French President Emmanuel Macron yesterday met with the Grand Imam of Egypt's Al-Azhar University, Ahmed Al-Tayeb, during which he called for all French imams to be trained at the religious institution.
At the meeting held in Egyptian capital Cairo, Macron expressed his gratitude at meeting "one of the greatest Islamic figures," hailing what he described as "Al-Azhar's pivotal role in confronting all forms of violence and terrorism and constantly bridging interfaith dialogue".
The French president also expressed his aspiration to cooperate with Al-Azhar to promote citizenship, coexistence and stability in French society and to confront extremism which he said could "infect young Muslims in France".
Macron then urged all French imams and preachers to get training at Al-Azhar University and to ensure respect for the principals of citizenship and stability. He stressed the importance of boosting cultural relations between Al-Azhar and France by exchanging scholarships and building academic relations.
For his part, Al-Tayeb said that Macron's visit carried special significance "given the historical relations between France and Al-Azhar," adding that visits to France by Al-Azhar scholars have helped them become "symbols of thought and culture in Egypt".
Al-Tayeb pointed out that the historical relations between the two countries committed Egypt to helping France "defeat terrorism," affirming that Al-Azhar was committed "to confronting those who kill others in the name of religion".
Al-Azhar, Al-Tayeb noted, is ready to provide scholarship programmes to French students wishing to study ways to counter terrorist ideology and to help turn France into a hub for spreading moderate Islamic thought in Europe.
The Grand Imam – the most prestigious seat of Sunni Islamic learning in Egypt – reiterated that "Islam is Peace" has always been Al-Azhar's main message to the world. "Al-Azhar is ready to help stop anyone living anywhere in the world from getting killed in the name of religion," he said.
Referring to the United Arab Emirates (UAE)'s upcoming Global Conference for Human Fraternity slated to be held in February, Al-Tayeb said that Al-Azhar is "continuously" working to build bridges of dialogue with the West and major religious institutions such as the Vatican, the World Council of Churches and the Archbishop of Canterbury. The religious leaders' convention aims to "spread peace among the followers of different religions".
Yesterday, Macron concluded his first three-day visit to Egypt intended to boost ties between the countries, while also raising human rights concerns. During the visit, he met with his Egyptian counterpart, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, as well as numerous officials and religious clerics. He also visited various Egyptian historical sites. The visit also saw the signing of a number of deals – worth nearly $1 billion – between the two countries in the transportation, education and health sectors.
The French president's visit comes amid the so-called "yellow vest protests" against Macron's economic reforms, which have been waging since mid-November.