by two competing values, namely: peace and aggression. History teaches us that men conducted wars for the benefit of a particular class, particularly the owners of the factories that produce military equipment, to keep their profits high.

The question that arises is how to establish understanding and cooperation between different religions. The answer is really easy if its aim is to secure understanding and cooperation. Indeed, we need to keep striving to reach agreement instead of disagreement. Let us set aside what gives rise to disagreement and leave everyone the freedom to join the faith that pleases them, and let them undertake at the same time to respect what is sacred in relation to others and to be careful not to hurt their feelings.

In regards to what gives rise to agreement, in my opinion there is no divine law that does not call for us to value the good and reject the evil, that does not call us to cooperate, communicate, and harmonize and reject division, alienation, and strife. All faiths are founded on the virtues of human decency and the fight against vices. While respecting ethics cherished by different beliefs, we can shorten the distance and leave aside the causes of disagreement.

Is there a divine law that proclaims vice? Is there a law that rejects divine virtue? The qualities of honesty, sincerity, chastity, integrity, kindness, cooperation, compassion, respecting the rights of others, promoting virtue, and preventing vice: does anyone disagree that these are qualities promoted by religions?

There is no controversy about religions rejecting lies, cheating, betrayal, fraud, embezzlement, assault, murder, theft of money and possessions of others, indecent assault, and piracy, illegal plundering, gossip, and false testimony. If we agree to uphold virtues and fight against vices, if we cooperate in disseminating good qualities among people, and if we resist the changes rejected by beliefs — everyone will live in security, peace, and contentment in an atmosphere of communication and fellowship. Religious dialogue is very important for achieving understanding and cooperation, and the commonalities among beliefs are manifold and universal agreed upon, because it is the general duty of the followers of these various beliefs to strengthen understanding and cooperation among themselves. The heads of religious communities and religious scholars in particular are called upon to assume their responsibility to implement this relationship, because of the influence and great impact they have in their communities, their ability to direct the ideologies of their citizens and shape their behavior to enrich the understanding and cooperation among different communities. We are therefore aware of the importance of dialogue between people of different religious beliefs and the urgent need to support and strengthen it to achieve understanding, closeness, and communication between adherents of these beliefs, promote humane values and ethics, clarify the links among spiritual values derived from religious teaching, and bring together religious forces to cope with dissolution, end the spread of vice, contribute positively to solving the problems of religious conflict between people of different faiths, eliminate intolerance and religious extremism, prevent violence and terrorism, and help solving problems of political, economic, and social rights, especially since some of these problems are rooted in religious conflict.

The dialogue is also to promote tolerance and the fullness of love among human beings so peace can reign among us all and followers of different religions can cooperate with each other in providing humanitarian aid to people suffering from disasters and crises.

In conclusion, I send this message and appeal: it is time for the followers of different religions to recall the proclamation of the virtues and refutation of vices in order to pursue the ultimate good and well-being of all. This would allow even greater appreciation for the humanity of each human being and reiterate their right to live and enjoy life. Thus, we would love for each other what we love for ourselves, and we would hate for others what we hate for ourselves, because humanity is a fraternal relationship based on kinship, social and morals. Fraternity creates rights and obligations.