Sunni Islam's Al-Azhar eyes 'better relations' with new pope

AFP , Thursday 14 Mar 2013

Al-Azhar says it's willing to resume dialogue with Vatican which was suspended in 2011 over controversial anecdote by former Pope Benedict XVI; looks forward 'better relations' with Catholic Church

Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, the highest Islamic Sunni institution, Ahmed Al-Tayeb (Photo: AP)

Sunni Islam's highest seat of learning, Al-Azhar, said on Thursday that it wants "better relations" with the Vatican under Pope Francis.

"We are hoping for better relations with the Vatican after the election of the new pope," Mahmud Azab, adviser for inter-faith affairs to Al-Azhar imam Ahmed al-Tayyeb, told AFP.

"As soon as a new policy emerges, we will resume the dialogue with the Vatican which was suspended in early 2011," Azab said. "We congratulate the Church of St Peter and all Catholics around the world."

In 2006, Pope Benedict sparked fury across the Muslim world when he recounted an anecdote in which the Muslim Prophet Mohammed was described as a warmonger who spread evil teachings by the sword.

Dialogue resumed in 2009, but was again severed after Benedict strongly called for protection of Christian minorities following a January 2011 suicide bombing at a church in Alexandria, Egypt's second city.

At the time, Al-Azhar said it would cut ties again with the Vatican over what it called Benedict's "repeated treatment of Islam in a negative way, and his claims that Christians and others are oppressed in the Middle East."

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