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Pope Francis, Grand Imam of Egypt kiss, call for world peace

  • Published at 06:01 pm February 5th, 2019
Pope-Egypt-grand imam Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb
Pope Francis and grand imam of Egypt's Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb kiss each other after signing a document on fighting extremism, during an inter-religious meeting at the Founder's Memorial in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, February 4, 2019 Reuters

In the first ever papal visit to the Arabian peninsula, the origin of Islam, the pope specifically called for an end to wars in the Middle East, naming Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya

The pope and the grand imam of al-Azhar signed a historic declaration of fraternity, calling for peace between countries, religions and races, before an audience of religious leaders across the world from Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and other different beliefs.

Pope Francis, the leader of the Catholic Church, and Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the head of Sunni Islam’s most renowned seat of learning, arrived at the ceremony in Abu Dhabi hand-in-hand in a symbol of interfaith fraternity, reports The Guardian.

The document pledges that al-Azhar and the Vatican will work together to battle extremism. Claiming to be in the name of “all victims of wars, persecution and injustice”, it warns against a “third world war being fought piecemeal.”

It says: “We resolutely declare that religions must never incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility and extremism, nor must they incite violence or the shedding of blood.”

In the first ever papal visit to the Arabian peninsula, the origin of Islam, the pope specifically called for an end to wars in the Middle East, naming Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya. All religious leaders had a “duty to reject every nuance of approval from the word war,” he said in a 26-minute address.

The UAE is part of the Saudi-led military coalition engaged in the war in Yemen. On Sunday, before leaving Rome for Abu Dhabi, Francis said he was following the situation in Yemen “with great concern,” and that the population was “exhausted by the lengthy conflict, and a great many children are suffering from hunger.”

In his speech on Monday evening his first public comments during the three-day trip he welcomed “the opportunity to come here as a believer for peace... We are here to desire peace, we are here to promote peace, to be instruments of peace.”

Violence, extremism or fanaticism could never be justified in the name of religion, he said. He also called for religious freedom “not limited only to freedom of worship,” justice and for religions to “stand on the side of the poor.”

Sheikh Tayeb, who addressed the pope as “my dear brother,” said millions of Muslims had paid the price for the actions of “a handful of criminals” following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The media had portrayed all Muslims as “savage barbarians” and had “installed fear in the hearts” of people in the west, he said. “All religions agree that God forbids killing.”

The pope had a private gathering with Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who later tweeted: “We discussed enhancing cooperation, consolidating dialogue, tolerance, human coexistence & important initiatives to achieve peace, stability and development for peoples and societies.”

Earlier on Monday, Francis arrived at the lavish presidential palace in Abu Dhabi in a small black Kia. He was greeted with a 21-shot salute and military flyover trailing yellow and white smoke in the colours of the Vatican flag. Horse-mounted guards escorted the pontiff’s motorcade through the palace gardens.

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