Muslim Brotherhood and the prestigious Al Azhar University of Egypt have congratulated His Eminence Pope Francis on his election as Bishop of Rome and the leader of the Catholic Church. Walid Shalaby, the Media advisor to the chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood, Dr. Badie, on 19 March, affirmed that the Chairman has sent a cordial congratulations telegram to the Pope. The letter of Dr. Badie reads:
“To His Eminence Pope Francis, head of the Vatican State, I offer my affectionate heartfelt congratulations on your election by the College of Cardinals as Bishop of Rome and leader of the Catholic Church. I hope this will be the start of a new era of convergence and harmony among believers in divine laws, spreading noble human values all over the world, to achieve lasting peace and security for all, with cooperation among all religious institutions especially Al-Azhar of Egypt.”
Meanwhile, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University, Egypt, on 20 March, sent a congratulations letter to Pope Francis wishing him “a world of cooperation and love that can support common values and put an end to a culture of hate and inequality.” In the telegram, Al Tayyeb, the Imam, also praises “Catholic priests in the west and the east” for their choice, saying that Pope Francis’ pontificate “contributes to a positive era for people in an ever-changing world which needs stability and peace”.
Both the congratulation letters are supposed to be the first baby step in a thawing of relations between Al-Azhar and the Vatican. “It’s one step forward, now we’ll wait and see the result”, a source close to al Azhar said. He further added, “If Islam gets a positive response, dialogue can reopen”.
Al Azhar broke off its relations with the Catholic Church during Benedict XVI’s pontificate after the comments he made about protecting Christians in the Middle East following the attack on a Coptic Church on the eve of the New Year, 2011, in Alexandria, Egypt. Benedict had also heavily criticised early in his reign when he gave a blasphemous statement about the Last Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be to him). On the other hand, Pope Francis, on 22 March, called for the Roman Catholic Church to “intensify” its dialogue with Islam, echoing hopes in the Muslim world for better ties with the Vatican during his reign.
“It is important to intensify dialogue among the various religions and I am thinking particularly of dialogue with Islam,” the new pontiff said in an address to foreign ambassadors at the Vatican.
Francis’s predecessor Benedict XVI was seen by some Muslim leaders as hostile to Islam and the change at the top had been welcomed by the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation and Al-Azhar, the oldest religious seat of learning for Muslims.
Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, head of the Saudi-based OIC, said in the early days of March that he hoped “the relationship between Islam and Christianity will regain its cordiality and sincere friendship.” Mahmud Azab, adviser for inter-faith affairs to Al-Azhar imam Ahmed Al-Tayyeb in Cairo, has also stated earlier, “As soon as a new policy emerges, we will resume the dialogue with the Vatican.”