Delegation Appealing For Interfaith Dialogue Did Not Include Al Azhar

Cairo:  Al Azhar, the Sunni world’s most influential institution, is set to stay away from a high-profile meeting of Muslim and Catholic scholars due later this year in Rome to improve relations between Islam and Christianity, Al Azhar clergymen said.

They said their absence was because they were not invited to participate in the previous preparatory sessions nor the high-profile meeting.

“Al Azhar will not participate in the meeting and has nothing to do with the planned dialogue with the Vatican,” said Shaikh Abdul Fatah Allam, deputy chief of Al Azhar, told Gulf News.

The Rome gathering, slated for November 4 to 6, was agreed upon during a two-day meeting held in the Vatican late last month between Muslim and Catholic leaders.

The meeting was attended by five representatives of a group of more than 200 Muslim clerics, who had signed an appeal last October to Pope Benedict XVI to initiate a Muslim-Christian theological dialogue following recent tensions between both sides.

In 2006, Benedict XVI angered Muslims around the world when he hinted at a lecture in Regensburg, Germany, that Islam was a violent faith.

“The Muslim figures, who participated in the Vatican meeting, represented themselves, not Al Azhar,” Allam said.

He said the delegation did not include a single cleric from Al Azhar. “Those who signed the appeal to Pope Benedict [on the dialogue] did not cover Al Azhar. Accordingly, Al Azhar has nothing to do with the so-called dialogue with the Vatican,” the official said.

Catholic-Muslim Forum

The signatories of the appeal, titled the Common Word, included Amr Khalid, a widely popular Egyptian TV preacher who did not study at Al Azhar. No cleric from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the Sunni world’s heavyweights, attended the last month’s meeting.

The Muslim delegation was headed by Adal Hakim Murad, president of Britain’s Muslim Academic Trust, and included Gazi Bin Mohammad Bin Talal, head of the Amman-based Islamic Thought Institute.

Bin Talal is credited with the idea of sending a Muslim delegation to the Vatican to initiate the dialogue, formally dubbed the Catholic-Muslim Forum.

The Vatican’s delegation was led by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, chief of Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue. Pope Benedict is expected to address the Rome gathering.

Last year Grand Shaikh of Al Azhar Mohammad Saeed Tantawi had to cancel a visit to the Vatican under pressure from other Muslim clergymen infuriated by Benedict’s remarks on Islam. While regretting the resentment triggered by his Regensburg lecture, the Pontiff did not make a clear apology demanded by Muslims.