Muslim scholars press Pope Benedict to go public

October 23, 2007

The 138 Muslims scholars who recently invited Christian leaders to a high-level inter-faith dialogue feel their unprecedented step of uniting so many different Islamic representatives has created a momentum that must not be lost. The responses from Christian churches have shown varying levels of urgency in taking up the challenge. muslimspray2.jpgMany denominations, most notably the Anglicans and Lutherans, responded promptly and positively to their appeal “A Common Word Between Us And You.” The Roman Catholic Church has been more cautious, and its provisional response has gone from vaguely positive to cautiously critical.

The Muslim scholars have responded with a direct appeal to the Pope to speak publicly about their initiative. Sheikh Izzeldin Ibrahim, a signatory who is a cultural adviser to the United Arab Emirates government, made a verbal appeal to that effect to Benedict when they lunched together in Naples on Sunday at the Sant’Egidio community’s annual inter-faith meeting. He told him the Muslim scholars were disappointed not only at what they saw as the Vatican’s hesitant response to their appeal but also to the lack of a Catholic response to the letter of 38 scholars last year to his controversial Regensburg speech. And, as signatory Aref Ali Nayed of the Cambridge Interfaith Program in Britain told Reuters, they made it official with a letter handed to Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams told Vatican Radio on Monday that he has been discussing with other Christian leaders in Naples what the churches should do next. “I’d like to start exploring what kind of common Christian response there might be to the ‘Common Word’ document that’s come from the Muslim leaders,” he said. Christian leaders were “looking at various theoretical possibilities” and would like to have “proper face-to-face discussions with some of these people. But how to do that is quite a logistical challenge,” he said.

My story on the latest statement from the Muslim scholars outlines their concerns. They seem to feel that Tauran, by bringing up issues such as interpretation of the Koran or reciprocity in building churches and mosques in the Middle East and Europe, is going beyond the scope of the narrowly focused consensus they were able to build. They also noted that the annual messages the Vatican sends for Eid el-Fitr at the end of Ramadan muslimspray3.jpg“had been made polemical of late.” In this year and last, these messages included pointed appeals for all religions to fight terrorism and violence in the name of religion (compare them with earlier messages here).

The website for A Common Word has the full text plus pages of reactions from Christian leaders and theologians. Another reaction from a leading Catholic Islam expert has come from Father Christian Troll, S.J., a German Jesuit based in Frankfurt who lectured alongside Fr. Samir Khalil Samir, S.J. at the pope’s 2005 Islam seminar with his former students. Here are excerpts (in German).

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