Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed Al-Tayeb met Pope Francis in Vatican City on Monday, after five years of suspended talks.
The two men reportedly spoke privately for 25 minutes in the pope’s private library, after which Al-Tayib and his delegation had talks with the Vatican cardinal in charge of interreligious dialogue.
Al-Tayeb will then head to Paris to open a Muslim-Catholic conference on east-west relations.
This meeting marks a significant change in the ties between Al-Azhar and the Vatican after Al-Azhar suspended talks with then pope Benedict XVI in 2011.
The former pope made controversial comments following a bomb attack at a church in Alexandria, which killed dozens on New Year’s Eve of 2011. He had called for “concrete and constant engagement from leaders of nations” to protect Christians in the Middle East, in what he described as a “difficult mission”.
Al-Tayeb then criticised the statement, saying it is “unacceptable to interfere in Egypt’s internal affairs”.
However, in December 2013, a Vatican delegation visited Cairo following the appointment of Pope Francis. Francis initiated restoring relations between with Al-Azhar, “for the sake of humanity”. Another Vatican delegation visited Cairo in February.