This bizarre demand is not coming from some fringe element: Al-Azhar is the foremost, most prestigious and influential Islamic institution among Sunni Muslims. It could go much farther to establish Islam as a peaceful religion by acting against Muslims who commit acts of violence and justify them by referring to Islam’s texts and teachings. It could act against the escalating Muslim persecution of Christians in Egypt and elsewhere. But it is easier to demand what would be a meaningless (and false) statement from a foremost Christian leader — a statement that would unmistakeably be a sign of submission.
“Mending Vatican ties: Al-Azhar wants pope to declare Islam peaceful,” from Arab News, June 8 (thanks to all who sent this in):
An envoy from Al-Azhar in Cairo, raised the prospect of restoring ties with the Vatican yesterday but called on Pope Francis to take “a step forward” by declaring that Islam is a peaceful religion.
“The problems that we had were not with the Vatican but with the former pope. Now the doors of Al-Azhar are open,” Mahmoud Abdel Gawad, diplomatic envoy to the grand imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed Al-Tayyeb, told Italian daily Il Messaggero in Cairo.
“Francis is a new pope. We are expecting a step forward from him. If in one of his addresses he were to declare that Islam is a peaceful religion, that Muslims are not looking for war or violence, that would be progress in itself,” he said.
A ceremony in March, in which Pope Francis washed the feet of young inmates in Rome, including a Muslim girl, was “a gesture that was very, very much appreciated” by Al-Azhar, Gawad said.
He said that if Francis were to accept an invitation from Coptic Orthodox pope Tawadros II to visit Egypt, he could also visit Al-Azhar. “At that point, relations and dialogue would be restored immediately,” he was quoted as saying.
But Gawad ruled out the prospect of talks between the leaders of the world’s three main monotheistic religions mentioned in Vatican circles, saying Al-Azhar “will not take part in any meeting with Israelis.”
In 2006, then pope Benedict XVI sparked fury across the Muslim world when he recounted a blasphemous anecdote.