Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Inter-Faith Dialogue Crucial to Peace: Pope

Ismaeel Nakhuda, Arab News

JEDDAH, 26 September 2006 — Following international condemnation for his comments, Pope Benedict XVI told Muslim envoys yesterday that a dialogue between Christians and Muslims was vital toward preserving peace and stability in a world plagued by religious tensions. Speaking to representatives from 22 Muslim countries, the pope said, “I should like to reiterate all the esteem and the profound respect that I have for Muslim believers.”

The meeting was held at the pope’s summer residence outside Rome and was the latest step undertaken by the Vatican to quell Muslim sentiments over comments by the pope in which he quoted from a medieval text that described Islam as “evil and inhuman.”

“I am profoundly convinced that in the current world situation it is imperative that Christians and Muslims engage with one another in order to address the numerous challenges that present themselves to humanity,” he said, adding, “Christians and Muslims must learn to work together ... in order to guard against all forms of intolerance.”

Reacting to the news, Sheikh Riyad Nadwi, director of the UK-based Oxford Cross Cultural Research Institute, said, “I think we now need to accept his apology for his blunder but not his explanation i.e. that we misunderstood his comments. If we are to protect ourselves from such future attacks, we must maintain this distinction in our minds. If not, a time will come when an attempt would be made to justify such comments in the spirit of ‘frank dialogue.’ I have seen it before, where the progression is one from a call for ‘sincere dialogue’ to ‘genuine dialogue’ and then a slippage into ‘frank dialogue’ by which time the audiences are prepared to accept criticisms of all sorts including disrespect for the Qur’an and the character of the Prophet (pbuh).”

Riyad continued, “Dialogue should not be exploited anymore to create confusion and discord both within Islam and between faiths.

The purpose of dialogue is to establish peace and create tolerance for one another. It is not a platform for mind games. The apology of the pope is accepted and we thank him for it.”

The meeting held at Castel Gandolfo lasted hardly 30-minutes and was promoted by the Vatican as a major step in showing that the pope’s dedication toward inter-religious harmony. After his address, the pope shook hands and exchanged a few words with visitors. Iraq’s envoy to the Vatican later said it was time to build bridges between different faiths. “I think it is time to put what happened behind us and build bridges among all the civilizations,” said Ambassador Albert Yelda.

“The pope emphasized his profound respect to all the Muslims around the world. It was what we expected, it was what we had,” said Yelda. “Many Muslims around the world were offended,” he said.

“They expressed their feelings and they were right to do so. They demonstrated anger. Everybody has a right to express his feeling.”

Mohamed Nour Dachan, the president of one of several Italian Muslim groups who also attended the meeting, said the pope’s message had been “crystal clear.” “Dialogue is just as much a priority for Muslims as it is for Christians,” he said, adding that as far his group was concerned the chapter on the controversy surrounding the pope’s comments in Germany had already been closed before yesterday’s gathering.

The pope’s audience yesterday included envoys from Iran, Turkey — which the pope is scheduled to visit on Nov. 28-30 — and Morocco, whose Vatican ambassador had been recalled for consultations when the row over the speech broke.

The pope told the diplomats that he had called the meeting in order to strengthen the bonds of friendship and solidarity between the Vatican and Muslim communities, and offered his good wishes to Muslims worldwide during the holy month of Ramadan.


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