The Zayed Award for Human Fraternity1, named after the late founder of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, is a $1 million prize awarded annually to individuals and entities around the world who are advancing fraternity and coexistence. Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar were the first co-recipients of the award in 2019.

The award was created following Pope Francis’ visit on 3-5 February 2019 to the United Arab Emirates and his historic meeting in Abu Dhabi with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Professor Ahmed Al-Tayyeb. This was the first-ever visit by the Head of the Catholic Church to the Arabian Peninsula to participate in the International Interfaith Meeting on "Human Fraternity" in Abu Dhabi.

On 6, 7, and 8 October I was in Rome with five other members of the Judging Committee of the Zayed Award for Human Fraternity. My colleagues and I will select the winner of the Award for 2022. Submissions of candidates close on 1st December.

The judging committee includes:

  • former president of Niger and winner of the 2020 Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, Mahamadou Issoufou;
  • former Deputy President of South Africa and former UN Under-Secretary-General, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka;
  • under-secretary of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Holy See Cardinal Michael Czerny;
  • President of the Aladdin Project Leah Pisar;
  • Secretary-General of the Higher Committee on Human Fraternity (HCHF) Judge Mohamed Abdelsalam.

We had the opportunity to meet with, and witness, the deeply personal fraternity between the world’s greatest religious figures, the head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Professor Ahmed Al-Tayyeb.

Together, the Pope and the Grand Imam represent billions of believers around the world. Their public friendship and partnership serve as a model for collaboration across divides, a golden bridge that seeks to heal divisions and wakes up in us our humanity, regardless of our ethnicity, culture and beliefs.

The Pope and Grand Imam made history in 2019, when they came together in Abu Dhabi to sign the Document on Human Fraternity, a landmark statement calling on all people around the world to do their part in advancing the universal values of dialogue, coexistence, and peace.

Documents and statements, as noble as they may be, are only meaningful if they are able to create a positive impact on the lives of people, particularly people on the peripheries of society.

The Document on Human Fraternity has not been a prisoner to paper - but is being brought to life by the efforts of the United Arab Emirates, the Vatican, and Al-Azhar. The Document is being translated into action through various initiatives including the Higher Committee on Human Fraternity, the Abrahamic Family House, and the Zayed Award for Human Fraternity, where I am currently serving as a member of the judging committee.

I have the honor to serve on the judging committee of the 2022 edition of the award, and with my five fellow judges, I traveled to Rome in the first week of October to meet in-person the Pope and Grand Imam and discuss with them the mission of promoting global human fraternity.

I would like to share one point the Grand Imam made to us judges. Differences between peoples are because of divine wisdom, according to the Grand Imam, who said that if God wanted people to be the same, He would have created us without differences. But, the Grand Imam said, God did not create with uniformity, and therefore humanity must learn to appreciate our diversity and govern our relationships with fraternity.

The members of the judging committee each with our historic, cultural and religious beliefs represent the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic faiths stem from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and the Americas.

Yet what we share overrides these differences and has merged our paths: our belief in the cause of human fraternity and our efforts to realize it. We have found in each other allies of peace. We all believe that every person in the world holds an equal role in advancing fraternity for the sake of our common human family.

It can be hard to believe in the success of the cause of human fraternity. With the severity of humanitarian crises and conflicts in our world today, many people see fraternity as an unattainable ideal rather than a tangible one.

But fraternity is not an abstract concept – it is an actionable choice. Fraternity is choosing cooperation over conflict, knowledge over prejudice, and shared values over perceived divisions.

Over many thousands of years human beings waged wars, sometimes to satisfy as basic needs of survival as food, water and land to cultivate food. But oftentimes wars were or are waged with the ambition (and miscalculation) of expanding influence and secure even greater gains to detriment of others whom they defined as adversaries and enemies.

Since the dark ages up to the centuries of supposed enlightenment, there were and there are still many who invoke a supposed "will" of “The Most Merciful" to wage "holly wars" on others of a different religion.

The history of Christianity is tragically replete with wars of conquest and subjugation, of aiding and abetting slavery and colonialism; Christians became accomplices in the genocide of indigenous peoples that were unfortunate to have encountered the Europeans.

In the name of God villages and nations were and are still being pillaged and burnt, women raped, children killed. I do not believe that those who killed and go on killing in the name of God are true interpreters of the word of God; otherwise, God would no longer have believers and followers. How would a thinking human being, a believer in the most Compassionate accept the claims of those who murder, rape and burn in the name of God?

Communism and capitalism divided the world in spheres of influence, partitioned countries, divided Nations and separated families.

Religion, ideology and power became intertwined and provided the theoretical rational for our irrational reasons to wage wars.

Fraternity is making the decision to interact with a neighbor of a different background, rather than avoiding them out of fear. It is listening to someone out of a desire to learn from them, rather than to persuade or change them. It is being as passionate about protecting the rights of others as the rights of oneself.

Often times we feel powerless in this common calling of fostering fraternity in a world so broken by hate, oppression, and injustice. But every single person in the world has power and should have a share of the responsibility to act towards fraternity. Those advocating for peace in their local communities can be just as powerful and effective as high-level peace delegations.

I reiterate to every reader the call to action of the Document on Human Fraternity: consider the ways you may be able to move the world in the direction of dialogue, understanding, and fraternity.

These principles, if implemented in our world today, will significantly reduce the economic, social, political, and environmental problems that weigh so heavily on humanity. We must not be resigned to live in a world plagued with chaos, violence, and hate, when a world of harmony, peace, and love is within our reach.

1 The nomination process for ZAHF 2022 closes on December 1st 2021. The winner/s will be announced on February 4, 2022. Nominations can be submitted by qualified personalities via the official website.