Scheduled for November, the visit includes stops in Baghdad, Mosul, Erbil and Najaf. A face to face with Ali al-Sistani is under consideration. Iraq’s postal service has issued stamps commemorating the Pope’s visit and his meeting with Grand Ayatollah Sistani in Najaf. For Chaldean Patriarch Sako, the Pope opened Iraq’s doors to the world and restored the country’s central role.
Baghdad (AsiaNews) – Like Pope Francis, al-Azhar's Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayeb plans to make an official visit to Iraq in November. Preparations are now underway and all that is needed is an official announcement.
During the visit, the Sunni leader should meet Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in the holy city of Najaf, but that is not yet confirmed. If it happens, the face-to-face between the leaders of the two main branches of Islam, Sunni and Shia, would be historic.
Early reports suggest that the visit will include the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, Mosul, once a stronghold of the Islamic State group, Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, and Najaf, home to the highest Shia religious leader, a point of reference for millions of Muslims.
Speaking about the visit, al-Tayeb himself defined Iraq "a country dear to my heart" that he wishes to "visit" to meet “its honourable people”.
Stressing the “many points in common” between Iraq and Egypt, where the university of al-Azhar is located, he described the two countries as “the two most important poles in the Islamic world”.
Iraqi ambassador to Egypt Ahmed Nayef al-Dulaimi said preparations for “this important visit” were underway, and would include “an extended schedule with important events”.
For the diplomat, leaders at al-Azhar and in Baghdad see “the elimination of terrorism” at the regional and global levels as an important goal.
For the Iraqi government, the visit would be another "successful" event following the visit by Pope Francis who "restored confidence" to the country, said a source close to the government.
Since the Pope’s trip, Iraq has hosted two other major events, namely a trilateral summit in the capital with the leaders of Egypt and Jordan and the recent Baghdad conference on cooperation and partnership.
Speaking to AsiaNews, the Chaldean Patriarch, Card Louis Raphael Sako, noted that the imam's trip "is the result of the visit by Pope Francis" who "opened Iraq’s doors” to the outside world and restored its “central place” in political and diplomatic circles.
“The visit is not fully confirmed but it is now been outlined and only a few points are missing,” explained the prelate. “This too is an event that helps exchange and dialogue.”
“It is a path opened by the document on fraternity signed in Abu Dhabi and reiterated by the meeting between the Pope and al-Sistani in Najaf, with the important words spoken by the latter who said: 'You are part of us and we are part of you' .
“Such symbolic moments spark changes in daily life, such as the banning of extremisms and ideologies that cancel each other out,” Sako noted.
Al- Tayeb “is willing” to meet al-Sistani and together they will be able to contribute “to the fight against extremisms.”
“These visits like that of the king of Jordan and the Egyptian president are of great support for Iraq and its institutions, helping build a stable state that is capable of playing a positive role in dialogue and in the path of peace,” the cardinal said.
A sign of the relevance and importance of the Pope’s visit last March is the decision by Iraq’s postal service to issue commemorative stamps (pictured) dedicated to the event, especially the meeting with al-Sistani and the stop in the historic city of Ur of the Chaldees.
These two events embody the concepts of "coexistence" and "love between religions", the post office explained in a statement.
The stamps will be available in different denominations of 500, 750 and 1,000 dinars for a limited run of 5,000.