Ecumenism

Religious leaders unite to end modern slavery – with one Islamic amendment

 

It is announced from Lambeth Palace that the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby was joined by Pope Francis and other Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Jewish leaders in a joint declaration to bring an end to the curse of modern slavery. The ground-breaking Global Freedom Network, which was launched with the support of the Archbishop and Pope in March 2014, brought together global faith leaders in a commitment to eradicate modern slavery by 2020 – throughout the world and for all time. It is estimated that over 36 million people around the globe (and at least 13,000 in the UK) live under the yoke of slavery, most commonly coerced prostitution or forced labour.

The Joint Declaration emphasises that modern slavery – in terms of human trafficking, forced labour and prostitution, organ trafficking, and any relationship that fails to respect the fundamental conviction that all people are equal and have the same freedom and dignity – is a crime against humanity, and must be recognised as such by everyone and by all nations.

To this end, faith leaders affirmed their common commitment to inspiring spiritual and practical action by all faiths and people of goodwill everywhere. In an address before the signing, Archbishop Justin described the Declaration as “a profoundly significant moment”. They were gathered, he said, to “affirm a deep shared commitment for the liberation of those humiliated, abused and enslaved by their fellow-human beings.” And he gratefully acknowledged and exhorted: “There are already close and trusting relationships between us as faith leaders. Our task now is to make these relationships work effectively for the well-being of all people.”

The mission is bold and laudable. Archbishop Justin said faith leaders can ensure that every worshipping community knows about modern slavery and is ready to work to prevent and end such abuses: “As we make this solemn commitment today, my prayer is that we shall by God’s grace play a key role in ending the inhuman practices of modern slavery – practices that disfigure our world and obscure the image of God in men, women and children. We have the will, we have the common purpose, this can be done; may God bless our action together,” he said.

All of this is good, very good.

The Declaration reads:

We, the undersigned, are gathered here today for a historic initiative to inspire spiritual and practical action by all global faiths and people of good will everywhere to eradicate modern slavery across the world by 2020 and for all time.

In the eyes of God*, each human being is a free person, whether girl, boy, woman or man, and is destined to exist for the good of all in equality and fraternity. Modern slavery, in terms of human trafficking, forced labour and prostitution, organ trafficking, and any relationship that fails to respect the fundamental conviction that all people are equal and have the same freedom and dignity, is a crime against humanity.

We pledge ourselves here today to do all in our power, within our faith communities and beyond, to work together for the freedom of all those who are enslaved and trafficked so that their future may be restored. Today we have the opportunity, awareness, wisdom, innovation and technology to achieve this human and moral imperative.

*The Grand Imam of Al Azhar uses the word “religions”.

The signatories were:

Pope Francis (pp Roman Catholicism)
Her Holiness Mata Amritanandamayi (pp Hinduism)
Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) (pp Buddhism, represented by Venerable Bhikkhuni Thich Nu Chan Khong)
The Most Ven. Datuk K Sri Dhammaratana, Chief High Priest of Malaysia (pp Buddhism)
Rabbi Dr. Abraham Skorka (pp Judaism)
Chief Rabbi David Rosen, KSG, CBE (pp Judaism)
His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew (pp Orthodoxy, represented by His Eminence Metropolitan Emmanuel of France)
Mohamed Ahmed El-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar (pp Sunni Islam, represented by Dr. Abbas Abdalla Abbas Soliman, Undersecretary of State of Al Azhar Alsharif)
Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi al-Modarresi (pp Shi’a Islam)
Grand Ayatollah Sheikh Basheer Hussain al Najafi (pp Twelver Shi’a Islam, represented by Sheikh Naziyah Razzaq Jaafar, Special advisor of Grand Ayatollah Sheikh Omar Abboud (pp Shi’a Islam)
Most Revd and Right Hon Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury (pp Anglicanism)

All this is good, very good.

Except for the *

By demurring from the affirmation that it is God who affirms that “each human being is a free person, whether girl, boy, woman or man, and is destined to exist for the good of all in equality and fraternity”, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar sends out a very clear message about his interpretation of Sunni Islam, namely that: “In the eyes of religions, each human being is a free person, whether girl, boy, woman or man, and is destined to exist for the good of all in equality and fraternity. But in the eyes of Allah, it ain’t necessarily so.”

Religions are mutable, empirical, man-made constructs, but the existence, nature and character of God are matters of immutable ontology. So, by demurring from the agreed text, the man considered by some Muslims to be the highest authority in Sunni Islamic thought and jurisprudence conveys the impression of a doctrine of Allah which is at variance with the stated objectives of the Joint Declaration: it is man-made notions of religion which teach that each human being is free, and the girls are equal to boys, and women are equal to men, and that all exist for the good of all in equality and fraternity. But for his conception of Islamic shari’a, men and women are not treated equally. In matters of inheritance, property division, divorce and the custody of children, his conception of shari’a law disadvantages women, not least because they are inferior as witnesses: a man may easily divorce his wife whereas a woman must argue her case and undergo a lengthy legal process. Might this not perpetuate a state of domestic or sexual slavery?

Shari’a is a complex contextual system of religious laws and a political mindset which approves of inter alia death for apostasy, the amputation of limbs as punishment, stoning to death for adultery, the belief that a woman’s evidence is worth less than a man’s, blood money and polygamy. Might not any of these inequalities generate or perpetuate a state of slavery? And what about the Jizya? For it is written in the Qur’an (9:29): “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” Of course, many enlightened Islamic scholars adhere to the theological doctrine of abrogation, but it is clear that many Muslims do not. Does the Grand Imam of Al Azhar believe that Allah orders society by the fundamental precept of human equality, or by the dhimmi doctrine that non-Muslims are somehow inferior? Does he believe that women have equal rights in law to men, and that both are equally free to order their own affairs? What does he think adherents of the malignant Wahhabi-Salafi-Sunni strain of Islam care about what lies in the eyes of  “religions”?

To dispel any doubt, would it not have been better if the Shi’ite trio of Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi al-Modarresi, Grand Ayatollah Sheikh Basheer Hussain al Najafi and Grand Ayatollah Sheikh Omar Abboud had all got together and told their Sunni cousin Mohamed Ahmed El-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, that either he consent to sign the declaration as worded or he flies straight back to Cairo to continue denouncing Jews and Zionism. “The al-Aqsa Mosque is currently under an offensive by the Jews,” he said in 2011, adding that “we shall not allow the Zionists to Judaize” the Holy Land.

Is it just possible that a deep-seated anti-Semitism prevented the Grand Imam of Al-Azha from attributing to Allah the belief that Jews are equal to Muslims, and that both may dwell together in fraternity?