‘It’s our duty to put forward wise solutions to the world’s problems’
A self-styled “intercultural mediator” and a “link between worlds”, Professor Mustapha Chérif is one of the world’s most respected figures in the fields of intercultural dialogue. The founder and president of Algeria’s Université de la Formation Continue, Prof Chérif is also a former Algerian minister of higher education and ambassador to Egypt and is a permanent delegate to the League of Arab States. A founder of the Groupe d’Amitié Islamo-Chrétienne and the World Islamic-Catholic Forum, Prof Chérif is the only Arab intellectual to have met the last three pontiffs. He has written 13 books on the peaceful coexistence and tolerance between faiths and was awarded the Unesco-Sharjah prize for Arab Culture and the Ducci Foundation peace prize in 2013. Prof Chérif will participate in a panel discussion at the book fair on the “dialogue of civilisations” in the context of contemporary relationships between Islam, the Arab world and the West.
Just before his death, you had a talk with the philosopher Jacques Derrida, which was described as an “attempt to tear down the notion that Islam and the West are two civilisations locked in a bitter struggle for supremacy”. Does history not suggest that is actually the case?
History has also shown that we have lived together for centuries ... that is the reality. We lived together, exchanged humanitarian values, science and culture ... [and] for more than 1,000 years, diversity was the basis for that reality. What was realised in the past can surely be repeated in the future. Many in Algeria, the Emirates, and other Islamic countries believe that there is no alternative but to search for a “common civilisation” that encompasses the world, linking the specific to the universal.
You recently gave a talk on “the future of civilisation”. What are the reasons for your optimism about the future?
In times of crisis, we must remain optimistic, because humanity has shown ... we have the ability to rise above every challenge. It is our duty as good citizens of the world ... to put forward reasonable, and wise solutions to the world’s problems.
How can Islamic culture help us make sense of modernity?
Arab culture contributed directly and greatly to European modernity [and] today, it is possible for Arab culture to participate, and possibly lead, the search for [a] common civilisation. This is definitely feasible if we approach that in a balanced and reasonable way. It is important not to forget about ethics. Focusing only on materialism and consumption is definitely not the answer.
What role can the “Other” (a person or belief system other than one’s self or one’s own) play in our lives?
We all need diversity ... Diversity is a treasure. Through [the] exchange of ideas, cultures and experiences we will benefit from the “Other’s” achievements, and learn important lessons from the challenges we have faced. Through dialogue with the “Other”, it will be easier for us to find solutions to common challenges ... dialogue will help in the realisation of a culture of peace.
• Meet the inimitable Professor Mustapha Chérif on Friday at 7.30pm in The Tent