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CAIRO ( - Egypt's leading Muslim religious leader said this week that he welcomes Pope John Paul II's visit to Egypt which begins on Thursday, calling the Pontiff a defender of peace, love, and morality.

The Sheik of Al Azhar, Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi, said: "The Pope is a man of intelligence and wisdom, who defends peace, love, and moral values and encourages the propagation of virtues." Tantawi is the leader of the world's Sunni Muslims, the largest branch of Islam. He will meet with the Holy Father on Thursday.

The Sheik of Al Azhar, who is known to be affable and tolerant, had refused to grant a statement on the papal visit to journalists, but agreed to give the Vatican news service Fides a written statement. In his message, written in Arabic, the Sheik explained: "We welcome with joy the visit of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Egypt and Al Azhar ... God, the all merciful, created us in this life so we may know each other and open our hearts to harmony and agreement." He quoted a passage of the Koran: "O humanity, we created you man and woman and made you into peoples and tribes that you may know one another."

The Sheik also explained that dialogue is part of the duties of a Muslim and is the authentic Islamic sharia law "for the good of humanity and the propagation of virtues sustained by all religions. Dialogue between religions allows us to listen to each other, to learn about and compare ideas which commit us in love, truth and justice." But he also warned about "dogmatic dialogue" which "can only widen the gap between the interlocutors. Only God can speak of dogma."

"For Islam all humanity came from the same parents [Adam and Eve]," the Al Azhar Sheik said. "The Pope's efforts for peace, love, and moral values and virtues are precisely the goal of all the revealed religions."

He added, "For our part we wish and work for the propagation of peace and security in the world. The leaders of world religions must work together so peace, security, and love may reign among mankind".

Cardinal Francis Arinze, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said: "We must thank God for this historical encounter between the Holy Father and the Sheik of Al Azhar. The meeting is an indication of the right path for Muslims and Christians. We must come together, listen to each other, and try to build a better world under God's guidance. In religion it is essential to listen to God and communicate with neighbor."

Catholic World News Service - Daily News Briefs

av Webmaster publisert 25.02.2000, sist endret 25.02.2000 - 00:08