Grand Imam of al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb speaks during an inter-religious meeting with Pope Francis at the Founder's Memorial in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, February 4, 2019. (Photo: Reuters)
Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayyeb, the grand imam of Egypt's Al-Azhar, the world's leading Muslim Sunni institution, called on Monday on Muslims in the Middle East to "embrace" local Christian communities.
El-Tayyeb's comments came in a televised speech in Abu Dhabi during a ceremony at the Human Fraternity Meeting, which is being organized by the Emirates.
The meeting is attended by the Vaticn's Pope Francis, who is on his first ever visit to the Arabian Peninsule, the birthplace of Islam.
The Pontiff had arrived in Abu-Dhabi on Sunday night on a three-day trip to promote interfaith dialogue and visit the Catholic peripheries.
El-Tayyeb flew on Sunday to Abu-Dhabi to meet with Pope Francis and attend the event.
The grand imam, who stressed in his speech 'that religion must never be used to justify violence,' and the pope signed a document that Al-Azhar and the Vatican will work together to fight extremism.
Addressing communities of the Christian faith, El-Tayyeb stressed "You are part of this nation... You are not minorities."
He also called on Muslims in the west to integrate in their host nations and respect local laws.
El-Tayyeb said that the document was signed after a series of talks between himself and “my brother and dear friend Francis.”
The grand imam said that he and the pope discussed the world’s issues and contemplated the situation of “those who have been killed, the poor, orphans, widows, the oppressed, and those who have fled their homes and nations,” and how divine religions can provide a “lifeline for the miserable.”
“What struck me is that the concerns of his holiness were compatible with my own, and that each of us feels the sacred responsibility for which God will hold us accountable in the afterlife,” he said, adding that the pope feels pain for those who suffer tragedies, without discrimination.
El-Tayyeb also said that the divine religions are innocent of all terrorist movements, no matter their religion, dogma, ideas, or their victims.
“These are killers and abusers of God and his message, and officials in the East and the West should carry out their duties to combat and apprehend these assailants while safeguarding the people’s lives, beliefs and houses of worship,” he said.