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Sistani sends letter to Pope, calls for inter-faith respect

August 3, 2023 at 1:56 pm

Prominent Shia cleric Ali Al-Sistani [Facebook]

Iraq’s top Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has sent a letter to Pope Francis calling for peaceful co-existence and respect among followers of all faiths, and calling for concerted efforts to reject violence.

Sistani’s letter was in response to a letter from the Pope coinciding with the second anniversary of the pontiff’s historic visit to Iraq, where he met with the Shia cleric at his residence in the holy city of Najaf. Pope Francis addressed Sistani as his “dear brother” and recalled their encounter as “a milestone on the path of interreligious dialogue and understanding between peoples.”

Speaking of their “important meeting” in March 2021, Ayatollah Sistani said it “became an incentive for many followers of the Islamic and Christian religions, and even others as well, to show greater tolerance and peaceful coexistence with those who differ from them in religion and belief.”

Sistani added that “More needs to be done to defend oppressed people around the world as the tragedies experienced by many people and ethnic and social groups in many places in the east and west of the world.”

“The suppression of fundamental freedoms and the absence of social justice play a role in the emergence of some extremist movements that do not hesitate to attack others with whom they disagree in thought or belief,” he emphasised.

The senior cleric ended his letter by conveying his wishes for the Pope’s “health, safety, and recovery from the ailment that afflicted you recently.”

The timely letter comes amid widespread and popular anger across the Muslim world and communities in the West over controversial decisions by Swedish and Danish authorities to permit Quran burning “protests”.

BOOK REVIEW: The Clergy and the Modern Middle East: Shi’i Political Activism in Iran, Iraq and Lebanon