Cairo (Agenzia Fides) - The return of the friendly relations between the Holy See and the Islamic University of al Azhar, sealed by the friendly encounter between Pope Francis and Imam Ahmed al Tayyib, "will give new vigor to the processes of collaboration and integration that Christian and Muslim Egyptian leaders already put in practice in many local situations, in daily life". This is the hope that the Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak confides to Agenzia Fides, commenting on the meeting held yesterday at the Vatican between Pope Bergoglio and the great Imam of the most authoritative theological and cultural institution of Sunni Islam.
The interruption of relations between the Holy See and al Azhar date back to 2011, after the attack on the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral of Alexandria carried out on New Year's Eve. On that occasion, Pope Benedict XVI reprimanded the leaders of local authorities in the defense of Christians. Leaders of al Azhar, but also members of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate had reacted badly to the words expressed by the Pope. That, recalls Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac, "was a difficult moment due to a misunderstanding of Pope Benedict XVI’s words. Now, we have to wait patiently. Al Azhar is influential, and can have a positive role in Islam Sunni. But there are difficulties, resistances, divisions, before the re-thinking of 'religious talk' called for by many, and even by President al Sisi. Some people perceive all the judgments and opinions expressed in freedom, in legitimate pluralism a threat and an attack on Islam. We must respect this path within the Islamic world, favoring it with patience and sensitivity, encouraging our Muslim brothers, even as a local church, encouraging collaboration in social life, in front of real problems, without limiting ourselves to the discussion on strictly religious matters".
Among the signs of hope, the Coptic Catholic Patriarch cites the joint efforts of imams and priests inspired by the 'House of the Egyptian Family' - the inter-religious liaison body created years ago by al Azhar and the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch as a tool to prevent and mitigate sectarian conflicts - and also the programmatic document signed on May 9 by the Grand Imam and Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tavadros II in which it outlined their shared commitment to fight together all forms of violence and abuse against children (see Fides 10/05/2016). In the joint document, prepared with the support of UNICEF, scholars linked to the Islamic University and the Coptic community have helped shape the protection of children as a common priority, citing among the forms of violence to fight also genital mutilation and the phenomenon of early marriages. (GV) (Agenzia Fides 24/05/2016)