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Al-Azhar suspends dialogue with Vatican, Holy See wants to maintain ties

Decision taken in response to the pope's criticism of the treatment of Copts in Egypt

Yasmine Fathi , Thursday 20 Jan 2011
Eltaib
(Photo: Reuters)
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The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayeb, and members of the Islamic Research Academy have decided to suspend all dialogue with the Vatican due to Pope Benedict XVI’s negative comments on the condition of Egyptian Christians.

The decision was announced today following an emergency meeting during which the academy's members voted unanimously on the suspension for an indefinite period.

The decision is a response to the pope's reference to the discrimination endured by Coptic Christians in Egypt. The pope's comments followed the Two Saints Church bombing in Alexandria on New Year's Eve.

Mohamed Tahtawi, the Azhar’s official spokesperson, refused to comment on the decision to Ahram Online, saying it was self-explanatory.

The Vatican however said Thursday it wanted to continue its bi-annual meetings with Egypt's chief centre of Sunni Islamic learning, Al-Azhar, after it accused the pope of attacking Islam and suspended diplomatic ties.

"The pontifical council for inter-religious dialogue's line of openness and desire to dialogue is unchanged," said Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi.

Lombardi added that the council was "in the process of gathering together the necessary information in order to understand the situation well."

An advisor to Sheikh Ahmed criticised remarks by the pontiff as interference in internal affairs.

"The pope has repeatedly alleged that non-Muslims are being persecuted in Muslim countries in the Middle East region, which is far from the truth and is an unacceptable interference in the internal affairs of Islamic countries," Sheikh Mahmoud Azab said in remarks carried by the official Mena news agency.

The sheikh has been involved in a war of words with the pope over his comments since the attack three weeks ago.  

During his New Year's Mass in the Vatican, the pope had called for the "concrete and constant engagement of leaders of nations" to protect Christians in the Middle East, in what he termed a "difficult mission."

In the wake of rising tension and "especially discrimination, abuse and religious intolerance which are today striking Christians in particular, I once again launch a pressing appeal not to give in to discouragement and resignation,” the pope added.

Pope Benedict said the attack was "yet another sign of the urgent need for the governments of the region to adopt ... effective measures for the protection of religious minorities".

The remarks prompted Cairo to recall its envoy to the Vatican on 11 January.

"Egypt will not allow any non-Egyptian faction to interfere in its internal affairs under any pretext," the foreign ministry said. "The Coptic question is specifically an internal Egyptian affair."

El-Tayeb described the pope’s statements as an “unacceptable interference in Egypt's affairs.”

 "I disagree with the pope's view, and I ask why did the pope not call for the protection of Muslims when they were subjected to killings in Iraq?" he asked at the time.

Al-Azhar’s Center of Dialogue, established in July 2010, has entered into accords with the Vatican and other churches.

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Emiy
23-01-2011 02:00am
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The Imam shows his true colors
Wow! How tlerant of the imam. I guess the truth hurts.
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John
21-01-2011 05:59pm
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Childish
Here is what happened: The Egyptian regime received several worldwide calls, as well as EU and other Western delegations, urging it to protect its minority Christians. To evade such international pressure, it incited instead its top clerics to reject those calls, merely naming them interference with internal affairs (the ages-old dictator's lame excuse, or ruse). The Egyptian clerics, particularly the newly-assigned Al-Azhar leader (who succeeded the late moderate Tantawi–who unexpectedly died in a trip last year to Saudi Arabia) took the opportunity to assert himself in the new office. And what a better chance to do so than standing face to face with the top Christian leadership of the world–the Pope–indulging in an unnecessary heady challenge, at the expense of sacrificing a basic human right that a minority deserves. Very arrogant, childish and irresponsible behavior! The result is … the continuing suffering of Christian minorities.
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Veronica
21-01-2011 05:41pm
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RECIPROCITY
The Pope speaks on behalf of Christians who live in hard conditions and cannot have their voice heard. He condemns all violence as well as the persecution of non-christians. However, he cannot say anything about Muslims killing other Muslims in the name of Islam. This would be interference. It is Muslim leaders who must say these killings are against Islam. And I agree with Sammy. Muslims need to listen and to accept criticism, just like anybody else. We in Europe hear lots of criticisms and we try to improve. And still sometimes discrimination happens... So it means that we all need to be vigilant for minority rights, both in Europe and in Arab countries. "Treat the others the way you want to be treated" is a teaching in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Let's put it into practice
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Mr.Ahmed
21-01-2011 03:16pm
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A SINCERE IMAM
Politicians have nothing to do The Grand Imam's decision.He has taken this decision because of his respect,sincerity and love for Egypt and Islam . He is a free ,sincere and pious man who says only what he is convinced of.May Allah save him for Islam and Egypt!
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Sammy, USA
21-01-2011 09:40am
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Learn to listen, Please!
When for once will the Egyptian Authorities/politicians, including the Mufti accept the truth, take criticism, and listen to other peoples opinion. You HAVE to listen to others as they listen to you. A dialogue is two people talking and listening to one another. I am a Muslim/Egyptian and I am saying there is discrimination toward Christians for the last 35 years or more. Realizing and admitting the problem is the first step to finding a solution.
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Mr.Ahmed
20-01-2011 11:51pm
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Islam is the religion of refom
Islam doesn't need any reform at all. In fact,Islam is the religion of reform,tolerance,and solidarity.In Islam,there is no place for hatred,persecution or discrimination.In addition to that,I thank The Grand Imam for taking this decisive decision.May Allah guide all of us to the straight path!
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Mr.Ahmed
20-01-2011 09:07pm
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What a brave stance!
I greet The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar for freezing inter-religious dialogue with the Vatican because the pope’s statements are often against Islam and Islamic countries.Moreover,Egypt doesn't accept any interference in its affairs. This is a brave and great stance.May Allah bless,help and support our Grand Imam and Al-Azhar!May Allah save Egypt and Egyptians!
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Tony Shaker
20-01-2011 09:05pm
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your right
Damn right! I hope people in egypt start to understand.
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James
20-01-2011 06:48pm
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The Pope is right
So Copts are persecuted. The Vatican protests the persecution. Then the Al-Azhar, instead of stopping the persecution, cuts off relations with the Vatican. Have I got that right? That is insane and shows why Islam needs reform. How about they simply adopt freedom of religion, speech, and conscience? How about they stop all discrimination against Copts? Wouldn't that solve the problem?
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Anna
20-01-2011 06:17pm
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Irrational
How can a "Center of Dialogue" suspend all dialogue...especially since it is clear that the Imam appears to be uninformed about what the pope actually said! This is disheartening.
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