The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar speaks to Vatican Media about his relationship with Pope Francis: “From the first minute of our meeting I had confirmation that he is a man of peace and humanity. The encyclical is an appeal to create a true fraternity where there is no room for discrimination on the basis of differences of religion, race, gender, or other forms of intolerance.”
The Grand Imam recounted that “after the election of dear brother Pope Francis, Al-Azhar took the initiative to congratulate him, and we received a beautiful response from Pope Francis.” He noted that it was a response that encouraged us to renew the relationship, and so, he decided to visit the Pope in the Vatican in May 2016.
During this visit, he said, “each of us discovered a great spiritual and thoughtful attunement towards the crises that afflict contemporary man, and in a special way towards the poor, orphans, the sick, widows, victims of wars and the homeless.”
“This attunement between the Pope and I,” Al-Tayeb continued, “can offer much to alleviate these crises. From that moment, there was no hesitation. I personally did not hesitate to extend my hand. From the first minute of our meeting, I had confirmation that he is a man of peace and humanity par excellence.”
He further noted that things went well and that in just three years they had had six summits; during the fifth of these summits, they signed the Document on Human Fraternity.
Fratelli tutti Encyclical
Regarding the Encyclical Fratelli tutti published a year ago, Prof. Al-Tayeb noted that it “is definitely of huge importance, especially in this time, for both Muslims and non-Muslims.” He added that the encyclical fits into the framework of their meetings and is inspired by them, noting also that the Pope himself mentions this in the preface.
He said that “the encyclical goes in the same direction – that of dialogue and coexistence among men”- and is, in short, “an appeal to apply the moral principles of religions to create a true fraternity where there is no room for discrimination on the basis of differences of religion, confession, race, gender, or other forms of intolerance.”
Furthermore, “the encyclical is useful for Muslims and at the same time for others because it says that we are all brothers,” he said. More so, the Qur’an says to Muslims: “you have brothers and you are equal in humanity”. In this light, “We say that man is similar or equal to me and he is my brother in humanity. He can be a brother in religion, but he can also be for me, a brother in humanity.”
The role of religions in promoting peace
Speaking on the subject of the role of religions in promoting peace and fraternity, as well as combating hatred and terrorism, the Grand imam explained that “to say that religions, as revealed by God the Most High, have been the cause of wars in history is inaccurate because what are known as conflicts fought in the name of religion, are in truth political conflicts that have stolen the name of religion by loading it with corrupt interpretations in order to achieve worldly conquests and interests, which have no connection, not even remotely, with true religion.
“I must say that those who spread hatred among people today, and practice violence and bloodshed in the name of religion or God, are liars and traitors to the religions whose flags they raise, whatever these religions or doctrines or confessions in whose name they speak,” he insisted.
Protecting the dignity of women
Finally, responding to a question about the dignity of women and the concerning signs that indicate the resurgence of a fundamentalism that does not respect women, Al-Tayeb said that “what is stated by the Document on Human Fraternity is what is established by Islam regarding respect for women and full respect for their rights.”
He went on to affirm that “no one can deprive a woman of a single one of her rights, which were established by Islam, and which are found in a clear and concise sentence in the Qur’an: ‘Women are equal to men’ … “In the face of this truth”, he continued, “no Muslim who is faithful to his creed can take away from women the rights guaranteed by Islam.”
The Grand Imam added that every issue that is raised today in this regard “is nothing but a victory of outdated and ancient habits and customs, which do damage to the law of Islam and its rules.” He further clarified that it is necessary to distinguish between “rights shaped by contemporary civilizations ignoring religious morals and sentiments of human nature, and other rights formulated in societies where religion is a solid base in building their culture and lifestyles.”