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Imam calls on Muslims in Middle East to ‘embrace’ Christians 

ABU DHABI, February 4

Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar mosque and university, called on Muslims in the Middle East to “embrace” local Christian communities.

He addressed Muslims saying: “Continue to embrace your brothers the Christian citizens everywhere, for they are our partners in our nation,” he said during a televised speech from a ceremony in the United Arab Emirates capital Abu Dhabi, also attended by Pope Francis.

Then he addressed Christians saying: “You are part of this nation. You are citizens, you are not a minority.. You are citizens with full rights and responsibilities.” Sheikh Tayeb also called on Muslims in the west to integrate in their host nations and respect local laws.

Egypt has relied on Azhar’s clerics in its battle against militant Islam. Al-Azhar hosted Pope Francis in 2017 to improve relations between Catholics and Muslims.

Meanwhile, Pope Francis on Monday called for “the full recognition” of rights for people of all faiths from the UAE, the first visit by the head of the Catholic church to the Arabian Peninsula. 

The Pope called for the “full recognition of the other and his or her freedom” in a meeting with Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the top Sunni Muslim cleric. Religious freedom “is not limited only to freedom of worship but sees in the other truly a brother or sister, a child of my own humanity whom God leaves free and whom, therefore, no human institution can coerce, not even in God’s name”, Pope Francis said. 

Earlier, the pontiff arrived in a modest black Kia at Abu Dhabi’s presidential palace, where he was welcomed with a lavish military parade.

Officers fired 21 shots in the air, while jets flew overhead leaving white and yellow trails-the colours of the Vatican City flag. The Pope’s highly publicised 48-hour visit to the United Arab Emirates will also include an open-air mass on Tuesday for 135,000 of the Muslim country’s million Catholic residents, set to be the largest public gathering in the country’s history.

The Pope was expected to raise the issue of Yemen, devastated by a war in which the UAE is a key player, in talks with Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed.

Yemen is the scene of what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, triggered by the intervention of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and their allies in a war between the government and Huthi rebels.

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