Rome, 3 Nov. (AKI) – Muslim scholars due to meet Pope Benedict XVI and Vatican officials in Rome on Tuesday hope the landmark talks will help defuse continuing tensions between Islam and Christianity. Milanese imam Yahya Pallavicini is part of the delegation of Muslim scholars taking part in the first round of interfaith talks with the Vatican.
“In the Islamic world, there are high hopes that the talks will present a great opportunity for dialogue,”Pallavicini, vice-president of the Islamic Religious Community in Italy , told Adnkronos International (AKI).
Closed-door talks are taking place on Tuesday on ‘Love of God and Love of One’s Neighbour’ and on ‘Human Dignity and Mutual Respect’ on Wednesday.
The Vatican is keen to discuss the question of religious freedom in Muslim countries, although this is not a precondition for dialogue, Cardinal Jean-Louis Taurand, the Catholic Church’s top interfaith official, told French daily La Croix.
On Thursday, the Pope will receive participants which will conclude with a public discussion at Rome’s Gregorian University and the release of a concluding statement.
Twenty-four Muslim scholars led by the Grand Mufti of Bosnia, Mustafa Ceric, will attend the talks. They are representing the Common World Group, a broad coalition of Muslim leaders and scholars who are pursuing dialogue between the world’s two largest religions.
A total 275 prominent Muslims have now signed The Common World Manifesto, a document urging Christian churches to reach mutual understanding to safeguard global security, based on shared principles of love of God and neighbour.
The letter was drafted by the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, and was originally signed by a total of 138 scholars from every Muslim sect.
Catholic-Muslim relations soured after a 2006 speech in Germany in which Benedict XVI quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor’s criticism of Islam, linking it to violence.
A year earlier, violent protest broke out in Muslim countries after a Danish daily printed cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. Over 50 people died in deadly clashes, which the Common Word Group claims could have been averted had Christians and Muslims jointly denounced the violence.
“Our delegation intends to take forward and promote dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church that respects the identity of both faiths, but which can promote brotherhood under a single God and uphold human dignity worldwide,” said Pallavicini.
The Muslim delegation contains Shias and Sunnis and includes Iranian scholar, Syyed Hussein Nasr, and the Iranian ayatollah Seyyed Mustafa Mohaghegh Damad, as well as Swiss intellectual, Tariq Ramadan, the president of the Islamic Society of North America, Ingrid Mary Mattson, and the president of the UK Association of Muslim Social Scientists, Anas S. Al-Shaeikh-Ali.
Tauran, head of the Vatican’s top interfaith body, the Pontifical Concil for Interreligious Dialogue, will lead the Catholic delegation at the talks. This is made up of 24 Vatican officials and Catholic experts on Islam including Miguel Angel Aysuso Guixot, president of Italy’s top Islamic studies institute, the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies (PISAI).
“For us, it is important that we can have a genuine exchange of ideas with the Pope, which there will be. Benedict XVI has agreed to receive all participants at the talks and to engage with them,” Pallavicini told AKI.
There are around two billion Christians worldwide, just over half of them Catholic, and 1.3 billion Muslims.