THE VATICAN, A MEETING BETWEEN THE IMAM OF AL-AZHAR AND POPE FRANCIS AS A SYMBOL OF DIALOGUE Persecution of Christians and rejection of violence and terrorism have been the central topics of the interview

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Today’s meeting, which has taken place around midday in the Vatican, has been very important. An extraordinary meeting both with regard to the relations between the Holy See and Islam and inter-religious dialogue. It has been of great importance also for the role Abrahamic religions can play in today’s world, which is experiencing a “fragmented third world war”, denounced by Bergoglio himself, on which the violent emergence of the self-styled Islamic State had a huge impact.

In the Apostolic Palace, Pope Francis has received in audience the Great Imam of Al-Azhar, S.E. Professor Ahmad Muhammad Al-Tayyib, the imam of Cairo University, Sunni Islam’s first center in the world. The Egyptian authority was accompanied by an important delegation, including Prof. Abbas Shouman, Undersecretary of Al-Azhar, Prof. Hamdi Mahmaoud Zakzouk, member of the Council of Senior Scholars of Al-Azhar University and Head of Al-Azhar Center for Dialogue, Judge Mohamed Mahmoud Abdel Salam, Counselor of the Great Imam. The Ambassador of the Arab Republic of Egypt to the Holy See, S.E. Hatem Seif Elnasr, accompanied the delegation.

The President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Card. Jean-Louis Tauran, and secretary of the same dicastery, S.E. Msgr. Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot welcomed the imam in the San Damaso courtyard. The bishops have accompanied the delegation inside the Apostolic Palace for the meeting with the Pope.

The interview, “very friendly – a note of the Vatican Press explains -, lasted about 30 minutes. The two authoritative interlocutors have pointed out the great significance of this new meeting in the framework of the dialogue between the Catholic Church and Islam. Then, they have focused mainly on the common commitment of the authorities and the faithful of the great religions for peace in the world, rejection of violence and terrorism, and on the situation of the Christians in the context of the conflicts and tensions in the Middle East and their protection”. After the meeting, Bergoglio has given the Great Imam the peace Medallion with the olive branch and a copy of his encyclical ‘Praise Be’.

“After the audience with the Holy Father, before leaving the Apostolic Palace – the note continues -, in another room of the apartment of Audiences, the Great Imam and his delegation have had a brief meeting with Card. Tauran. The Imam “has left the Apostolic Palace shortly after 1 p.m.”

The hearing marks the total reopening of the dialogue between the Vatican and al Azhar, which has experienced numerous tensions during the pontificate of Pope Ratzinger, starting from misunderstanding concerning Benedict XVI’s speech at the University of Regensburg. The Sunni university of Al-Azhar, which educates thousands of imams every year, strongly opposes literal interpretation of the Koran as to violence and the holy war, that is, the theological basis to terrorism, although not all Sunni imam of the world actually do so. According to Pope Francis, dialogue with all the currents of Islam is critical.

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