The cautious Vatican reaction to the dialogue appeal from 138 Muslim scholars has prompted one of the signatories to question whether the top Catholic official for relations with Muslims understands Islam. More specifically, Aref Ali Nayed has asked how Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran can say that a serious theological dialogue with Muslims is not possible because they will not discuss the Koran in depth. This debate (discussed in an earlier post here) is dense and highly specialised. But it may be at this level that this unprecedented dialogue could take off or fail to ignite.
While Muslim scholars wait for an official Vatican response, more Catholic Islam experts have spoken out in favour of the scholars’ appeal for high-level talks between Muslim and Christian leaders. Five professors from the Vatican’s own Islam institute have described the appeal by 138 Muslim scholars as “a highly significant event” that showed “a new and creative attitude” towards the Koran. The five, all priests, include the rector and the dean of studies at the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies (PISAI) in Rome.
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. Many 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.
It would have been the Vatican equivalent of an instant reaction if Pope Benedict had actually mentioned the recent dialogue appeal by 138 Muslim scholars when he spoke today at a major inter-faith gathering in Naples. There were several comments from Catholic experts in the past week and an influential cardinal hinted he would have something to say. In the end, the Pope did not make a direct response. But he echoed the message that “faiths must work together to stamp out religiously motivated hatred which uses God as an excuse for violence,” as our reporter Phil Stewart wrote from Naples.