ECSSR Lecture Series No. 747 H.E. Dr. Omar Habtoor Al-Darei: “We Should Focus on Shared Values and Avoid the Religious Exploitation of Crises”

The Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR) held an online lecture, on May 17, 2020, titled ‘The Values of Crisis and the Crisis of Values’. The lecture was delivered by H.E. Dr. Omar Habtoor Al-Darei, Executive Director for Islamic Affairs at the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments.

H.E. Al-Darei thanked the ECSSR and its Director General, H.E. Prof. Jamal Sanad Al-Suwaidi, for relentless efforts that contribute to scientific research, support the decision-making process and serve the community. He also praised the Center’s insightful vision, which provides in-depth analysis of ongoing issues and anticipates the future.

In his lecture, H.E. Al-Darei focused on the novel coronavirus, highlighting how the crisis has impacted all aspects of life, creating a new reality that is characterized by hope and fear, reshaping our expectations of the future as one fraught with volatility and change. He explained that during the pandemic our individual and national values have been the only constants. They are integral aspects of our development that we rely on during hard times, to overcome difficulties and build a bright future. The lecturer pointed out that this crisis, like all other crises, has revealed the true ethics of societies and nations; their values, morals and level of progress. He stressed that it is better not to focus on dividing the world into wealthy and developing nations, instead, we should resort to values as a common foundation shared by all nations.

H.E. Al-Darei described the debate over the nature of these crises from a faith-based perspective, making the point that every faith undoubtedly has its own interpretation. However, this crisis is unique in that all religions and their leaders, particularly the monotheistic religions, have adopted similar positions. He also discussed some of the videos circulating on social media, which stray away from science and refer to the pandemic as a warning from God; as punishment for our sins and corruption, heralding the Day of Judgment. He said these interpretations hugely threaten our values and it is wrong to interpret this pandemic in a religious manner; history shows us that many devout and faithful people have died as a result of these types of crises. He added that the true danger of these interpretations is they encourage a sense of helplessness and submission, rather than embracing scientific methods. This does not mean, however, that we should not contemplate all that is taking place and learn valuable lessons from crises, as revealed in the Holy Quran.

H.E. Al-Darei also discussed the value system of crises, emphasizing that the pandemic is a real test of values and a measurement of the humanitarianism of both individuals and societies. Values revive us and give us hope. Out of the most difficult situations, values-based approaches and initiatives are born. In this context, he gave the example of the League of the Virtuous, which Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) participated in before he became a prophet, and commended after he became a prophet. The League was born during a very difficult period in the history of Quraish.

H.E. Al-Darei stressed that the immunity we draw from values is far greater than immunity to viruses, because it withstands even the most difficult circumstances. In fact, crises strengthen and promote values to unify society against threats. The values we should use to fight this crisis are the highest human ideals; manners, traditions and practices that are in fact rules and laws to regulate behavior and respect humanity.

The lecturer highlighted UAE initiatives based on noble human values, such as the Moral Education Initiative, the Year of Tolerance, the Year of Giving, and the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together. The document was signed under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces (may God protect him), in order to protect people and promote cooperation between religions and nations. H.E. Al-Darei outlined the values we should focus on as we face the coronavirus crisis, the most important of which is the value we place on life and sacrifice. Here, he referred to medical staff on the front lines. He also talked of the importance of respecting science and knowledge, and of spreading peace and optimism by rejecting fear and panic, reviving hope and trust in God.

H.E. Al-Darei touched on “crises and tendencies of ideology”, where a crisis of values emerges, especially as extremists exploit crises to spread their poisonous thought. He noted that extremists have started rumors and issued fatwas to spread the disease among some people. The coronavirus crisis has shown how selfish these extremists are, as they gloat over the misfortune of others, issue fatwas with political messages and agitate against regimes and countries, under the pretext of a response to mosque closures.

Dr. Al-Darei concluded his lecture with a message for academics, experts and learned people, appealing to them to help their societies adopt righteous values, exercise self-control, sacrifice and patience, in a bid to stop societies from falling into a crisis of values. He stressed that values are our savior from domestic violence and the tensions that have resulted from social separation. He also emphasized that our national culture is rich in values, morals and virtues. Activating these morals and values will counter those who spread fear and panic in an attempt to exploit others, as morals are the source of positive energy in our societies.