Saudi Arabia to restore Al-Azhar mosque in Egypt as it is a 'beacon of moderate Islam'

Children play in the yard of Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo while their families pray inside the mosque during the holy month of Ramadan on July 1, 2014. Saudi Arabia has agreed to fund the restoration of the mosque in recognition of its role as a "beacon
Children play in the yard of Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo while their families pray inside the mosque during the holy month of Ramadan on July 1, 2014. Saudi Arabia has agreed to fund the restoration of the mosque in recognition of its role as a "beacon of moderate Islam," the Egyptian president's office said Thursday. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

CAIRO (AFP) - Saudi Arabia has agreed to fund the restoration of Cairo's Al-Azhar mosque in recognition of its role as a "beacon of moderate Islam," the Egyptian president's office said Thursday.

The announcement came after talks between President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and visiting Saudi intelligence chief Prince Khaled bin Bandar bin Abdel Aziz on the coalition Washington is building against the Islamic State group (IS) in Iraq and Syria.

"In recognition of the important role played by Al-Azhar as a beacon of moderate Islam in spreading tolerant values across the region (Saudi King Abdullah) has taken the generous initiative to restore Al-Azhar," Mr Sisi's office said.

The 1,000 year-old mosque spreads over a hectare in the ancient heart of Cairo and oversees a network of seminaries that form Sunni Islam's highest seat of learning.

Its top cleric, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, has condemned the jihadists of IS as "criminals (who) have been able to transmit to the world a tarnished and alarming image of Muslims."

US Secretary of State John Kerry paid tribute to Al-Azhar's role in fighting back against the group's extremist ideology during a visit to Cairo last week.

Both Egypt and Saudi Arabia are part of the regional coalition that Mr Kerry forged during his tour.

Al-Azhar official Abbas Shoman said no start date or cost estimate had yet been fixed for the restoration work.