Muslim, Christian clerics from Middle East convene co-existence meeting

Leader of Egypt's Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria delivers a speech during a conference titled '’Freedom and citizenship’’ hosted by Al-Azhar, one of the leading Sunni Muslim authorities based in Cairo, on Feb 28, 2017. PHOTO: AFP
Egypt's Grand Imam of al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed al-Tayeb (centre), Egypt’s former interim president Adly Mansour (right), and Pope Tawadros II (left) of Alexandria arrive to attend a conference titled '’Freedom and citizenship’’ on Feb 28, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

CAIRO (AFP) - Top Muslim and Christian clerics from the Middle East gathered in Cairo on Tuesday (Feb 28) for a two-day conference on promoting co-existence, as sectarian conflict continues to ravage the region.

The "Freedom and Citizenship" conference is hosted by Al-Azhar, one of the leading Sunni Muslim authorities based in Cairo.

It comes as Coptic Christians in Egypt's Sinai flee attacks by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group extremists who are waging an insurgency in the peninsula.

"Exonerating religions from terrorism no longer suffices in the face of these barbaric challenges," Al-Azhar's head Sheikh Ahmed Tayeb said in a speech on the opening day, referring to regional conflicts.

Tayeb called for dispelling "the lingering mistrust and tensions between religious leaders that are no longer justified, for if there is no peace between the proponents of religions first, the proponents cannot give it to the people."

Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros II called for "fighting extremist thought with enlightened thought." He said: "Egypt and the region have suffered from extremist thought resulting from a mistaken understanding of religion that has led to terrorism."

The conference, including Muslim muftis and Christian clergy such as Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rahi, is to issue a closing statement on Wednesday.

ISIS, which controls parts of Syria and Iraq, views Christians as enemies who should either be killed or subjugated.

In Egypt, the group's affiliate called for war on the Coptic minority after bombing a church in December 2016, killing 29 people.

Tayeb, who represents a more moderate and traditional form of Islam, argues that groups like ISIS have perverted the religion.

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