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Benzaquén: "Faced with the resurgence of extremism and radicalism, the teaching of religions takes on a new meaning"

The Episcopal Conference is organising the "Day of Human Fraternity", the first time that this event has been held in Spain with the participation of the three great monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam
FICRT Fraternidad Humana

PHOTO/GUILLERMO LÓPEZ-ATALAYAR  -   FICRT Human Fraternity

In a world that is increasingly polarised, where successive crises have eroded the social fabric and left societies at the mercy of fanaticism, fundamentalism and radicalism, it is more important than ever to raise awareness through education, respect and tolerance. These values are shared by the three great monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

In order to recognise the common ground between these faiths, the Episcopal sub-commission for Interfaith Relations and Interreligious Dialogue organised the "International Day of Human Fraternity" in Madrid, the first institutional event held in Spain a year after it was recognised by the United Nations. The aim is to promote concord and interreligious dialogue through the joint prism shared by the three religions.  

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There was no room for anyone else in the assembly hall of the Sedes Saptientiae building of the Episcopal Conference to witness an event attended by the highest religious authorities of the three great religions in Spain. Speakers included Cardinal Juan José Omella, Archbishop of Barcelona and President of the Episcopal Conference; Isaac Benzaquén, President of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain, and Mohamed Ajana El Ouafi, Secretary of the Islamic Commission of Spain.

The president of the Three Cultures Foundation, Concepción de Santa Ana, and the ambassador of the United Arab Emirates in Spain, Majid Hassan Mohamed Hassa, also attended the event. 

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The director of the Episcopal Subcommission for Interfaith Relations and Interreligious Dialogue, Rafael Vázquez, began his presentation by highlighting the document signed three years ago in Abu Dhabi by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayyeb. A document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Common Coexistence that laid out the roadmap for rapprochement between Christianity and Islam.

The highest representative of the Jewish community in Spain, Isaac Benzaquén, expressed "the imperious need" for the different religions to dialogue "so that there can be peace, tolerance and mutual understanding". The perception of human beings according to Judaism requires recognition and acceptance of their fellow human beings, their identity and religious pluralism, according to Benzaquén. 

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For the president of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain, each of us is unique and our individuality must be recognised. An individuality "that should not be confused with individualism". Benzaquén believes that individual interests should not take precedence over collective interests. This is one of the lessons learned from the pandemic. "The COVID-19 crisis requires a global response based on solidarity and cooperation, which does not distinguish between ethnicities or religions," he said.

Religious communities play an essential role in transmitting values. Benzaquén argued that they should raise awareness of their importance in education. In the face of "the resurgence of extremism and radicalism, the teaching of religions takes on a new meaning". Religion serves as a "dike for the prevention of radicalism and fundamentalism", said Benzaquén.  

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Before passing the baton to the Secretary of the Islamic Commission of Spain, Mohamed Ajana El Ouafi, the Jewish representative stressed that the maxim of the event is to strengthen bridges between cultures, because "acceptance and solidarity form part of our relations, and must form part of the backbone of our cooperation".

For Mohamed Ajana, the event was a great opportunity to debate and reflect and to promote reciprocal knowledge of cultures. In the face of the many challenges that lie ahead, "none of us can walk alone". The three religions must move forward together, united and sharing the same bases of understanding and concord.

The Secretary of the Islamic Commission of Spain made it clear that "a correct interpretation of Islamic texts does not prevent Islam from moving forward together with other religions". Mohamed Ajana was very critical of fundamentalism and harshly criticised those who use religious precepts for spurious ends. Such hate speeches have brutal consequences and have a negative impact on society.  

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He also defended interfaith dialogue and the relations of religious communities with the various public administrations. "We must not underestimate state initiatives, said Mohamed Ajana, because we are convinced that the future can only be faced together".

Cardinal Juan José Omella took to the lectern to close the circle and offer his reflection from a Christian point of view. The president of the Episcopal Conference began by quoting the beginning of the document in which Pope Francis and Imam Ahmed el-Tayyeb put their signatures, which, in his opinion, marked a milestone in the history of religions and in the Islamo-Christian dialogue.   

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Brotherhood is the challenge for the future of humanity. "Either we are brothers or everything collapses," Omella said, quoting Pope Francis. Fraternity transcends religions and no one can feel alienated from it. It is achieved precisely through interreligious dialogue, "which is a work of art that requires patience, starting over and over again". In this change of era, religion "has a fundamental role to play in shaping the society of the future in the face of ideologies that create differences where there are none", he said.

At the end of the event, after the orchestra in the auditorium played the Hymn of Joy and the representatives of the three great religions prayed together, the director of the Foundation for Islamic Culture and Religious Tolerance, Jumaa al-Kaabi, presented the speakers with an olive tree bonsai, an emblematic symbol of the three faiths, representing peace and fraternity.