Al-Azhar halts dialogue with Vatican over pope’s statements

Al-Azhar University indefinitely suspended its interfaith dialogue with the Vatican on Thursday in response to Pope Benedict XVI's remarks on the status of Christians in the Middle East.

The religious institute made the decision during an urgent meeting held by the Islamic Research Academy, an Al-Azhar-run institution. The academy's secretary general, Ali Abdel Dayem, said the activities of the Permanent Committee for Dialogue with Monotheistic Religions will be halted indefinitely following the Pope's comment that Christians in the Middle East suffer from discrimination.

Earlier this month, Benedict called for protecting Christians in the Middle East following the New Year's attack on an Alexandria church that killed 23 and injured 95. His remarks angered Egypt, which considered his statements interference in its domestic affairs.

Al-Azhar is the highest Sunni institution in the Islamic world.  It established the dialogue committee in 1997, which meets twice a year to discuss bilateral collaboration.

The work of the committee has been suspended several times in the past. In 2006, Benedict prompted a similar move with statements that Al-Azhar considered offensive to Islam.

The committee has faced extensive criticism for only focusing on general concerns while ignoring controversial issues surrounding religious tension.

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