The Grand Mufti of Egypt's Al-Azhar, Ahmed Al-Tayyeb, is to visit senior Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, in Iraq early next month, according to sources.
The historic visit to the holy city of Najaf will be the first time the two will meet face-to-face and will include visits to the shrines at Karbala and Najaf, in addition to meetings with other prominent Shia scholars. The Al-Azhar is the highest scholarly institution for Sunnis whereas Najaf is the oldest and most important Shia seminary.
According to earlier reports last month, Tayyeb said he will be also visiting Baghdad, Mosul, and Erbil as part of the trip.
Iraqi governments have extended previous invitations to Tayyeb to visit the country since 2003, and a report in 2010 stated he would meet Sistani to discuss ways for closer ties between the Sunni and Shia schools of thought, following the formation of the then-newly approved government, although the visit did not take place.
Sistani's last high-profile meeting was with Pope Francis in Najaf in March this year and was the pontiff's first visit to Iraq. At the time, Azhar's Tayyeb praised the Pope for his "historic and courageous visit", and hoped the visit would achieve the desired outcome towards human brotherhood.
Speaking last month to Italy's Catholic SIR news agency, Cardinal Louis Sako, Patriarch of Iraq's Chaldean Church, said "I firmly believe that Al-Tayyeb's visit to Iraq will bolster coexistence not only between Muslims but also between Muslims and Christians and between the members of other faiths."
"I believe that this visit is a fruit of Pope Francis' visit to Iraq last March," he added.