Is Pope Benedict’s Regensburg speech now history for Muslims?

November 7, 2008

Pope Benedict’s famous Regensburg speech has haunted Catholic-Muslim relations since it was delivered in September 2006. Muslims were insulted by his quoting of a Byzantine emperor saying Islam was violent and irrational and have complained about the speech ever since. The “Common Word” group of Islamic scholars that met Benedict and Catholic officials at the Vatican this week grew out of an initial response by Muslims to that speech. So what role did the Regensburg speech play at those unprecedented talks?

None, according to the Catholic delegation head, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran (left). It was not mentioned a single time in the talks, he told our colleagues at I.Media, a French agency reporting on the Vatican. “Nobody ever spoke about Regensburg,” he said. “It’s a closed affair and the pope has already explained that issue very well.” The pope has expressed regret at any misunderstanding of his speech but not apologised for it as some Muslims urged him to do at the time.

Bosnian Grand Mufti Mustafa Ceric (right), head of the Muslim delegation, was also asked whether Regensburg was now a closed chapter. “There are certain things you should remember but also put into historical context,” he told journalists after the delegations attended an audience with the pope. “Some people say from conflict and misunderstanding comes understanding.”

Ceric, who survived the four-year siege of Sarajevo in the 1990s, explained how such a major Muslim complaint did not become a central issue here. During the Bosnian war, he said, he often complained that western Europe had betrayed Bosnian Muslims but, he said, nobody did anything. But he got a hearing after the war when he outlined “a vision for truth, peace and reconciliation”. So, he said, the Common Word group wanted to avoid the negative. “We have no complaint, we have a dream,” he said.

Ceric said this idea of having a dream came from Martin Luther King’s famous speech. At one point, however, he spoke of him only as Martin Luther. “Now, there’s someone who really did have a complaint,” one delegate joked as he corrected Ceric’s slip.

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Off topic, but is it possible to reach Tom Heneghan via e-mail? I would like to get his opinion on a certain project. many thanks! Khalid

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