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In letter to Pope, Ayatollah Sistani urges ‘concerted efforts’ to promote respect among followers of religions

Iraq’s prominent cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani (L) meets with Pope Francis, head of the Roman Catholic Church, in Najaf, on March 6, 2021. (Via office of Ayatollah Sistani)

Iraq's most prominent Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has underscored the significance of peaceful coexistence, calling for concerted efforts to reject violence and promote respect among followers of various faiths.

Ayatollah Sistani made the remark in response to a letter from Pope Francis, the leader of the Catholic Church, on the second anniversary of the pontiff’s visit to Iraq and his meeting with the top Shia cleric.  

Ayatollah Sistani said the Pope’s historic visit to Iraq and their meeting in the Iraqi city of Najaf provided “impetus” for many followers of Islam and Christianity - and other faiths - to show greater tolerance and good coexistence with those who have different religions or beliefs.

Recalling the topics raised in the meeting, the top Shia cleric underlined the importance of concerted efforts to promote a culture of peaceful coexistence and reject violence and hatred.

Ayatollah Sistani also called for the establishment of the values of harmony among people, based on caring for rights and mutual respect among the followers of different religions.

“More needs to be done to defend oppressed people around the world as the tragedies experienced by many people and ethnic and social groups in many places in the east and west of the world, the suppression of fundamental freedoms and the absence of social justice play a role in the emergence of some extremist movements that do not hesitate to attack others with whom they disagree in thought or belief,” he said.

“I find it important that everyone pay more attention to the lifting of these grievances and work to the best of their ability to achieve a decent degree of justice and reassurance in different societies,” he added. “It would certainly contribute to reducing the manifestations of hatred and violence in general.”

Ayatollah Sistani also placed a premium on the underlying role of faith in God and commitment to the high moral values in overcoming the great challenges that all humanity faces in the new era.

On Tuesday, Pope Francis denounced as “barbaric” the recent Qur’an burnings in Sweden and Denmark, saying such blasphemous moves prevent dialog among nations.

“The story of burning the Holy Qur’an is really a barbaric act. These cases harm and prevent mature dialog between people,” the Pope wrote in a letter in response to Argentinian Shia scholar Abdul Karim Paz, representative of Argentina’s Islamic foundation, who had condemned the repeated acts of desecrating the holy Muslim book.

The pontiff had already condemned the sacrilegious acts, expressing “anger and disgust” over the moves.

Over the past month, the holy Muslim book has been subject to acts of desecration by extremist elements multiple times in Sweden and Denmark, whose governments have sanctioned and justified such insults as "freedom of expression."

The sacrilegious acts have ignited the ire of the entire Muslim community across the globe. Several countries have summoned or expelled Swedish and Danish ambassadors.

The Nordic countries have deplored the desecration of the Qur’an but claimed that they cannot prevent it under constitutional laws protecting freedom of speech.

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