The nascent Catholic-Muslim dialogue sparked by the “Common Word” initiative was never going to be easy, even under the best of circumstances. There is a lot of suspicion, misunderstanding and different agendas to deal with. And then there are the surprises that can come seemingly out of nowhere and blow the effort off course, at least temporarily. One of these was the baptism of the Egyptian-born Italian journalist Magdi Allam by Pope Benedict that popped up by surprise on Saturday evening and highlighted some of the twists along the path of inter-faith dialogue.
Just when relations between the Vatican and Muslims were improving, Pope Benedict has taken a highly symbolic step that could set them back again. On Saturday evening, at the Easter Vigil Mass, he baptised seven people including one of Italy’s best-known Muslims. Magdi Allam, the new convert, is deputy director of the Milan newspaper Corriere della Sera and an outspoken critic of radical Islam. The Egyptian-born journalist, who has lived in Italy since his university days, was one of the few Muslims who defended the pope after his controversial Regensburg speech in 2006. Allam’s outspoken articles have already prompted death threats from Islamists and he lives under constant guard. Announcing the surprise move only an hour before it took place, the Vatican stressed the Catholic Church had the right to baptise anyone who wanted to join it and that all were equal in the eyes of God.
In his latest video, Osama bin Laden charges that the reprinting of a Danish caricature of the Prophet Mohammad amounts to a new crusade against Islam led by Pope Benedict. Complaints about the reprinting of the cartoon, sparked by death threats against the artist who depicted Mohammad with a bomb in his turban, have been spreading in the Muslim world. This seems to be the first time, however, that the pope has been linked like this to the cartoons. We have the news story and a security analysis. This post is simply to point out this curious twist, given the fact that the Vatican’s top official for relations with Islam was recently in Egypt and issued a joint declaration with al-Azhar University denouncing media attacks on religion.
It would have been a first. The imam of Rome’s mosque was due to visit the city’s synagogue on Wednesday, but unexpectedly called off the meeting on Tuesday, citing unspecified logistical problems. Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni visited the mosque in 2006, so Imam Ala Eldin al Ghobashy would have been returning the compliment. It would have been an important symbolic step forward for inter-religious dialogue, right in the Vatican’s backyard.
Where did they get this idea from, the YouTube debates? Al Qaeda’s second-in- command Ayman al-Zawahri will take questions from around the world next month in a video interview. This news got buried a bit in the reporting on his latest video but I asked our correspondent Firouz Sedarat in Dubai for some more information. He says this looks like the first time that Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man will go interactive like this.
We noted here on Monday that the unprecedented appeal by 138 Muslim scholars for a real Christian-Muslim dialogue put the focus on how the Vatican would react. The only comment from Rome so far has been cautiously positive, saying it was “very interesting” and “encouraging” but going no further. Now one of the Catholic Church’s top experts on Islam has given his analysis — and he’s impressed by what he sees.