Egypt’s Grand Mufti Shawki Allam (left) attends a conference organised by Al Azhar and the Muslim Council of Elders. Image Credit: Courtesy: Al Azhar

Cairo: What is the panacea to the surge of violent militancy in the Arab region? For the past two days, a large number of clerics and scholars from around the world have gathered in Cairo for formulating an answer.

Speakers and participants in a conference, co-organised by Al Azhar — Egypt’s influential Islamic seat of learning, and the UAE-based Muslim Council of Elders, have touted diversity in order to safeguard Muslim-Christian coexistence that has recently been shaken by militants’ persecution and attacks.

“Islam does not coerce anyone into embracing it,” Shawki Allam, Egypt’s Grand Mufti, proclaimed forthrightly.

“There is diversity in religions. This is evidence that diversity is an inevitable and deliberate thing for humanity,” Allam, Egypt’s top Islamic official, told the conference.

The event was held against turbulence in the region and massive abuses that have mainly targeted the minority Christian community.

“We have to get out of the ghettos we are living in,” Huw Thomas, a Christian cleric from the United Kingdom, said.

“We have to dispel fears among followers of different faiths, and learn from and about each other,” he told Gulf News on the sidelines of the conference.

“If you focus on the common good and common humanity, this will help a lot in defeating extremism.”

Father Thomas believes that diversity can be nurtured through education.

“If we put more into education, children will come out, knowing a lot about each other.”

His remarks echo an earlier advocacy voiced by Egypt’s leading Christian clergyman.

“Diversity enriches humanity by promoting dialogue that leads to tolerance and coexistence,” Coptic Pope Tawadros II told the conference’s opening session on Tuesday.

The pontiff’s call came just days after dozens of Egyptian Christians fled Sinai following a series of deadly attacks against their co-religionists.

Egypt’s minority Copts make up the majority of Christians in the Arab region.

Clerics and scholars from different Muslim and Christian sects attended the conference titled “Freedom, Citizenship, Diversity and Integration”.

Many of them did not mince words about diagnosing problems and suggesting drastic solutions.

“The Arab world is undergoing a sensitive and dangerous stage when problems, ignored for dozens of years, have erupted and appeared on the surface,” Abbas Al Jawahri, a prominent Lebanese Shiite Muslim, said.

“These problems include failure to recognise the other, the importance of diversity and procrastination about rotation of power,” Al Jawahri, who heads the Beirut-based Arab Council for Dialogue and Studies, told Gulf News.

He argued that over the past decades, groups have been marginalised in the Arab regions on social, political, economic and religious grounds.

“We have been late in solving these problems, which are now piling up in front of us.”

According to Al Jawahri, diversity is the key.

“At this crucial moment, such a conference opens the way for a long process that establishes the idea of accepting the other and citizenship. This means that followers of a certain sect in any country would not be favoured just because they constitute the majority.”

Al Jawahri called for decision-makers in the region to grasp the bigger picture.

“There are other problems that are not basically sectarian. They are related to social and economic justice as well as politics.”

He suggested development projects to the benefit of all citizens and steps to ensure rotation of power.

“There is also a need for practical programmes to engage young Arabs so that they will know each other and develop a mentality that is open to the other.”