CAIRO - The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI is raising high hopes among Muslim scholars for better relations between Muslims and the Vatican after years of tension under the resigning pontiff.
The resumption of ties with the Vatican hinges on the new atmosphere created by the new pope, Mahmud Azab, an advisor on inter-faith for the head of Al-Azhar Imam Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Wednesday, February 13.
The initiative is now in the Vatican's hands.
Pope Benedict announced his resignation because of poor health and he will step down on February 28.
The Vatican says a new pope could be elected as soon as Palm Sunday, on March 24, and be ready to take over by Easter a week later.
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 has 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.
On Wednesday, Al-Azhar voiced hope for establishing cordial relations with the Vatican after the pope's resignation.
In light of the new changes in the Vatican, Al-Azhar hopes for establishing cordial relations based on mutual respect, the Cairo-based body said in a statement.
Prominent Muslim scholar Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi was also optimistic about better relations with the Vatican after Benedict's resignation.
Now, God has willed that we resume dialogue, after a new pope is elected, Qaradawi, President of the International Union for Muslim Scholars, said.
Analysts, however, opine that dialogue between the two religious bodies should continue regardless who is in charge.
The danger is in reducing the relationship to a personal one, Hassan Wagih, a professor of political science at Al-Azhar University, said.
It must be an institutional relationship.
He thinks that the new pope would have to tackle problems between the Vatican and Muslims and push for mutual respect.
Al-Azhar scholar Mahmoud Ashour echoes a similar opinion.
The new pope must not attack Islam, he said.Ashour said that relations with the Vatican should be based on the principle that religions complete one another, rather than compete.