Pope Francis has indicated respect “for Islam and Muslims” in a letter to the head of the main cultural institution of Sunni Islam, marking the end of Ramadan.
Ahmed el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar University, perhaps the highest authority in Sunni thought, received the Pope’s letter 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, Fr. Hani Bakhoum, told the agency that the Roman Pontiff’s 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 resume to bilateral dialogue with the Holy See.”
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.”