Reuters blog archive
Pope Benedict told German Muslims in Berlin on Friday they can expect cooperation and support from Roman Catholics as long as they respect Germany's constitution and the limits it sets on pluralism. Meeting representatives of the country's four million Muslims, he said the constitution drawn up in post-war West Germany was solid enough to adapt to a pluralistic society in a globalised world and make room for new religions as well.
It sounded like the Bavarian-born pontiff was making a veiled reference to a debate in Germany over the past year over Muslim integration in Germany and whether Muslims wanted sharia here, an issue discussed mostly on the conservative end of the political spectrum. Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Muslims last year that Islamic law had no place in Germany. "What applies here is the constitution, not sharia," she declared. When he took office in March, Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said the idea that "Islam belongs to Germany" -- first mentioned by President Christian Wulff last year -- "is not substantiated by history at any point." A recent book "Richter ohne Gesetz" (Judges without Law) argues that Muslims are setting up a "parallel legal system" that is undermining German justice.
Muslim leaders didn't hear it that way. They praised the pope for confirming through the meeting that Islam was now a part of German society and pointing towards new and expanded cooperation between Catholics and Muslims. But they said their loyalty to the constitution, a main point in his speech, was never in question. "As Muslims in Germany, we have always said that we see the German constitution as a good basis for peaceful life together," Bekir Alboga, head of interreligious dialogue for the Turkish mosque association DITIB, told Reuters after meeting the pope.
(Photo: Christian and Muslim leaders at Nov 1-4, 2010 Geneva conference/WCC - Mark Beach)
Christian and Muslim leaders agreed on Thursday to set up "rapid deployment teams" to try to defuse tensions when their faiths are invoked by conflicting parties in flashpoints such as Nigeria, Iraq, Egypt or the Philippines. Meeting this week in Geneva, they agreed the world's two biggest religions must take concrete steps to foster interfaith peace rather than let themselves be dragged into conflicts caused by political rivalries, oppression or injustice.
Among the organisations backing the plan were the World Council of Churches (WCC), which groups 349 different Christian churches around the world, and the Libyan-based World Islamic Call Society (WICS), a network with about 600 affiliated Muslim bodies. They would send Christian and Muslim experts to intervene on both sides in a religious conflict to calm tensions and clear up misunderstandings about the role of faith in the dispute.
(Photo: United Nations General Assembly hall, 23 Nov 2006/Jérôme Blum)
The United Nations General Assembly passes a stack of resolutions every year and many of them go all but unnoticed. One such document just approved in New York established a new World Interfaith Harmony Week. High-minded resolutions put most news junkies to sleep, so it's probably no surprise this one got such scant media coverage (see here and here). But there's more to this one than meets the glazed-over eye.
The resolution, accepted by consensus on Wednesday, urged all member states to designate the first week of February every year as the World Interfaith Harmony Week. It asked them to "support, on a voluntary basis, the spread of the message of interfaith harmony and goodwill in the world’s churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and other places of worship during that week based on Love of God and Love of the Neighbour, or based on Love of the Good and Love of the Neighbour, each according to their own religious traditions or convictions."
The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Aref Ali Nayed is Director, Kalam Research & Media, Dubai.
By Aref Ali Nayed
Years ago, in Toronto, I read on the concrete walls of a highway bridge the following bold and sacrilegious message: “God is dead! Signed: Nietzsche,” and under it “Nietzsche is dead! Signed: God!”
Prominent Muslim scholars have recast a famous medieval fatwa on jihad, arguing the religious edict radical Islamists often cite to justify killing cannot be used in a globalized world that respects faith and civil rights. A conference in Mardin in southeastern Turkey declared the fatwa by 14th century scholar Ibn Taymiyya rules out militant violence and the medieval Muslim division of the world into a "house of Islam" and "house of unbelief" no longer applies.
If you've ever been confused by Muslim names you read in the news or unsure who's important in the Islamic world, help is near. A new book entitled "The 500 Most Influential Muslims - 2009" lists prominent Muslims from different fields -- politics, religion, women, media, even radicals -- with informative short biographies explaining who they are. It starts with an overall "top 50" list and then surveys the most prominent Muslims in their fields. Here it is in PDF.
The book, edited by Professors John Esposito and Ibrahim Kalin at Georgetown University in Washington, is the first in what is planned to be an annual survey of the top Muslim personalities around the world. It's a joint effort by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center in Amman and Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. Esposito is director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center and Kalin is spokesman for the Common Word dialogue initiative we've written about on this blog before.
(Photo: Common Word conference with (from left) former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Georgetown University Professor John Esposito, Bosnian Grand Mufti Mustafa Ceric, former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik and former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, 7 Oct 2009/Georgetown University - Phil Humnicky)
Will a common word lead to a common deed? That's the challenge that the "Common Word" group of Islamic scholars has posed at its fourth major Muslim-Christian dialogue conference now underway at Georgetown University in Washington. The group, which next week marks the second anniversary of its launch, has broken the ice with Christian leaders and fostered a lively and fruitful interchange with them. But it always said its goal was not simply to have more harmonious conferences among theologians. They want to make a real impact lessening tensions between Christians and Muslims out in the real world.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, now a mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, clearly endorsed this aim at the opening session on Wednesday. "The single most important thing is the translation of words into deed," he told about 600 people attending the conference. "We've got to show -- not by a dialogue among the elites, although it is very important that the key people come together -- but actually building bridges among people."
The Nobel Peace Prize will be announced on Friday in Oslo. What are the odds that a religious leader will win? I checked with our bureau in Oslo for the latest buzz.
"The Peace Nobel is basically a guessing game," chief correspondent Wojciech Moskwa warned. A total of 205 individuals and organisations were nominated this year and a record number remained on the secret short list late last month, he learned in an interview with Geir Lundestad, the head of the Norwegian Nobel Institute. Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, French-Colombian politician and former hostage Ingrid Betancourt, Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Quang Do and various U.N. organisations have gained traction as possible nominees, but Lundestad firmly declined to comment on the speculation.
The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Miroslav Volf is director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture and a theology professor at Yale Divinity School, where he co-teaches a course on faith and globalization with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. A native of Croatia and member of the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A., he has been involved in international ecumenical and interfaith dialogues, most recently in Christian-Muslim dialogue.
By Miroslav Volf
I am tempted to say that in Cairo President Obama delivered an historic speech on relations between "the United States and Muslims around the world." Speeches aren't historic when they are delivered, however; they become historic after they've shaped history. What is certain even now, mere few hours after the speech, is that it was brilliant -- visionary and practical, deeply human and political, moral and pragmatic, all at the same time. These wise words, beautifully crafted and compellingly delivered, have the potential of becoming seeds from which a new future will sprout and flourish.
"Branded an implacable foe of Islam after his landmark Regensburg speech in 2006, Pope Benedict has shown during his current Holy Land tour that he is slowly learning how to dialogue with Muslims.
"While media attention has focussed on Jewish criticism of his speech at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, Benedict's speeches to Muslims have used classic Islamic terms and new arguments that resonate with Muslims and ease the quest for common ground.