Jun 22, 2013

Master Ali Rafea's Opening Statement

Presented to
Peace Responsibility Symposium
January 18-20
Sponsored By
The Egyptian Society for Spiritual and Cultural Research (ESSCR)
The International Association of Sufism (IAS)

Distinguished participants,
Sisters and brothers,

It is a great pleasure and honor for the Egyptian Society for Spiritual and Cultural Research (ESSCR) to join with the International Association of Sufism (IAS) in organizing this symposium. We welcome the many eminent speakers and participants in our midst.

This symposium is dedicated to promoting a sense of human responsibility in spreading peace within and world wide. I would like to share with you a few thoughts on the themes of this meeting from my standpoint.

1- The path to peace in world spiritualities:

Ethnic and religious hatred has a long history, even though the spiritualities in all religions encompass the idea of tolerance and consequently peace. This is not a new idea. The word “Islam” in Arabic is derived from the root      "س ل م" which is the same root of the word peace "سلام" . Islam in its wider sense includes all revealed and earthly religions as can be read in this verse:
“So if they dispute with thee, say: "I have submitted My whole self to Allah and so have those who follow me." And say to the People of the Book and to those who are unlearned: "Do ye (also) submit yourselves?" If they do, they are in right guidance, but if they turn back, Thy duty is to convey the Message; and in Allah's sight are (all) His servants.” (Ala Emran 3:20)
The word peace appeared in 50 verses in the Holy Qur'an. In some verses, the word has the sense of being in a high spiritual state. The paradise is even called the home of peace:
"For them will be the home of peace (Paradise) with their Lord. And He will be their Walî (Helper and Protector) because of what they used to do.” (Al An’am 6:127)

If a human being is “Muslim” in the broader sense, as we explained, he would be in a high spiritual state of inner peace, and will accept others and have peace with them. This idea was reached by humans who have inner vision like Thomas More. In his Utopia, written five hundred years ago, tolerance was one of the essential virtues - essential not only to preserving the civil peace but also to the integrity of faith itself. 

2- Peace, a practical manifestation of harmony with all aspects of creation:

God created nature, all beings, events, and others according to His will. When people look to some events that happen on earth, and cause tremendous damages to humans such as earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, etc, they keep asking themselves why God did that. This is just one example, and even when they look to a handicapped person they ask the same question why God created him/her like that. We have to address this question, not by trying to answer it because our knowledge is limited and our ability to embrace all aspects of life is very confined. The rationale we depend upon in reasoning is our observations, education, and common sense that we acquire from our experience on earth and what we think as good or bad according to culture and society's norms. These norms must be used when we are responsible for any action but not to be used for judging what is beyond the seen. If we believe in the unseen as a result of perceiving that what we know is very tiny compared with what we don’t, we will understand that we are responsible for what we can change, and have to learn how to live with what we cannot, keeping in mind that this does not mean that what we cannot change now will last forever. A day may come when we can do more for helping those who suffer. Understanding our own responsibility and trying to do our best to serve whoever needs our service will help us in getting peace that will be manifested in our harmony with all aspects of life.



3- Peace between heart, mind and body:

God empowered humans by all the gifts He bestowed upon them. Mind, heart, and body are these gifts that humans need to complete their earthly journey. Mind has the capability of analysis, inducting, deducting, generalizing, specializing, abstracting, concretizing, memorizing, recognizing, and other mental capabilities and functions that we do not know. The super self, the sacred power, or the “Ana” “I”, who is beyond mind, heart and body, uses the mind's capacity to perceive what is going on in the world and take actions to change it accordingly.  The 'Ana' “I” also uses mind to interpret what God has revealed, and transfer the revelation to action in the mundane life. Thinking and contemplating strengthen the mind. Although the mind is very powerful it has a ceiling that it cannot overpass. Heart can deal with issues that cannot be completely proved by mind. So if mind stops at a certain point the “Ana” consults the heart. The heart is the center of feeling, sensing, loving, hating, envying, and other good and bad attributes that do not depend on rationale. Therefore, the heart needs to be filtered out of bad attributes by remembrance “ذكر”.  Body is responsible for perceiving and initiating events in the mundane life. The body has earthly needs and desires, which represent a driving force for mind and heart to try to fulfill. These needs and desires are embedded in the body to keep the person working on earth. The revelations have explained to humans that these needs and desires are given to them to achieve the objective of their existence on earth through transforming the energy they have been gifted with into spiritual energy that lasts after leaving earth. The wisdom in heavenly and earthly religions has provided humans with training systems to harmonize mind, heart and body to achieve the goal of existence. Peace between heart, mind, and body comes when the “Ana” succeeds to let them work together to achieve this goal.

