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‘A Common Word’ in the News

At Dome of Rock, Benedict uses Muslims’ argument to Muslims

At Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock, part of the Temple Mount/Noble
Sanctuary complex including Islam’s third-holiest mosque Al-Aqsa, Pope
Benedict urged Palestinian Muslim leaders to pursue interfaith
cooperation by using an argument that other Muslims have been using to
engage Christians — including himself — in dialogue. The need for
interfaith dialogue is emerging as one of the two most consistent
themes of Benedict’s speeches during his current Middle East tour (the
other being the link between faith and reason). Appeals like this risk
being empty phrases, but he has given some new twists that make them
stand out.

In his speech to Muslim leaders this morning, the pope said reason
shows us the shared nature and common destiny of all people. He then
said: “Undivided love for the One God and charity towards ones neighbour thus become the fulcrum around which all else turns.”
Readers of this blog may recognise that message in a slightly different
form — it echoes the “Common Word” appeal by Muslim scholars to a
Christian-Muslim dialogue based on the two shared principles of love of
God and love of neighbour. Since we’ve reported extensively about that
initiative, readers may also remember that the Vatican was initially
quite cautious about it. Up until the Catholic-Muslim forum in Rome
last November, the line from the Vatican was that Christians and
Muslims couldn’t really discuss theology because their views of God
were so different. Vatican officials sounded different after three days
of talks and Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, who is in charge of interfaith
relations, said the Common Word group could even become a “privileged
channel” for discussions in future. And now Benedict uses their
argument to other Muslims.

Another new element — Benedict has begun using core Islamic terms to
build bridges to his Muslim audience. Speaking at the King Hussein
Mosque in Amman, he referred to God as “merciful and compassionate.” Today, he spoke of a shared belief “that the One God is the infinite source of justice and mercy.” He even expressed the hope that Muslim-Christian dialogue explores “how the Oneness of God is inextricably tied to the unity of the human family.”
The Trinity is one of the biggest stumbling blocks between Christianity
and Islam. Muslims see it as belief in three separate Gods, unlike the
three persons in one God as Christians understand it. Centuries of
Muslim anti-Christian rhetoric is built on the idea that Christianity
is not really monotheistic like Islam (and Judaism, by the way). If the
detailed theological discussions the Common Word group has launched
lead to a better understanding of this issue, even if no agreement is
possible, that would still be major progress.

the plane flying to Amman, Benedict suggested the Vatican might expand
its series of bilateral interreligious contacts to include a trilateral forum with Christians, Muslims and Jews.
He hasn’t mentioned that since then, but it’s an interesting idea.
Rabbis have attended some meetings between the Common Word Muslim
scholars and Christian scholars.

After noticing the echo of the Common Word appeal in Benedict’s
address, I checked to see whether his Muslim hosts were signatories of
the document. They weren’t. In fact, the only Palestinian I could find
who has signed it is Sheikh Taysir al-Tamimi, the head of the Islamic
courts in the Palestinian territories. He’s the one who upset an
otherwise harmonious interfaith meeting with the pope yesterday with a fiery denunciation of Israel that Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi later called “a direct negation of what a dialogue should be.”

Right after his meeting with the Muslim leaders, Pope Benedict went
down to the nearby Western Wall to meet Jewish leaders and insert a
personal note in a crack in the ancient wall. The prayer called
Jerusalem the “spiritual home to Jews, Christians and Muslims.” It was
a continuation of the message he had just delivered up at the esplanade
level. He later went to meet Israel’s two grand rabbis and assured them
the Vatican remained “irrevocably committed to the path chosen at
the Second Vatican Council for a genuine and lasting reconciliation
between Christians and Jews.”