Muslim scholar questions Vatican understanding of Islam

Cardinal Jean-Louis TauranThe 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.

Nayed, a former professor at the Pontifical Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies (PISAI) in Rome and main spokesman for the 138 scholars, flatly refutes Tauran’s view. He says Muslims have always interpreted the Koran and studied it both historically and linguistically. Their methods were even the forerunners of the “historical-critical” method that Christians use with the Bible, he says. Protestants began applying this “higher criticism” to the Bible in the 18th century and Catholics accepted it only in 1943, making them latecomers to this exercise in Nayed’s view. I am no specialist on these details and will need to hear reactions from Christian theologians.

Readers interested in Nayed’s argument can read it on the website of Islamica magazine or read Cindy Wooden’s story for the Catholic News Service on it. I’ll just quote the crisp conclusion:

“Unfortunately, Cardinal Tauran’s statement turns out to be based on ill-founded ‘Islam versus Christianity’ ‘contrast tables’ developed and advocated by some ‘Islam experts’. Rather than unilaterally declaring the impossibility of theological dialogue with Muslims, Cardinal Tauran would have been wiser to ask Muslim scholars themselves as to what kind of dialogue they feel is possible, from their point of view. To unilaterally pre-determine what is possible and not possible for the other, on behalf of the other, is one sure way of achieving closure in matters dialogical.”

Pope Benedict and Mufti Mustafa Cagrici pray at Istanbul’s Blue Mosque, Nov. 30, 2006Until we get the Vatican’s official reaction to the Muslim scholars’ letter, we won’t know exactly how it plans to answer this criticism. But comments made by Pope Benedict before and after his election in 2005 strongly hint he has a well-developed view of the difficulty of holding a theological dialogue with Muslims. Fr. Samir Khalil Samir S.J., an Egyptian-born Catholic expert on both faiths who welcomed the dialogue appeal despite some reservations, published this long and detailed analysis of the Pope’s views on Islam in in April 2006.

Rapid change as Turkey strives to match Islam and democracy

President Abdullah Gul accompanied by Chief of Staff General Yasar Buyukanit, August 31, 2007It is now clear that Turkey, a country to which Western visitors have often applied adjectives such as “timeless” and “slothful”, is changing profoundly, and with un-Oriental speed.

Anyone who’s been following the news out of Turkey this year has to nod in agreement when reading the lead to Christopher de Bellaigue’s interesting article in the New York Review of Books. It was only last April that the army issued a veiled threat to intervene if the governing AK party — usually called a “party with Islamist roots” — tried to overturn Turkey’s secular system.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan called their bluff and won a snap general election, allowing his AK partner Abdullah Gül to be elected president. The AK-led government now plans to replace the military-era constitution with a new document that will confirm “our democratic, secular and social state and guarantee basic rights and freedoms”, as Gül told parliament early this month.

Why is Reuters starting a religion blog?

keyboard.jpgThere are so many blogs about religion. Does Reuters need to start another one?

Yes, there are plenty of religion blogs out there. Most focus on one religion or look at the world through one faith’s eyes. They can be informative, combative and often fun to read. But that’s not something a news agency can or should do. Our strengths lie elsewhere.

Reuters covers news around the world. Religion is in the news almost anywhere we look – sometimes as a story purely about religion, sometimes as a story that mixes faith with politics, diplomacy, lifestyle or terrorism. So our correspondents are increasingly covering religious leaders, following trends and examining the role of faith in public life. They have also widened their scope to deal with other areas connected to people’s deepest beliefs, such as divisive social issues, bioethical challenges, even brain research into why and how we think.

This blog will let us reach beyond the news stories we now write about faith. With our global network of correspondents, we want to bring a new dimension to our religion reporting. Sometimes we’ll add more information to a story, especially by bringing you closer to the source with links to background material. Sometimes we’ll tell the reporter’s “story behind the story.” Sometimes we’ll point out someone else’s story if it helps readers understand the issues.