Pope's visit to Cairo can have powerful impact on interfaith relations
|Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmad Muhammad al-Fayyeb meet at the Vatican in May 2016.- ANSA|
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis’ forthcoming visit to Cairo can be “a very powerful effort in reaching out” to Muslim leaders there.
That’s the view of a former student at Egypt’s al-Azhar university, currently serving as co-chair of Britain's Christian Muslim Forum.
Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra was born in Malawi to a family of Indian origin but currently lives and works in Leicester where he has been at the forefront of deepening interfaith relations.
He talked to Philippa Hitchen about the Pope’s planned visit to the Egyptian capital on April 28th and 29th, where he will meet with both Islamic leaders at al-Azhar and the head of the Coptic community, Pope Tawadros II….
Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra says that depending on which Muslim historian you read, al-Azhar is “either the first or second oldest university in the Muslim world”. He adds that it’s “much more than that” as an institute with global influence within many Muslim communities in both Arabic and non-Arabic nations. For the vast majority of the world’s Muslims, he says “it's the go-to place” for guidance and rulings.
Mogra says he believes that al-Azhar has been “exemplary” and “at the forefront of ensuring that any violence perpetrated against the Christian communities in Egypt is condemned”.
Political conflict "cloaked" with religion
He notes that historically the Muslim and Coptic Christian communities “have lived together very well indeed”. He recalls during his own time at al-Azhar that Egyptian Muslims “were extremely proud” that they were a nation where Coptic communities thrived over the centuries since the earliest agreements between Muslim and Coptic leaders. He says the current conflict is “a real tragedy” which is “not about religion” but rather about politics that is “cloaked with religion by those with political agendas”.
Papal visit can influence politicians
He praises Pope Francis’ forthcoming visit as “a very powerful effort in reaching out to this centre of Islam”. Since Egypt is regarded as “a very powerful nation with close ties to the west and in many ways a bridge builder” between Israel and the Arab world, he says this encounter between religious leaders of the highest level “can have a very strong influence on politicians on all sides of the table".
Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra concludes by saying he wishes the Pope well and hopes the leaders at al-Azhar, as well as Egyptian politicians, will “pay heed to his words, will honour his advice and will put it into practice”.