Tensions over the publication of offending cartoons of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in France are very high, still reverberating across the Muslim world.
To de-escalate the crisis generated by French President Emanuel Macron’s comments on Islam, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian visited Egypt Sunday to stress his country’s respect for Islam.
During the visit, he met with Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayyeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, the world’s leading Sunni Islamic institution.
“I am the first to protest freedom of speech when this freedom offends any religion, not only Islam,” the grand imam said, Reuters reported.
“Europe is indebted to our Prophet Muhammad and to our religion, due to the light this religion has introduced to all humanity,” El-Tayyeb said.
“We reject calling terrorism ‘Islamic,’” El-Tayyeb said, adding that everyone has to immediately stop using this term, as it hurts the feelings of Muslims worldwide and it contradicts the truth known by everyone.
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El-Tayyeb added that Muslims around the world reject terrorism, stressing that Islam and its prophet has nothing to do with it.
“Al-Azhar represents the voice of nearly two billion Muslims, and I said terrorists do not represent us and we are not responsible for their actions. I announced this in all international forums, in Paris, London, Geneva, the United States, Rome, Asian countries and everywhere.”
On the other hand, the French minister said an “anti-French” campaign in the Muslim world had often been the result of a distortion of French President Emmanuel Macron’s comments on the issue.
“We have a first principle which is the highest respect for Islam,” Le Drian told reporters. “I also want to say that Muslims are fully part of society in France.
Le Drian said he had a long exchange marked by “great frankness” with Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb.
“I noted numerous points of divergence in our analyses. I told the Grand Imam how much we need a voice of balance, tolerance and moderation,” Le Drian told reporters.