Society

Meeting Between the Pope and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar

On May 23rd, Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar met at the Vatican

May 30th, 2016
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After ten years of tense relationships, two of the greatest religious institutions in the world, the Catholic Church represented by Pope Francis and the Sunni Islam represented by the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheik Ahmed El-Tayyib, converged during an historic meeting in Vatican on May the 23rd. 

This meeting came five years after the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar froze his relationship with Vatican following comments by Pope Benedict XVI linking Islam with violence and sixteen years after the last meeting of this kind between the Grand Imam and Pope Jean Paul II in Cairo.

The fact that both the Pope and the Grand Imam overcame this tensed recent past in order to reconnect ties between their two religions makes it all the more historic. Indeed, the most important thing to take away from this meeting is the meeting itself as the Pope said it : « the meeting is the message » and this message is a very important symbol of reconciliation, peace and dialogue between the two religions. It also allowed to highlight the need for « authorities and the faithful of the world's great religions to show a common commitment to peace in the world » as stated by the Vatican’s spokesman.

Pope Francis and the Grand Imam spoke with each other for 25 minutes in the Vatican’s Library before Sheik Ahmed El-Tayyib and his delegation exchanged with the Vatican Cardinal in charge of inter-religious dialogue. The meetings were very cordial and the discussions were focused on the peace in the world, the refusal of violence and terrorism and on the protection of Christians in the tense context currently in play in the Middle East.

The symbolic importance of this meeting as well as the topics that were addressed show how cultural diplomacy is a concept than can also be useful in the sphere of relationships between religions. Moreover, culture diplomacy in the form of exchange and dialogue between religions should be considered crucial in these times where religions are often at the center of some the most violent conflicts in the world.

Following this historic meeting, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar will continue his tour around Europe and meet other religious officials as well as political ones as he will meet with the President of France, François Hollande, in Paris on May the 25th.  

References

Cultural Diplomacy News
Pierre Even, CD News