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Al-Azhar's Imam calls on Muslims in the Middle East to 'embrace' Christians

Grand Imam of al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb speaks during an inter-religious meeting with Pope Francis at the Founder's Memorial in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, February 4, 2019. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

ABU DHABI (Reuters) - 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.

Reporting by Sylvia Westall; Writing by Tuqa Khalid; Editing by Toby Chopra