ROME: The Grand Imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar institution Ahmed al-Tayeb, one of the Muslim world’s leading religious scholars, met Pope Francis Tuesday, vowing greater cooperation to fight terrorism.
In April, the spiritual leader of the world’s almost 1.3 billion Catholics became the first pope to visit Tayeb’s headquarters.
The grand imam said after the meeting that Islam was facing “a war against itself,” and stressed that Muslims too were “victims of terrorism.”
“It is a cancer which has metastasized to different parts of the world,” and Al-Azhar – Egypt’s highest institution of Sunni Islam – “is offering its resources and a greater contribution for a permanent collaboration aimed at finding solutions to terrorism,” he told a meeting organized by the Sant’Egidio, a Christian community officially recognized by the Vatican.
Tayeb also evoked his meeting with the pontiff, saying: “We discussed several issues tormenting the world and we sought to … find ways together to reduce the suffering of the poor and the unfortunate.”
He said the Pope “has a heart filled with love and a desire that humanity benefits from intercultural exchanges.
“I wish to state my conviction of the necessity for a dialogue between religions, between the wise, or we risk falling back into periods of violence and darkness,” he said.
“The last century witnessed two world wars which killed more than 70 million people and those that followed quickly showed how absurd they were and not a drop of blood should have been spilt.”
Egypt has been battling militants in recent years in the Western Desert as well as the northern Sinai Peninsula, where a Daesh (ISIS) affiliate has targeted security forces as well as the region’s Christian minority. Attacks on Egypt’s Christians, who account for about 10 percent of the country’s 94 million population, have surged in recent months, with a series of suicide bombings claimed by Daesh killing more than 100 since December.
In an attack claimed by the militant group in May, gunmen ambushed a group of Coptic Christians traveling to a monastery, killing 29 and wounding 24. Egypt has been under a state of emergency since April.