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Why Pope Francis will visit the University of Al-Azhar in Egypt

2017-04-27

The imams of the Sunni elite have been studying at this university for centuries: Al-Azhar.

Founded in the tenth century, its golden age was between the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, when the fleeing intellectuals arrived after the Christian reconquest of Spain and the  pressure of the Mongols from Central Asia. According to the British portal Muslim Heritage, which was created to facilitate better understanding of the Muslim world, there are currently 90,000 with specializations in theology and Islamic studies.

FR. SAMIR KHALIL SAMIR SJ
Pontifical Oriental Institute
"The Sunnis are about 80 percent of the world's Muslims, and many of their imams are formed at the University of Al-Azhar. This university has a certain authority in the Sunni Muslim world. Shiites are formed in Iran, Iraq or Lebanon."

Nevertheless, the political crisis of Egypt has also negatively impacted the authority of Al-Azhar. The dependence on political power has caused the prestige of Muslim universities in the Middle East to sink to the same governmental instability.

YAHYA SERGIO YAHE PALLAVICINI
Italian Islamic Community
"The university has suffered the intellectual, political and social crisis of the Arab and Islamic world. So perhaps we could say that Al-Azhar reflects the debate and the crisis that we have to try to deal with wisely."

ADNANE MOKRANI
Pontifical Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies
"Al-Azhar has lost its authority and credibility because of the interference of political power in religious matters. However, at the moment there is a feeling that Al-Azhar must resume its international role, it must reform its programs, open up to the world, and to interreligious dialogue."

For months, officials in the Vatican's interreligious dialogue department have made several trips to Egypt in order to strengthen the ties with Al-Azhar University.

The trip to this university will be a unique opportunity for Pope Francis. He will be able to address the Sunni elite, where the majority Islam's intellectual future is formed. 

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