Dialogue in the line of Dr. Mahmūd ‘Azab, Coordinator of the Bayt Al-‘A’ila, needs to continue

Sent On: 
Wed, 2014-09-03
Newsletter Number: 

AWR, Cairo, September 2, 2014


On June 29, two months ago, Dr. Mahmūd ‘Azab, Coordinator of the Bayt Al-‘A’ila, passed away. This came as a total shock to his family and friends. He did not suffer of any disease and nor had there been any warning signals but he was struck by a heart attack at the age of 59. The death of Mahmūd ‘Azab is a tremendous blow to all who support dialogue between peoples of different beliefs and convictions. This was not just a matter of dialogue between Muslims and Christians but it included atheists, agnostics, Islamists in full respect for pluralism in society.


Dr. Mahmūd ‘Azab

Source: al- Shuruq 


Dr. Mahmūd ‘Azab had been since his student days been a close friend of Dr. Ahmad al-Tayyib who later became the Grand Imam of the Azhar. Al-Tayyib burst in tears when he was notified of ‘Azab’s death and said “to God we belong and to Him we return.” Our intern Alastair White translated an Egyptian article about Dr. Azab which can be found here.


Our researcher Yosra al-Gendy wrote an overview of his life here.


Most impressive, however, are Dr. Mahmūd ‘Azab’s own words in an interview we conducted with him on June 19, 2013. That interview had thus far not been placed in Arab-West Report because of the chaos we have experienced in Egypt in the summer of 2013 and the deliberate destruction of our database on June 27 by an Egyptian IT programmer. But also one year later this interview gives a fantastic insight in the philosophy of dialogue.


“We discuss the common higher moral values present in all religions and all of humanity, whether in the three Abrahamic religions, other faiths or even with unbelievers. We speak about justice, peace, scientific progress and things like this. Therefore we don’t call it a religious dialogue. So why do we dialogue about these values? We discuss the nature of these values so we can form a consensus about how to realize them in our societies.”  And “aside from our values, we speak about diversity and the right to be different, because differences result in diversity. We protect this because it enriches humanity and our respective cultures.”


Dr. Mahmūd ‘Azab was explicit in denouncing a report of Dr. Michele Clark claiming Christian girls in Egypt are kidnapped. This report, Dr. Mahmūd ‘Azab said, was politically motivated to put pressure on Egypt but lacks any sense of truth.


Very interesting is that he said on June 19, 2013, in the final days of President Morsi, that the Constitution made during Morsi’s presidency was not final but in progress. The 2012 Constitution was pushed through by Islamists despite great opposition. A president, Dr. Mahmūd ‘Azab said, “can be considered the winner of an election if he gets 51%, however the constitution must pass with a far higher majority.” Dr. Mahmūd ‘Azab could then not have known that Morsi would be pushed out of office and that interim president Adly Mansour would initiate a new Constituent Assembly to amend the Constitution of 2012.  For the full text of this interview please click here.


Dr. Mahmūd ‘Azab was a great man who will be deeply missed. How much he will be missed was also clear from the very high level church delegation that went to the mosque to offer their condolences on July 1. The delegation was led by Coptic Orthodox Bishop Armia and included tens of high ranking church dignitaries, Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant, including for example Rev. Dr. Safwat al-Bayadi, head of the Evangelical Community Council. Dominican Father Dr. Emilio Platti then commented that Dr. Mahmūd ‘Azab had been deeply formed by his years at the Sorbonne in France. It shows the need for Egyptians studying abroad and non-Egyptians studying in Egypt. People of different cultures and backgrounds need to mix. Only this will build mutual respect for one another.


Dr. Mahmūd ‘Azab was a great example to all of us. He worked in a line that was fully in-line with our convictions about dialogue. We will deeply miss him. It is good that people continue working in his line of thought, in Egypt but also in similar minded organizations in other countries such as the Cairo Coalition in The Netherlands. For the Cairo Coalition please click here.


Cornelis Hulsman

Editor-in-chief Arab-West Report