The meeting came five years after the Cairo-based Sheik Ahmed el-Tayyib, grand imam of Al-Azhar, froze talks with the Vatican to protest alleged anti-Islam comments by then-Pope Benedict XVI.
AP The meeting occurred five years after Al -Azhar suspended talks with the Vatican after tensions mounted during the reign of then-Pope Benedict XVI. The now-retired Benedict delivered a speech in 2006 in which he was perceived to have linked Islam to violence, sparking deadly attacks on Christians.
Benedict had demanded greater protection for Christians in Egypt after a New Year’s bombing on a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria killed 21 people. Since then, Islamic attacks on Christians in the region have only increased.
Al-Azhar has shown himself over the years to be anything but a preacher of peace, cooperation and mercy: he has justified anti-Semitism on Qur’anic grounds; called for the Islamic State murderers of the Jordanian pilot to be crucified or have their hands and feet amputated on opposite sides (as per the penalty in Qur’an 5:33 for those who make war against Allah and his messenger or spread “mischief” in the land); and broken off “dialogue” with the Vatican after Pope Benedict XVI dared to criticize the jihad massacre of 21 Christians in Alexandria on New Year’s Eve 2011. Al-Azhar was also revealed to be offering free copies of a book that called for the slaughter of Christians and other Infidels.
El-Tayyib sent a message of congratulations to Francis upon his 2013 election and said he hoped for renewed cooperation. Francis responded, and has made clear over the course of his three-year pontificate that relations with Islam are a top priority.
In a recent interview with the French Catholic newspaper La Croix, Francis took a conciliatory line toward Islam, saying “I sometimes dread the tone” when people refer to Europe’s “Christian” roots.
“It is true that the idea of conquest is inherent in the soul of Islam,” he said. But he added that Christianity, too, had its “triumphalist” undertones. “It is also possible to interpret the objective in Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus sends his disciples to all nations to Islamic jihadists” (who are killing tens of thousands in their quest to create an Islamic caliphate around the world)
He added that when looking to the causes of Islamic extremism, it is better to “question ourselves about the way in an overly Western model of democracy has been exported.”