CAIRO — In a new Muslim gesture to promote inter-faith dialogue, 138 Muslim scholars have signed a Christmas message to the Christian clergy worldwide, including Pope Benedict XVI, reported the Financial Times on Saturday, December 22.
“This is the first time a large group of Muslim scholars from across the schools greet their Christian neighbors,” said Prof. Aref Ali Nayed, one of the signatories to the New Year message.
In their message, the Muslim scholars wished fellow Christians a merry Christmas and thanked Christian leaders for responding positively to an earlier open letter signed by them to bridge the Muslim-Christian gap.
The 138 Muslim scholars and dignitaries from around the world sent in October an open letter to the world’s Christian clergy, including Pope Benedict, for dialogue based on commonalities between Islam and Christianity.
Pope Benedict responded earlier this month to the Muslim letter and invited Muslim scholars and intellectuals to a meeting at the Vatican for a dialogue.
Nayed said Muslims had always greeted Christians at Christmas throughout history.
He said that media have been giving too much focus to extremist voices while disregarding the tolerant and peaceful nature of the faith.
“This has resulted in a very skewed and distorted picture of Islam,” he said.
“Mainstream Islam has regained its voice once again.”
Signatories include Egypt’s Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa and Sheikh Ikrima Sabri, the Mufti of Al-Quds (occupied East Jerusalem).
The list also features prominent preachers including Egyptian Amr Khaled and American Sheikh Hamza Yusuf.
Secretary General of the pan-Muslim Organization of the Islamic Conference Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu is also a signatory.
The Muslim Christmas message won plaudits from Christian leaders and theologians.
Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the pope’s council for inter-religious dialogue, told the Financial Times that progress was being made on dialogue between the two faiths.
He said a preparatory meeting will be held in the spring to discuss concrete steps to promote inter-faith dialogue.
Theologian Miroslav Volf said the new Muslim initiative “contains every affirmation of sanctity of every single human life.”
The Muslim gestures aimed to ease strained ties between Muslims and Christians after Pope Benedict hinted indirectly last year that Islam was violent.
Pope Benedict stopped short of a clear apology sought by Muslims over his speech in his native Germany, but expressed regret for the reaction to his speech.
Nayed, who had taught at the Vatican’s Gregorian University, blamed some close advisers to the Pope of straining ties between the two Abrahamic faiths.
“This negativity is very dangerous and leads the Vatican to make some truly dangerous mistakes,” he said.