AMMAN : Keen to promote better understanding
between Christian and Muslims not only in the Middle East but worldwide
as well, Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed his “deep respect” for Muslims
during his visit on the weekend to Jordan, and for the second time
visited a mosque.
He began his May 8-15 visit to the Holy Land in Jordan.
landing in the capital, Amman, the Pope in his speech said, “My visit
to Jordan gives me a welcome opportunity to speak of my deep respect
for the Muslim community, and to pay tribute to the leadership shown by
His Majesty the King (King Abdullah II) in promoting a better
understanding of the virtues proclaimed by Islam.”
number less than 3 percent of the 6-million strong population in this
majority-Muslim country, and enjoy good relations with Muslims and full
On May 9, he visited the new Al-Hussein bin-Talal Mosque, also in Amman.
Pope surprisingly entered the mosque wearing his shoes, but so too did
Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal, a Hashemite prince and descendant
of the Prophet Muhammad, who escorted him.
To pre-empt possible
misunderstandings, Vatican spokesperson Father Federico Lombardi
hastened to explain afterward that the Pope “was ready to take off his
shoes out of respect for the holy place, but his host did not request
him to do this.”
He also sought to fend off other kinds of
criticism by stating that the Pope “did not pray in the Christian way”
in the mosque, instead he spent a moment “in respectful recollection.”
leading Jordanian Muslims hailed the mosque visit as indisputable
confirmation of Pope Benedict’s respect for Islam. They made clear that
they consider that the tensions aroused in the Muslim world by his 2006
Regensburg lecture have been put to rest. In that lecture, he quoted a
14th century Byzantine emperor who said Prophet Muhammad had brought
“things … evil and inhuman.”
The Pope’s statement of respect for
Islam also resonated in Asia. In the Philippines, according to local
press reports, Muslim leaders led by House Deputy Speaker Simeon A.
Datumanong Deputy welcomed the pontiff’s encouraging statement.
appreciate and welcome the words of Pope Benedict XVI about his ‘deep
respect’ for Islam and his call for a three-way dialogue among
Christians, Muslims and Jews,” Datumanong was quoted as saying.
Amman, Hamdi Murad, a mufti and distinguished Muslim scholar, told UCA
News that the Pope’s visit “is enough to declare that he has opened a
new page, and has closed that other one.”
“His visit is a golden
bridge to better relations between Christians and Muslims based on love
of God and love of neighbor, and working together for peace, not only
in the Middle East, but elsewhere too,” Murad said.
everyone in Jordan shared that view. Hammad Said, a leader of the
Muslim Brotherhood, the main opposition party in the country,
complained that the Pope had not properly apologized for the Regensburg
offence, while Sheik Ysef Abu Hussein, a mufti in the southern
Jordanian town of Karak, said, “We wanted a clear apology.”
Hassam, an Amman taxi driver and a Muslim, said he knew of many
ordinary Muslims who were “disappointed” that the Pope had not said he
was sorry, especially as the King and the Jordanian people had welcomed
him with such great hospitality.
Murad, however, dismissed those who still insist on a papal apology as “a tiny minority among Muslims.”
Ghazi, chief advisor to the king on religious affairs, left no doubt
that he too considered the case closed. Muslims understood the pope’s
visit as “a deliberate gesture of goodwill and mutual respect” to
Islam, he stated at a ceremony outside the mosque after the visit.
thanked the Pope for expressing “regret” after the Regensburg incident,
“for the hurt” caused to Muslims by that lecture, and said Muslims
“especially appreciated” the subsequent Vatican clarification that the
offensive words “did not reflect Your Holiness’s own opinion, but
rather was simply a citation in an academic lecture.”
him too “for many other friendly gestures and kindly actions towards
Muslims” since becoming Pope, including receiving the kings of Jordan
and Saudi Arabia, and warmly responding to the 2007 “Common Word”
Letter of 138 leading international Muslim scholars. The prince was a
key figure behind that letter.
In his speech, the
theologian-pope praised the “Common Word” letter, saying it echoed a
recurrent theme of his first encyclical: “the unbreakable bond between
love of God and love of neighbor, and the fundamental contradiction of
resorting to violence or exclusion in the name of God.”
on to alert his audience of Muslim and Christian religious leaders to
the fact that they should all be concerned when people increasingly
assert that religion by its nature “is a cause of division in our
world” and not “a builder of unity and harmony.”
He said one
cannot deny “the contradiction of tensions and divisions between the
followers of different religious traditions”, but he insisted 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 society.”
Asserting that “the
opponents of religion” aim not only “to silence” the voice of religion
but to replace it with their own, Pope Benedict urged Muslims and
Christians to combat this secularizing tendency by letting the world
see them as “worshippers of God, faithful to prayer, eager to uphold
and live by the Almighty’s decrees” and “consistent in bearing witness
to all that is true and good.”
Pope John Paul II was the first
Pope ever to visit a mosque. When he entered the Great Mosque in
Damascus, Syria, in 2001, he was already recognized by Muslims
worldwide as a friend.
When Pope Benedict XVI entered the Blue
Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey, in November 2006, the situation had
changed. His visit was considered by many as a necessary gesture to
reaffirm his respect for Islam and his commitment to dialogue with
Muslims in the wake of the Regensburg lecture.
His visit to the
Al-Hussein Mosque, however, and his forthcoming visit to the Dome of
the Rock in Jerusalem, Islam’s third holiest shrine, are something
else: They are part of a renewed, concerted effort — not only in words
but also in gestures which are more easily understood by ordinary
people — by the Pope to promote greater understanding and better
relations between Muslims and Christians not only in the Middle East,
but worldwide for the good of humanity and peace in the world.