Pope Benedict XVI has visited a mosque in Jordan in an effort to heal a rift
between the Vatican and the Muslim world, appealing to the “common
history” of Islam and Christianity.
In an unprecedented speech at a mosque in the Jordanian capital Amman, the
Pope made no symbolic gestures of unity, such as praying with his Muslim
hosts or even removing his shoes as he entered the prayer hall.
Nor did he make reference to the criticism he continues to receive for quoting
a text three years ago which described aspects of Islam as “evil and
But he referred to God by the common Muslim epithets, “the compassionate
and merciful”, and said that both creeds should unite to in the face of
opponents of religion who “seek to silence its voice”.
“The contradiction of tensions and divisions between the followers of
different religious traditions, sadly, cannot be denied,” he told an
audience of Muslim and Christian leaders, diplomats and government
ministers. “However, is it not also the case that often it is the
ideological manipulation of religion, sometimes for political ends, that is
the real catalyst for tension and division, and at times even violence in
The Pope’s tour of Jordan, Israel and West Bank remains deeply controversial
among both Muslims and Jews, while even some Palestinian Christians have
said that he should not be visiting Israel so soon after the invasion of
In Jordan, the Muslim Brotherhood, the main Islamist organisation which has
six members of parliament, has boycotted the tour, saying that the Pope has
not apologised sufficiently for his address at Regensburg, Germany, in 2006,
which quoted medieval hostility to the Prophet Mohammed.
At the King Hussein Mosque, though, the cousin and principal religious adviser
to King Abdullah, Prince Ghazi, agreed that the dispute should be put in the
“I must also thank Your Holiness for the ‘regret’ you expressed after the
Regensburg lecture,” he said. “Muslims also especially appreciated
the clarification by the Vatican that what was said in the Regensburg
lecture did not reflect Your Holiness’s own opinion.”
The Pope himself looked on impassively as he listened. He has been met in
Jordan without the enthusiasm that greeted his predecessor, Pope John Paul
II, who made a similar, ground-breaking tour in 2000.
While Pope John Paul II was filmed praying as he became the first Pontiff to
enter a mosque, the Umayyed Mosque in Damascus, in 2001, Pope Benedict made
no such gesture.
His spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, later said that he had paused for a
moment of silent meditation, but had not “prayed in a Christian sense”.
The two sides overcame one diplomatic obstacle: whether he would remove his
shoes. Fr Lombardi said the visiting party, including the Pope, had been
prepared to remove their shoes, but that their hosts had laid down a mat in
such a way that this did not prove necessary.
Earlier, the Pope visited Mount Nebo, the spot from which Moses is first
supposed to have set eyes upon the Holy Land, while tomorrow he will hold a
mass for Jordan’s Christian community, about three per cent of the
population of seven million.
On Monday, he travels on to Israel, where he will visit the Western Wall, the
Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. He will
also have to face continued criticism over his attitude to the Nazi past of
his German homeland.
In particular, he has defended the war-time Pope Pius XII, regarded by Israel
as not having done enough to protect the Jews of Europe from the Holocaust.