Pope's Dialogue Apathy Upsets Muslims

PARIS — Several Muslim scholars are disappointed at the Vatican’s apathetic response to an earlier appeal for a high-level dialogue to bridge the Muslim-Christian gap, which is already supported by several non-Catholic leaders.

“Muslims are still awaiting a proper response from His Holiness Pope Benedict,” said a new letter, reportedly signed by the same 138 signatories of the first, cited by Reuters.

“We call upon him to embrace the initiative that our scholars made with the same good will that has already marked its reception by so many Christians.”

Aref Ali Nayed, a senior advisor to the Cambridge Interfaith Program and one the signatories, said their stance had been conveyed to the pontiff in person.

Sheikh Izzeldine Ibrahim, a cultural adviser to the United Arab Emirates government, personally expressed the disappointment to the pope on Sunday, October 21, over a lunch the Vatican hosted for religious leaders attending a three-day inter-faith meeting in the southern Italian port city of Naples.

Earlier this month, the 138 Muslim scholars addressed an open letter to the world’s Christian clergy, including Pope Benedict XVI.

Themed “A Common Word Between Us and You”, the 29-page letter offers interpretation from the Noble Qur’an and the Bible on similarities between the two religions.

The Muslim initiative was backed by a host of non-Catholic leaders including Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, Lutheran World Federation head Bishop Mark Hanson, World Council of Churches head Rev.Samuel Kobia, and US Presbyterian Church head Clifton Kirkpatrick as well as several leading theologians, including Catholics.

Different Views

The new letter also criticized remarks by the Vatican’s top official for inter-faith relations, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, that a serious theological dialogue with Muslims would not be possible as long as they continue to believe that the Qur’an is the literal word of God.

“This attitude, it seems to Muslims, misses the very point of dialogue,” it read.

“Dialogue is by definition between people of different views, not people of the same view.

“Dialogue is not about imposing one’s views on the other side, nor deciding oneself what the other side is and is not capable of, nor even of what the other side believes.”

The new letter also said the Vatican’s annual message to Muslims for ‘Eid Al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, had been made “polemical of late”.

Once devoted mostly to religious themes, the messages last year and this year included calls for different religions to fight terrorism and violence.

Last year, the pope angered Muslims worldwide in speech in which he hinted that Islam was violent and irrational.

Benedict expressed regret for the reaction to his speech, but stopped short of a clear apology sought by Muslims.

The International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS) has since been boycotting the Vatican.