Top Islamic Council suspends ties with Vatican

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January 20, 2011 18:35

Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed Al-Tayeb (2nd left) addresses a news conference with different community leaders to condemn bombings on Christians in Egypt on 2 January, 2011. Photo - Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty

Who: The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayeb, and members of the top Sunni Islamic authority and research centre, Al-Azhar.

What: Al-Azhar, the chief centre of Islamic learning, suspended its ties with the Vatican, accusing the pope of attacking Islam and Muslims. “The freeze was prompted by the repeated attacks on Islam by Pope Benedict XVI of the Vatican. The Pope has reiterated that Muslims oppress non-Muslims who are living with them in the Middle East,” the Islamic centre said in a statement. In a swift response, the Vatican reiterated its urge for more talks. “The pontifical council for inter-religious dialogue’s line of openness and desire to dialogue is unchanged,” said Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi.

Where: The Al-Azhar statement was carried by the official Mena news agency in the Egyptian capital, Cairo.

When: The decision was made on Thursday, 20 January in the wake of pope’s comments on the Two Saints Church bombing in Alexandria on New Year’s Eve.

Why: Sheikh Ahmed of Al-Azhar criticised remarks by the pontiff as interference in internal affairs. “I disagree with the pope’s view, and I ask why did the pope not call for the protection of Muslims when they were subjected to killings in Iraq?” he asked. Vatican, however, insists Pope Benedict has repeatedly expressed his solidarity with the Copts as well as concern for the consequences of the violence for the Christian and Muslim population. Soon after the attacks on Christians in Egypt, the highest Roman Catholic authority said the attack was “yet another sign of the urgent need for the governments of the region to adopt … effective measures for the protection of religious minorities”.

How: Attacks on churches and Christians have sparked an exodus of Christians in Iraq. The very same forces, suspected to be behind the attacks on Christians, are indiscriminately attacking Shiites, Sunnis and other religious minorities including Alawites, Mandaens and Yazidis. On Wednesday, Arab leaders at a summit in Egypt voiced their “total rejection” of foreign interference in Arab affairs over Christian minorities.

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