Pope, Egypt’s top Muslim cleric reject violence

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Vatican City, May 23 (IANS/AKI) At a landmark meeting here on Monday, Pope Francis and Egypt’s top Muslim cleric Ahmad al-Tayyeb agreed to oppose violence and terrorism and to strive to protect minority Christians in the Middle East, the Vatican said in a statement.

“The extremely cordial meeting lasted around 30 minutes. The two religious authorities underlined the great significance of this encounter in the context of dialogue between the Catholic Church and Islam,” the Vatican statement said.

Tayyeb, chief imam of Cairo’s prestigious Al-Azhar mosque and seminary, was accompanied by Egyptian Ambassador to the Holy See Hatem Seif Elnasra and a high-level delegation, according to the statement. The delegation included the deputy chief of al-Azhar, Abbas Shoman, the head of its dialogue centre, Mahmoud Hamdi Zaqzouq, and Tayyeb’s advisor Muhammad Abdessalam, the statement said.

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After the papal audience, Tayybe and his seven-member delegation had a separate meeting with the head of the Vatican’s interfaith dialogue body, Jean-Louis Tauran, the statement added.

Tayyeb, considered to be one of Egypt’s most moderate Sunni clerics, was recently ranked among the world’s top ten most influential Muslims.

Relations between the Vatican and the Egyptian government cooled in January 2011 when Cairo recalled its envoy to the Holy See over what it called “interfering” remarks by Pope Benedict XVI urging the country to do more to protect its Coptic Christian minority.

Dialogue between the Vatican and the al-Azhar – the highest seat of Sunni learning – has made progress since Francis succeeded Benedict as pontiff in March 2013, according to observers.

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