Anglican Cleric Will Address Muslims at Egyptian University on 9/11

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:05 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - The Archbishop of Canterbury, the ecclesiastical head of the Anglican Church, will address a Muslim audience at an Egyptian university on the third anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

His address is part of the ongoing dialogue between the Anglican Church and Sunni Muslims, the Archbishop's press office said.

London's Sunday Times reported that Archbishop Rowan Williams will mark the third anniversary of 9/11 by praising Islam in speech from the pulpit of an Egyptian mosque.

Williams has accepted an invitation to speak at the University of Al-Azhar al-Sharif in Cairo, which some describe as the most important Islamic learning center in the world. With some 90,000 students, the international center for Sunni Muslim scholars is more than 1,000 years old.

As archbishop, Williams is regarded as England's senior Christian and spiritual voice.

According to the Times report, Williams will speak about the common ground between Christianity and Islam -- their shared inheritance as "children of Abraham."

Lambeth Palace, where the archbishop resides, revealed very few details about the report or the speech.

"It's part of the ongoing dialogue, a process started by [the former] Archbishop George Carey," said a spokesperson at Lambeth Palace who asked not to be named.

"No text is available yet," she said. But she did say that the address would take place in a "lecture room" on the university campus "as opposed to a pulpit" in a mosque, as the Sunday Times report stated.

A January 2002 agreement signed by former Archbishop Carey and the Grand Imam of the University, Sheik Muhammad Sayyid Al-Tantawi, established a channel of communication between Anglicans and Sunni Muslims.

Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo, director of the British-based Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity, part of the Barnabus Fund, said that while it is good to promote Christian-Islamic relations, important issues should not be ignored for the sake of dialogue.

"I think it is important that the church continue to build bridges to Islam," Sookhdeo said in a telephone interview. Nevertheless, he said he has two reservations about Williams addressing the Muslims.

"The church needs to be clear not [to ignore those who] engage in violence. Al-Azhar -- Sheikh Tantawi -- [in] statements effectively condoned violence toward Jewish women and children, and that is unacceptable," he said.

"The issue of violence is a very real one," Sookhdeo said. Williams cannot go to Al-Azhar and speak and not talk about it, he added.

Moreover, Williams should not forget about the persecution of Christian minorities, who are suffering immensely in Egypt, Sookhdeo said. Not to deal with that is "unacceptable."

Persecution of Egypt's 10- to 12-million Christians is well documented by human rights and religious organizations. Egyptian Christians face little protection from attacks, injustice in the court system, restrictions on church-building and repairs and discrimination in jobs and education.

Jew bashing

A few months after Carey and Tantawi signed what was hailed as an "historic agreement" to begin a dialogue, Tantawi referred to Jews as "the enemies of Allah, descendents of pigs and apes" in a weekly sermon.

Tantawi is regarded as Egypt's senior Islamic figure and one of the most respected Sunni Muslim leaders in the world. Sunni Muslims comprise about 90 percent of the world's Muslims.

The sheik also has been quoted as encouraging Palestinian suicide bombings and as saying that it was a "legitimate act" and "Islamic duty" to carry out suicide attacks against Israelis, including women and children.

Among the goals included in the Carey-Tantawi dialogue agreement was a pledge "to encourage religious leaders to use their influence for the purpose of reconciliation and peace making" and "to work together against injustice and the abuse of human rights among different nationalities."

Lambeth Palace had no comment at the time, saying that it was between archbishops and the remarks were being investigated.

In March, Sheik Atiyyah Saqr, former head of the Al-Azhar Fatwa (Islamic religious ruling) committee, listed 20 negative Jewish traits and one positive trait in an online chat room.

"We would like to note that these are but some of the most famous traits of the Jews as described in the Qur'an. They have revolted against the divine ordinances, distorted what has been revealed to them and invented new teachings which, they claimed, were much, more better than what has been recorded in the Torah," Saqr said, according to a translation provided by the Middle East Media Research Institute.

Lambeth Palace said it was not clear whether Williams would address either topic as part of the ongoing dialogue with Al-Azhar University.

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