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Al-Azhar Invites Pope Francis to Peace Conference

Al-Azhar Invites Pope Francis to Peace Conference

CAIRO – Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, the highest seat of religious learning in the Sunni world, is organizing a world peace conference in Cairo next Friday, to be attended by Pope Francis, Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, and Pope Tawadros II, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

The conference goal is “to eliminate the causes of conflict, violence and hate,” El-Tayeb was quoted by The Christian Post on Monday, April 24.

The objective of the conference, to be held Thursday and Friday, is to address “a message to the whole world” to “call for peace between religious leaders, between societies and between all the countries of the world,” the office of grand imam of al-Azhar, added according to La Croix.

First proposed in May 2016 during the Vatican visit of Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the idea of the conference took form following the announcement of Pope Francis’ visit to Egypt.

The conference will take place in Cairo on April 27 – 28.

Al-Azhar has observed that “human society is currently experiencing overwhelming crises threatening our existence and destroying the essence of human life” and the “bloody, armed conflicts” that have resulted “contradict sublime religious values and humanitarian ideals.”

“Considering the expansion of the circle of wars and violence and the rise in terrorism and sectarianism, the voice of reason calls us to do our best to eliminate the causes of suffering and to seek the means of cooperation rather than seeking conflicts…,” the al-Azhar document emphasizes.

“[To] respect instead of rejecting each other, to live in peace instead of fighting, and to tolerate instead of being fanatical.”

The brief program for the pope’s trip to Cairo distributed by the Vatican indicates that the pope will give a speech on Friday, April 28 after the Grand Imam, immediately following his arrival in the Egyptian capital and a “courtesy visit” to the Egyptian President.

In the view of the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, “peace between those who preach religion” is the key to the future.

In fact, “those who do not possess something cannot transmit it to others”. And this lowering of tensions between religious leaders “may only be realized by mutual recognition”, the Grand Imam continued.

Relations between Muslims and the Vatican strained in 2006 after late pope Benedict quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor that everything Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him) brought was evil and inhuman.

Benedict had repeatedly said the words did not reflect his personal views but stopped short of a clear apology to Muslims.

The pontiff’s remarks had prompted Al-Azhar, the highest seat of learning in the Sunni Muslim world, to halt dialogue with the Vatican.

Relations hit new ebb after the pope said Christians in the Middle East were facing persecution following a church attack in Egypt.

At the time, Al-Azhar said it would cut ties with the Vatican over Benedict’s “repeated treatment of Islam in a negative way.”

Francis, who succeeded Benedict in March 2013, has succeeded in relaxing much of the strained relations.

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