Catholic World News

Jesuit Islam expert: Pope is visiting Egypt to foster ties with al-Azhar

April 27, 2017

An Egyptian Jesuit expert on Islam said that Pope Francis is visiting Egypt to foster ties with al-Azhar University, which holds a position of high respect in the Sunni Muslim world.

“For a long time now [the Pope] has wanted to re-knit the ties between the Vatican and Islam,” Father Samir Khalil Samir, author of 111 Questions on Islam (Ignatius Press),” told Aid to the Church in Need. “This is what he told me personally when I had a conversation with him a few months ago.”

The priest continued:

He told me, “Why is it that I insist on the fact that Islam is a religion of peace? Because we need first of all to rekindle our friendship with the Muslims and with al-Azhar [University].”

Let me recall the context: there was the attack in Alexandria on the Coptic Church at Christmas, six years ago. Someone blew himself up and there were dozens of deaths. A few days later Pope Benedict XVI, in a meeting with the ambassadors at the Holy See, said: “I call on the president of the Egyptian Republic to protect the Christians.” In response, Imam Ahmed el-Tayeb, the rector of al-Azhar, declared that it was unacceptable for the Pope to interfere in Egyptian politics and broke off relations with Rome.

Today, after a number of fruitless attempts, relations have resumed. And it was the principal aim of Pope Francis to re-establish relations with Islam and with the al-Azhar University in particular, which represents the majority of Muslims in the world, Sunnis—who account for 80 percent of all Muslims. The institution represents an unassailable moral and intellectual authority for them.


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