Many Civilisations Have Nurtured Humanity

Fayza Aboulnaga
Egypt’s Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva

A review of the life and history of my country, Egypt, could provide the best evidence of the possibility of coming together between all civilisations and cultures and possibilities for joint action. The father of all prophets, Abraham, married one of the Egyptian princesses. And on the land of Egypt, prophet Moses was born and grew up and it was on Mount Sinai that he received the heavenly message. Egypt and the Egyptian people have given refuge to the Virgin Mary and her child Jesus Christ. The Egyptian church has contributed to greatly enriching world Christian thinking and it has created the Christian monastic orders. Egypt has also received the message of Islam. It has become a lighthouse for Islamic teaching and thinking.

Before that, Egypt had given the world the Pharaonic civilisation, which has lighted the path of humanity and along with Greek civilisation, it has constituted the Hellenic civilisation which gave the whole world the knowledge that constituted the basis for all sciences which are being taught in all parts of the world today. And it has given its contribution to the Roman culture. Moreover, it has also led the Arab and Islamic civilisation. This land throughout its period of history was a refuge to all those who fled from various parts of the world because of persecution of one culture or civilisation by another. So many immigrants came from Africa, Asia and Europe. On the land of Egypt there was a mixture of so many civilisations and cultures from all parts of the world, which were all melted together to constitute our Egyptian culture and personality. And on this land, you find side by side Islamic mosques, Jewish temples and Christian churches.

We believe that every civilisation represents the sum total of the cultures of its people, shaping its distinctive personality. And each civilisation has reached a certain level to enable it to make a special contribution to human thinking and therefore, all religions are able to contribute their values and principles. This is quite natural. It is a healthy phenomenon because value systems have developed within the framework of history, politics, social and economic affairs. And they have passed through various stages. This also applies to Islamic civilisation as well as Western civilisation and Asian and all other civilisation.

Here I wish to clarify that the term Islamic civilisation does not necessarily mean those who profess the Islamic religion but the adherents of this civilisation live on lands which extend from the Atlantic ocean in the West to the borders of China in the East, passing by parts of Asia, Africa and South Europe. And they belong to different religions. They are brought together by common or similar value systems. An attempt is made to describe this civilisation as being reactionary and rejecting progress, advocating violence and refusing to co-exist with other civilisations and cultures. We even hear those who reiterate that terrorism is linked with this civilisation because of practices carried out by a minority of those who adhere to this civilisation, or who might adhere to this civilisation. This is despite the fact that similar examples are to be found in other parts of the world, among people of other civilisations and religions. But unfortunately, sometimes such conceptions find their echo in different parts of the world.

This misconception ignores the comprehensive view of the reality of Islamic world, particularly contemporary Islamic world. These negative concepts have created the wrong impression of the existence of a confrontation between the West and the Islamic world. There is no doubt that it will express the crisis lived by the world since the inhuman, criminal attacks on new York and Washington on 11 September. But it leads to a misconception because the source of terrorism, its causes are not because of an absence of dialogue between civilisations. It is not due to confrontations between religions as some claim. The source of terrorism is the feeling of injustice, of marginalisation and the suffering, the indignity and deprivation of the most elementary human rights and the continuation of aggression and occupation for so many years and for so many decades. Whether this injustice is political or economic, social or even cultural, following this trend will have dangerous repercussions, unless we all try very genuinely and with a joint faith to correct such misconceptions and misrepresentations.

Islam did not spring up in the last decade, nor did it come up to fill an ideological vacuum. Islam, such as the other heavenly, divine religions, has been established in the world long before those modern ideologies have cropped up. We do not ask the West to recognise something that we have not done. Members of the Islamic civilisation did not attribute to this civilisation of the West two World Wars. The most violent conflicts of this century were those that beset the countries that belonged to the western civilisation until the middle of this century. And the main cause was conflict of interest rather than a conflict of civilisations. This is the best evidence of the wrong views of those who advocate this concept of a conflict between civilisations.

Undoubtedly, we need further action in order to attain deeper understanding on the part of every culture and every civilisation and every religion – an understanding of the other cultures, civilisations and religions. There is a need to base our understanding on serious and deep knowledge in order to be able to realise the positive interaction between cultures and civilisations. This is likely to help us strengthen the basis for peaceful co-existence. The adherents of the Islamic civilisation all throughout the past fourteen centuries have enriched the western civilisation – culturally and scientifically. And today, the adherents of the Islamic civilisation do not deny that they have benefited from the accomplishments of the Western civilisation in the scientific, technological and medical fields. I would like to quote from an article by Mr. Miguel Moratinos, Special European envoy to the Middle East. Its title in English is “Europe and the Moslem World – International Relations.” I quote, “Perhaps western societies should re-think their traditional outlooks instead of focusing on the exclusive desire to export their own cultural and civilisational models. It is time for them to accept cultural imports and to improve their understanding of an increasingly and complex and inter-dependent world.

I would like to dwell on the important role that can be played in this context by the serious mass-media in the process of building bridges between the adherents of different civilisations. Because they are watched and read by so many people, the media should seriously carry out their responsibility of disseminating knowledge and facts without any attempt at distorting reality or exciting feelings.

We do believe that in addition to dialogue, which is a basic constituent to promote under-standing between the adherents of various civilisations, it is also certain that the achievement of economic progress and the elimination of poverty is a cornerstone in the achievement of this objective. The attainment of justice between the inhabitants of this planet resides in the meeting of their basic needs. This is a decisive factor in bringing about stability. In this connection, we welcome of the adoption of international targets for development.

I would like to announce that in the coming few months, we plan to re-open the Alexandria library, which has preserved the heritage of human cultures for so many centuries. And now Arab and Islamic Egypt will revive this ancient library so that it remains forever a lighthouse, guarding the heritage of all humanity with all its diverse cultures and civilisations.

Originally published in the South Bulletin-Oct 2001