Catholic Culture Overview
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Top Islamic scholars suspend talks with Vatican

January 20, 2011

Egypt’s Al Azhar University, the world’s leading center of Sunni Islamic thought, has suspended talks with the Vatican in protest over the “insulting remarks” by Pope Benedict XVI—a reference to the Pope’s statement that Egypt should protect Coptic Christians from mob violence.

The Pope’s protest against a massacre in Alexandria was “unacceptable interference” in Egypt’s affairs, a spokesman for Al Azhar said. At a January 20 meeting, the spokesman said, the scholars of Al Azhar decided to break off all talks with the Vatican “indefinitely.”

The Islamic leader said that his institution is “still waiting for an apology” from the Pontiff for his remarks about the massacre of Copts and for his comments on Islam in his Regensburg address of 2006. He added that in his January 1 message for the World Day of Peace, in which he condemned violence against Christians, the Pope should also have condemned violence against Muslims in Iraq.

The announcement from Cairo apparently caught Vatican officials by surprise. Father Federico Lombardi, the director of the Vatican press office, said that the Vatican remained open to dialogue with any willing Islamic partners.

The rebuff from Al Azhar is a serious blow to hopes for Catholic-Muslim dialogue. The Egyptian institution had been one of the few Islamic centers willing to engage in discussions with the Holy See, joining with Vatican officials in annual talks that had produced joint statements condemning religious violence. Last year, upon the death of the head of Al Azhar, Sheik Mohammend Sayyed Tantawi, Pope Benedict remembered the deceased Islamic leader as "a valued partner in the dialogue between Muslims and Catholics."


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Show 8 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: damian.riggs8445 - Jan. 24, 2011 12:34 PM ET USA

    The truth be damned! I suspect that the Egyptian representatives do not want true dialog, only the appearance of dialog. The only thing they seek is capitulation. Over the course of thousands of years of middle-eastern culture, truth takes a very distant back seat to face-saving.

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Jan. 22, 2011 12:57 PM ET USA

    Once again we recall that the victory of Lepanto celebrated every October 7 was won through the valor of Don Juan and the recitation of the Rosary by the Faithful. Hint. Hint.

  • Posted by: hartwood01 - Jan. 21, 2011 9:12 PM ET USA

    And yet,our Heavenly Father loves us all! Will it ever end?

  • Posted by: voxfem - Jan. 20, 2011 10:20 PM ET USA

    Once again, speaking the truth is unacceptable. Requesting that everyone be treated with dignity and respect is unacceptable. They must have reached a point in the dialogue which was unacceptable to their interpretation of Islam and therefore there had to be a reason to break off the discussion.

  • Posted by: a son of Mary - Jan. 20, 2011 9:07 PM ET USA

    When the Egyptian govt tells al-Azhar to bark, it does. But it probably doesn't have to in this case as most of these so-called scholars are uneducated and, outside of the koran, are nearly illiterate and therefore highly prone to take offense at the slightest hints of independent thought or action. A few years back, one insisted the world was flat! Islam does not tolerate anything outside of an extremely narrow band of thought. Outside of that band, you are branded an apostate, a blasphemer

  • Posted by: Lucius49 - Jan. 20, 2011 6:45 PM ET USA

    Do any of these people every really talk? It seems there is only yelling, screaming, accusing, and threatening. Why bother?

  • Posted by: - Jan. 20, 2011 4:12 PM ET USA

    I sincerely hope that His Holiness never makes so much of a squeak of an apology and never alters the published text of anything he's said merely for the purpose of appeasing the Musselman again. And no namby pamby 'all hold hands' in Assisi either.

  • Posted by: rpp - Jan. 20, 2011 2:37 PM ET USA

    Wow. This is a shock. This may have surprised some Vatican officials, but I supposed those officials would also be surprised to learn that that fish swim and birds fly.