x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Al Azhar looks to 'better Vatican relations' with new Pope Francis

Dialogue between Sunni Islam's highest seat of learning and the Vatican was suspended in 2011 following strained ties under Pope Benedict XVI.

CAIRO // Sunni Islam's highest seat of learning, Al Azhar, said that it wants "better relations" with the Vatican under Pope Francis.

"We are hoping for better relations with the Vatican after the election of the new pope," Mahmoud Azab, an adviser for interfaith affairs to Al Azhar imam Ahmed Al Tayyeb, said.

"As soon as a new policy emerges, we will resume the dialogue with the Vatican which was suspended in early 2011," Mr Azab said. "We congratulate the Church of St Peter and all Catholics around the world."

In 2006, Pope Benedict XVI sparked fury across the Muslim world when he recounted an anecdote in which the Muslim Prophet Mohammed was described as a warmonger who spread evil teachings by the sword.

Dialogue resumed in 2009, but was again severed after Benedict strongly called for protection of Christian minorities following a January 2011 suicide bombing at a church in Alexandria, Egypt's second city.

At the time, Al Azhar said it would cut ties again with the Vatican over what it called Benedict's "repeated treatment of Islam in a negative way, and his claims that Christians and others are oppressed in the Middle East."