Pope: Al Azhar dispute with Ratzinger, hopes for new era

Muslim Brotherhood open to dialogue, Salafis refuse

14 March, 19:32


(ANSAmed) - CAIRO - With the Ratzinger era over, the most prestigious body in the Sunni world is hoping that the new Argentine pope will lead the way to resumed dialogue between the two religions.

Relations were broken off sharply on January 20, 2011 - after New Year's Eve killings in an Alexandria church - when Pope Benedict XVI called for the Christian minority in Egypt and the Middle East to be protected. ''The problem is with the German pope, not with the Vatican,'' Mahmud Abdel Gawad, diplomatic advisor to Al Azhar's Grand Imam Ahmed El Tayyeb. The leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and their political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party - which since 2012 has been the largest political force in the country - have also shown themselves open to reconciliation. This is in sharp contrast with a well-known Salafi leader, who quoted a Koranic verse to criticize the statements made by FJP vice president Essam El Eryan, who had called Pope Francis's election ''historic''. Pope Benedict XVI's papacy was marked from the very beginning by difficult relations with the Muslim world after his famous September 2006 Regensburg speech, in which he used a quote by Manuel II Palaiologos on Mohammed that the Muslim world interpreted as associating Islam and violence.

Pope Ratzinger tried to make amends with his visit to Istanbul's Blue Mosque in late 2006, but in early 2011 relations were severed after he called for the protection of Christians after the latest in a long strong of violent attacks. His words were called ''unacceptable interference into Egypt's affairs'' by El Tayyeb and relations were henceforth suspended.

Al Azhar is now awaiting a signal from the new pope - a signal which never came from Benedict XVI. Gawad noted that Ratzinger had been encouraged to find an opportunity to publicly state that Islam ''is not a violent religion'', but never did so. The hope is now that Pope Francis will instead say a few ''good'' words about Islam. Or, as Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mahmud Ghozlan put it, that he will ''follow in Christ's footsteps and love everyone''.

Signs of an easing in tensions have also come from the spiritual guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Badie, who sent a message of congratulations to the new Coptic Catholic Patriarch of Egypt Ibrahim Sidrak, in which he said that he ''prays to God that He be ever close to Egypt and all Egyptians''. The conciliatory gestures made by the Muslim Brotherhood to the new Catholic hierarchies have been rejected, on the other hand, by the El Nour Salafis, Egypt's main extremist party. One of its representatives, Sheikh Sherif Taha, quoted Koranic verses on repentance (Surat Al-Tawbah) in reference to the gestures: ''Fight those who do not believe in Allah and Judgement Day, who do not prohibit what Allah and his messenger prohibited, who do not follow the religion of truth''.



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