Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio is new Pope
Cardinals elected Cardinal Bergoglio as new pope to lead the
world’s 1.2 billion Catholics on Wednesday, overcoming deep
divisions to select the 266th pontiff in
Senior Muslim scholars in Egypt said Pope Benedict XVI's abrupt
resignation and election of the new Pope Francis could reopen the
way for dialogue with the Catholic Church, severed after
Benedict's controversial 2006 remarks on Prophet Muhammad (peace
be upon him).
But improved ties between the Church
and Al-Azhar, the premier seat of Sunni Muslim learning, would
depend on the next pope's approach to the Muslim world, they said.
Sheikh Yusef Al-Qaradawi, president of International Union of
Islamic Scholars, said that his organization had boycotted
Benedict since his 2006 comments.
"Now, God has willed that we resume
dialogue, after a new pope is elected," he said, adding he was
Mahmud Azab, an advisor on
interfaith for the head of Al-Azhar Ahmed Al-Tayyeb, said the
resumption of ties with the Vatican hinges on the new atmosphere
created by the new pope. "The initiative is now in the Vatican's
hands," he said.
In 2006, Benedict sparked fury
across the Muslim world when he recounted an anecdote in which the
Prophet was described as a warmonger who spread evil teachings by
Dialogue resumed in 2009, but was
again severed after the pope strongly called for protection of
Christian minorities following a January 2011 suicide bombing at a
church in Alexandria, Egypt's second city, AFP reported.
At the time, Al-Azhar said it would
cut ties again with the Vatican over what it called Benedict's
"repeated treatment of Islam in a negative way, and his claims
that Christians and others are oppressed in the Middle East."
Such a dialogue, however, would take place as Islamists take
centre stage in several Middle Eastern countries, after the Arab
uprisings of 2011, further complicating relations with Christian
minorities. Pragmatic groups such as Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood
rulers are likely to welcome dialogue, said Ashraf al-Sherif, a
political science professor at the American University in Cairo.
"Parties with an Islamic reference
such as the (Brotherhood's) Freedom and Justice Party may welcome
dialogue, given their desire to present a good image," he said.
To the right of such parties,
however, are ultraconservative Salafi movements who are
traditionally less open to inter-faith talks, but Sharif said they
might also have no objections because "the dialogue is essentially
"Generally, Islamists will not have
a negative impact on the chances for a dialogue," he said.
Al-Azhar and the Vatican had held ongoing dialogues on
co-existence under Pope John Paul II, Benedict's predecessor. A
resumption of dialogue should be based on the firmer grounds of an
institutional relationship, rather than personal ties, said Hassan
Wagih, a professor of political science at Al-Azhar University.
"The danger is in reducing the
relationship to a personal one; it must be an institutional
relationship," he said.
The new pope, he added, would have
to tackle problems between the Vatican and Muslims and "push for
Following his 2006 comments, which
sparked protests in Muslim countries, Benedict tried to mend
fences with a visit to the Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul, the
second visit by a pope to a mosque in papal history.
"The new pope must not attack
Islam," said a senior Al-Azhar cleric, Mahmoud Ashour, adding that
relations with the Vatican should be based on the principle that
religions "complete one another, rather than compete."
Muslims in Russia are hoping that with the election of the new
pope, relations between the Vatican and the Islamic world will
develop constructively to reach a new level.
This was announced by the executive
director of the International Islamic Mission, a representative of
the Coordinating Center of Muslims of the North Caucasus in Moscow
Mufti Shafig Pshikhachev.
"We hope that this dialogue will be
imbued with fresh impetus, and our interaction will proceed to a
higher level," said Pshikhachev.