Pope, Grand Imam meeting a message against terrorism: clerics

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

Pope Francis speaks with Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Egypt's Al-Azhar, during a May 23rd meeting at the Vatican. [Photo courtesy of the Vatican Press Office]

Pope Francis speaks with Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Egypt's Al-Azhar, during a May 23rd meeting at the Vatican. [Photo courtesy of the Vatican Press Office]

The recent meeting between the Pope and the Grand Imam of Egypt's Al-Azhar will help correct the distorted religious discourse that has led to the spread of extremism, Muslim and Christian clerics told Al-Shorfa.

Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb's May 23rd visit to the Vatican was the first meeting between a pontiff and a grand imam since Al-Azhar suspended talks in 2011 and signals improved relations between the two faiths, AFP reported.

"Our meeting is the message," Pope Francis said as he embraced al-Tayeb.

The two religious leaders discussed world peace, the renunciation of violence and terrorism and the status of Christians amid tensions in the Middle East.

They also agreed to convene a peace conference, Al-Azhar said in a statement.

"We need to take a joint stance, hand in hand, to bring happiness to humanity. Divine religions were revealed to make people happy, not to cause them hardship," al-Tayeb told Francis, according to the statement.

Countering extremist ideology

The Vatican and Al-Azhar worked quietly for months to ensure the success of the meeting, which brought together two of the world's top clerics, said Sheikh Abdul Thaher Shehata, who lectures at Al-Azhar University’s faculty of sharia.

Dialogue between the two sides "stopped for a period of about five years during which many terrorist groups emerged", including the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL), he told Al-Shorfa.

"The call for an interfaith peace conference underscores the importance of [holding it] at this time when the world is facing the threat of terrorism and its extremist ideas," he said.

Immediately after the meeting, top Al-Azhar officials met with Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, to activate dialogue between Al-Azhar and the Vatican ahead of the conference.

This is an indication that both parties recognise the seriousness of the global threat posed by terrorism, Shehata said, especially in light of ISIL's efforts to disseminate its extremist ideology in every country.

ISIL's ideology is "based on delusions and distorted fatwas whose sole purpose is to perpetuate its existence", he added.

Correcting religious discourse

Al-Azhar's rapprochement with the Vatican intersects with its efforts to clear the religious discourse of "all blemishes that have tarnished it in past years", Shehata said.

Al-Azhar scholars have been sent on missions to the capitals of the world "to disseminate moderate Islam and correct the dark image [of Islam] spread by extremist groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIL", he added.

"The entire world needed this historic meeting that brought together the Pope and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar," said the Rev. Sameh Iskandar of Mar Mina church in Giza.

The meeting will have a tremendous impact on curbing terrorism and breaking the image of Islam terrorist groups are trying to portray, he told Al-Shorfa.

It also will bring together the followers of the two religions, he said.

"The divide between Christians and Muslims is the result of the dissemination of extremist and terrorist ideas based on hatred of others and rejection of their views and beliefs," he added.

Iskandar said he hopes the meeting will help people find "the best means to communicate, not only between the clerics, but also the younger generations, to heal any rift in the relations in preparation for a future free of terrorism".

Eliminating religious extremism

"This historic meeting will have a positive impact not only on Muslims and Christians, but the entire world," said Sheikh Rajeh Sabri of the Egyptian Ministry of Religious Endowments.

Activating the dialogue between Christians and Muslims will head off the hatred that has been spread throughout the world by those who espouse extremist ideology, he told Al-Shorfa.

Dialogue will help to eliminate religious extremism on both sides, he added.

The forthcoming peace conference will be "a great opportunity for Al-Azhar to restore the true image of Islam that is far from the extremism and terrorism disseminated by ISIL via its media machine", he said.

World media will cover the conference, he said, noting that this will "deal a heavy ideological blow to terrorism, as the ideological battle is the underlying basis of the battle to eradicate it".

Al-Tayeb's meeting with Pope Francis comes on the heels of similar recent visits with Pope Tawadros II, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, which helped defuse sectarian tensions in the Egyptian street, Sabri said.

Al-Azhar is fully aware of the importance of openness towards others, he said, and is exerting every effort to defuse tensions ignited by groups such as ISIL.

Do you like this article?

0 Comment(s)

Comment Policy * Denotes Required Field 1500 / 1500