In a first, Pope Francis to receive grand imam of Al-Azhar

Ahram Online , Sunday 22 May 2016

The historic meeting between the two religious leaders comes after several years of tensions between the two institutions

El-Tayeb -- Francis
File Photo Egypt's Grand Imam Mohamed El-Tayeb left, Rome's Pope Francis Right (Photo: Ahram Online)

After years of suspended talks, Pope Francis will receive at the Vatican on Monday Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayeb, the grand imam of Egypt's Al-Azhar, the highest seat of Sunni Islamic learning.

The historic visit between the two religious leaders, which is considered unprecedented, comes after serious tensions between the two institutions during the time of Francis' predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.

The now-retired Benedict made a September 2006 speech in which he was perceived to have linked Islam to violence, sparking deadly protests in several countries and retaliatory attacks on Christians.

Since Pope Francis was elected in 2013, relations have steadily improved.

El-Tayeb will have an audience with the religious leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.

"This audience is being prepared and has been scheduled for Monday," he said. "It will be a first."

A statement by Al-Azhar read that El-Tayeb's meeting with Francis will focus on coordination of efforts between Al-Azhar and the Vatican on spreading the culture of dialogue, coexistence and peace between peoples and societies.

A panel discussion headed by Al-Azhar’s Deputy Imam Abbas Shuman will follow the meeting.

Clerics and researchers from the two institutions are expected to meet to discuss joint working committees between Al-Azhar and the Vatican.

The last visit between the two institutions took place in March 2014 when a representative of the Al-Azhar Mosque, Mahmoud Azab, took part in an inter-faith conference at the Vatican aimed at promoting cooperation on combating modern slavery and human trafficking.

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