The photo which emerged this week of leading British imams visiting Pope Francis at the Vatican is a powerful symbol of hope and enhanced collaboration between Islam and Christianity.

The visit had been planned for months – and long before the terror attack in London on 22nd March – but it served as a fitting sign of solidarity between Muslim and Catholic leaders against violence in the name of religion.

The Pope invited imams for an audience at the Vatican. In a further sign of interfaith unity, the imams were accompanied from London to the meeting by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster.

In addition to the audience with the Pope, the imams also met Cardinal Tauran at the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue.

It formed a visible and much-needed part of the Pope’s efforts to encourage religious leaders – including Muslim scholars – to renounce using religion to justify violence.

The official photograph showing the visiting imams smiling and standing shoulder-to-shoulder, side-by-side with Pope Francis and Cardinal Nichols is emblematic of the strength in interfaith unity and collaboration, especially against violence in the name of religion.

It is reported that Pope Francis told the imams that, “listening to each other was essential for the common future of humanity as we walk together in our shared lives.”

What better way to send a powerful message of resilience and positivity to those intent on dividing us using religion than to invite imams to one of Christianity’s most revered, respected and sacred places?

Interviewed following the audience, the imams said they were “deeply moved” to meet the Pope.

Part of the imam delegation, Moulana Sayed Ali Abbas Razawi said: “This is an important meeting offering hope for everyone, regardless of religion. There is a common humanity to all of us. Some seek to divide people, religions, east versus west, but there is no east or west; there is just our common humanity as we seek a peaceful future for all based on justice and compassion.”

We could not agree more. We commend the Vatican and British Muslim leaders for organising, attending and publicly honouring the importance of this historic meeting.

It might be coincidental that the meeting happened just weeks after the terror attack in London, but it could not have come at a better moment.

All faiths are stronger, together. United, irrespective of faith, we are better equipped to fight religious intolerance, hatred and violence.

Cardinal Nichols also took the opportunity to look to the future – a brighter future of enhanced interfaith cooperation and support: “I hope that this moment will help the voice of authentic Islam to be heard clearly. We look forward to our continuing promotion of collaboration at a local level at the service of all in society.”

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