CAIRO — Pope Francis has written a letter to the head of the main cultural institution of Sunni Islam, indicating his respect “for Islam and Muslims” and desire to build mutual understanding and peace.
Ahmed el-Tayeb, grand imam of Cairo's al-Azhar University, one of the highest authorities in Sunni thought, received the Pope’s letter marking the end of Ramadan at the hands of Archbishop Jean-Paul Gobel, apostolic nuncio to Egypt, on Sept. 17, Fides News Agency reported.
A statement from the Cairo-based university said that the Holy Father’s letter expressed hope in the attempt to further “understanding among Christians and Muslims in the world” and “to build peace and justice.”
Secretary of the Patriarchate of Alexandria of the Catholic Copts, Father Hani Bakhoum, told the agency that Pope Francis’ letter “is a way of expressing the deep sense of respect and affection that the Catholic Church, the Holy See and the Pope have towards all Muslims, and especially of al-Azhar, which is the most representative institution of moderate Sunni Islam.”
“Surely this letter will help, over time, to put aside any misunderstanding and also resumethe bilateral dialogue with the Holy See,” he said.
Following an attack on the Coptic Cathedral in Alexandria on New Year’s Eve in 2011, dialogue between the Holy See and al-Azhar was interrupted when, according to Fides, the university “interpreted Pope Benedict XVI’s statements on the need to protect Christians in Egypt and the Middle East as an undue Western interference.”