CAIRO - Opening a blank sheet with the Vatican, Al-Azhar, the highest seat of learning in the Sunni Muslim world, raised the prospect of restoring ties with the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, calling on Pope Francis to declare that Islam is a peaceful religion.
The problems that we had were not with the Vatican but with the former pope, Mahmoud Abdel Gawad, diplomatic envoy to the grand imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed al-Tayyeb, told Italian daily Il Messaggero in Cairo, Agence France Presse (AFP) reported on Friday, June 7.
Now the doors of Al-Azhar are open.
Muslims Greet New Pope, Eye Better Ties
Relations between Muslims and the Vatican strained in 2006 after 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.
By the election of a new pope, Muslims voiced hope for better relations with the Vatican under Pope Francis.
Francis is a new pope. We are expecting a step forward from him, Abdel Gawad said.
If in one of his addresses he were to declare that Islam is a peaceful religion, that Muslims are not looking for war or violence, that would be progress in itself, he said.
Abdul Gawad added that if Francis were to accept an invitation from Coptic Orthodox pope Tawadros II to visit Egypt, he could also visit Al-Azhar.
At that point, relations and dialogue would be restored immediately, he was quoted as saying.
After his election last March, Pope Francis has urged the West to intensify interfaith dialogue with Islam to build bridges connecting all people across the globe.
Yet, in a later event in May he canonized 800 Italians, claiming they were allegedly killed in the 15th century during the Ottoman conquest for refusing to renounce Christianity.
The pope's canonization is expected to raise anger among Muslims over linking Islam to violence.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net