Pope Francis walks with Egyptian Prime Minister Prime Minister Sherif Ismail, right, as he arrives at the international airport in Cairo April 28. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Scholar applauds Egypt trip, but says it might not be enough for change

By  Elise Harris, CNA/EWTN News
  • April 28, 2017

ROME, ITALY – A leading scholar in the Arab world has applauded the goodwill of both the Vatican and the prestigious Islamic al-Azhar university Pope Francis will visit for aiming to increase Catholic-Muslim dialogue.

But she also issued a warning that goodwill isn't enough for things to change.

“Dialogue is good, generally any dialogue is good. Any kind of debate and any steps to show goodwill, to show a commitment, to show a recognition of the other in principle is very good,” Mariz Tadros told CNA in an interview.

However, “the extent to which this will translate into a change in eliminating or reducing the appeal of militant Islam, that’s what I’m questioning.”

Tadros, who spoke over Skype from the U.K., is an author and scholar on persecution in the Arab world. She is currently a fellow at the Institute of Development Studies at Sussex University in the U.K.

She cautioned there is still cause for concern regarding al-Ahar – particularly the university's duplicitous curriculum and its unwillingness to outright denounce ISIS as part of the Islamic community.

On one hand, “al-Azhar will sit with you and say we love you, we care for you, we’re all one citizenship, we’re all one people.” But on the other hand, what they are teaching is “undoubtedly a message that these are infidels, and at best they should be tolerated and at worst, killing them is not such a travesty.”

Taros says al-Azhar have also “consistently cowed away from declaring ISIS as not part of the Islamic community.”

She stressed that there are “a lot of Muslims” that have shown solidarity with Christians in Egypt, including speaking out on their behalf after the most recent bombings earlier this month, proving that not all Muslims espouse the radical views of ISIS or other like-minded branches. But history has proven that no matter how much dialogue is done, fundamentalism will never entirely disappear from Islam.

Taros spoke ahead of Pope Francis' April 28-29 visit to Cairo, where he is set to meet with Coptic Pope Tawadros II and the Grand Imam of the Mosque of al Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayyib, as well as Egypt's president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and the bishops of the local Catholic Church.

His visit comes as the result of a recent thawing in relations between the Vatican and the al-Azhar University, which had been strained since 2011. The imam of al-Azhar is considered by some Muslims to be the highest authority the 1.5-billion strong Sunni Muslim world and oversees Egypt’s al-Azhar Mosque and the prestigious University attached to it.

Dialogue picked up between the two after el-Tayyib visited the Vatican in May 2016 with a message condemning the acts of Islamic fundamentalism, culminating a year later in the Pope’s visit to Egypt this weekend.

However, in addition to the heightened prospect for dialogue, the trip will also have an inevitable undertone of the very real risks Christians still face in Egypt, particularly from extremist factions of militant Islam.

According to His Grace Bishop Angaelos, general bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, there have been at least 40 reported murders of Christians in Egypt in the past four months alone.

In February 2015, Egyptian society was shocked by the grisly beheading 20 Orthodox Coptic faithful in Libya carried out by ISIS, the video of which was circulated online. The extremists have also claimed responsibility for several other high-profile attacks, including a bombing at St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo in December that killed 29 people.

Most recently, ISIS claimed responsibility for twin bombings in Tanta and Alexandria April 9 that left some 45-people dead. The blasts took place on Palm Sunday, one of the holiest days in the Christian calendar commemorating Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem before his Passion and Death.

With these attacks looming closely in the rear-view mirror, many are asking whether the Pope’s attention to dialogue with Islam, particularly his relationship with al-Azhar and his trip to Egypt, will make a difference.

(Catholic News Agency)

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