The rectors of Jerusalem's Hebrew University, of the Jesuits' Gregorian University in Rome and the vice president of Cairo's Al-Azhar University met in Rome as Christmas approached to promote dialogue and understanding between their religions. They spoke to the press on the eve of the "Monotheism and Conflict" conference in Naples on December 13-15, which discussed the role of the three religions in the Mediterranean area.
All three emphasised the role that universities are playing in promoting co-operation, understanding and peace between the three monotheistic religions and between the countries around the Mediterranean.
Jerusalem's Hebrew University is non-religious but is the oldest in Israel. From its foundation in 1925, it was central to the revival of Hebrew. Jehoshua Ben-Arieh, its rector, feels confident that universities are paving the way to peace in the Middle East.
"We are on the eve of a full dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. There is a tremendous change under way, a complete change of attitude. A few weeks ago there was a scientific conference in Egypt. At the opening of the conference the Egyptians asked everyone to stand up for a moment of silent tribute to Yitzhak Rabin. I was at first surprised, and then very deeply moved. There were people from universities in Jordan, Egypt and a number of other Arab countries.
"The death of Rabin has been a terrible loss for Israel and for the peace process. Yet I feel that his death has given new energy to the search for peace, has opened up a new, positive phase of dialogue in which the universities are of fundamental importance."
Mahmoud Sakzouk, vice president of Al-Azhar, the oldest university of the Muslim world, believes that peace and tolerance must pass through university teaching. "Our university is run in the proper spirit of Islam, in a spirit of tolerance of other religions and religious sects."