4- Peace among religions:

Misinterpretations of religions' commandments and guidance have been the source of conflicts between nations in the history of earth. One of the reasons of misinterpretation, from our point of view, is the separation of the guidance from its objective. Another reason is the very literal interpretation of sacred scriptures and limiting this interpretation to one meaning, and claiming this is what God means. The Qur'an did explain in many verses that the main objective is to submit yourself to Allah, which means not to be a slave to any person or any dogma on earth. Submitting yourself to Allah means to be free. This is what the Holy Qur'an calls “الكلمة السواء” in this verse:

Say (O Muhammad (peace be upon him)) "O people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians): Come to a word that is just between us and you, that we worship none but Allâh (Alone), and that we associate no partners with Him, and that none of us shall take others as lords besides Allâh. Then, if they turn away, say: "Bear witness that we are Muslims."(Ala Emran 3:64)

It is very astonishing how people committed a lot of wars and crimes in the name of Allah, especially among those who are assumed to be believers in one of the religions. In effect the main reason of any conflict has never been “Religion”; rather it is power, money, desires and lust in the mundane life.

Peace among all religions will only be achieved by listening to each other to discover the commonalities and the oneness of all religions,   and not arguing about what we think of the unseen as all our thoughts are just thoughts, not real, because by definition we cannot argue on something that transcends our capabilities.

5- Peace between religiosity and secularity (humanness and divineness):

Secularity is part of religion. To be a good Muslim, Christian, Jew,… you have to respect plausible reasoning, rationale, logic, and people's interests. From our point of view the main difference between secularity and religiosity is the belief in the after-life and its relationship with the earthly life.

However, this difference must not cause any hatred or conflict because believing in the unseen is something very personal and depends on what a person thinks, his abstract mental capacity, and the inner self. On the societal level the gap becomes wider because some people who claim that they are religious deviate from rational values, and imagine that there is a sacred law to be applied on earth that was revealed in the Scriptures. They cannot understand that the words are just carriers of meanings and they depend on context, culture, objective, and others. The interpretation of holy verses is relative and not absolute. However, the only way I can see to solve this paradox, is to allow freedom in societies and encourage dialogue. Nowadays, so many religious movements believe in a civil state where all people can live and choose their governance system. This is a good step towards peace between religiosity and secularity.

6- Oneness of humanity and diversity of expressions:

All humans came from one origin; and they all have minds, hearts and bodies. However, each person has his/her unique character. So every human on earth is expressing his/her inner self. As all humans are subjected to the same divine order, revelations have revealed this divine order in different ways. The rituals revealed in different religions, express the same concepts in diverse ways. Therefore, diversity of expressions that are manifestations of the same concept should never be a source of hatred and conflicts. Therefore, we have to work on this issue and educate ourselves to accept diversity.

These are brief thoughts that I wanted to share with you but I am looking forward to hearing more from you through the panels and workshops that will be conducted in these three days.

I wish you successful discussions, interactions, deliberation and fruitful outcomes. I also wish you a pleasant stay in Egypt.

Last but not least, I would like to thank all those who participated in making this Symposium a reality. Special thanks for Dr Nahed Angha, Dr Aliaa Rafea, Ms. Aisha Rafea, Ms. Magda and Ms. Amani el Mofty who were responsible for organizing the symposium, Ms. Passainte Mousa for her dedication in taking the responsibility for the logistics, together with Ms. Inas El-Sahn, the ESSCR secretariat Mr. Anis El-Refaai, Mr. Mohamed Hamed for handling financial and governmental issues.
Special thanks go to Ms. Neveen Sidqi, Ms Maha Gohar, and Dr. Ines Amer for their fine art, as well as Mr. Muhammad Abbas.
I am also very proud of the young ESSCR members who did a lot of work to make this symposium possible: I appreciate the artistic work of Amr Mamoud Kheirat, Yomna El-Esseily, the contribution of Atef Mahmoud on several levels,  and the great effort of the translation team:  Muhammad Halawa, Shereen Aly, Amira El-Adawi, Ali Al-Salamoni, Mennat Mahmoud, Ola Badawi, Hoda Ezz el Arab;  and those who share in receiving our guests, monitoring the arrangements in the conference room, preparing the symposium's bags,  paper work, and many other efforts: Hassan Abdel Ra’ouf, Ahmad Saqr, Nelly Shoira, Amina Shaher, Aliaa Ibrahim, Marwa Khamees, Wael Atef, Waleed Moustafa Mahmoud, Haitham el Bendari, Rafea Saleh, Mohammad Zein, Ali Abbas, Eman Habib, Muhammad Abdel Fattah, Amr Fekry and Muhammad Salah. I am sure that there are names of other members in our circle who have shared in making our Symposium a reality, and they know themselves. So, I would like them all to stand, so they can be recognized for their devotion and sincere work.

I wish you all a very pleasant and successful symposium.