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Vatican: Historic talks between Catholics and Muslims begin

Vatican City, 4 Nov. (AKI) – Muslim scholars began landmark talks with Catholic officials at the Vatican in Rome on Tuesday in a bid to resolve ongoing tensions between Islam and Christianity and strengthen interfaith dialogue. It is the first seminar organised by the Catholic-Muslim Forum established by the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue and Muslim officials.

The three-day meeting comes two years after Pope Benedict angered the Muslim world with a speech implying Islam was violent and irrational. In response, 138 Muslim scholars invited Christian churches to open new dialogue to promote respect and better understanding of each other’s beliefs.

According to a statement released by the Vatican, the first seminar on ‘Love of God and Love of One’s Neighbour’ began on Tuesday looking at “theological and spiritual fundamentals” and “the dignity of the human person and mutual respect”.

Twenty-four Muslim scholars led by the Grand Mufti of Bosnia, Mustafa Ceric, are attending 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.

On Wednesday the forum will focus on the theme of ‘Human Dignity and Mutual Respect’, while on Thursday participants will be received by the Pope. A public session will also be held at the Pontifical Gregorian University ahead of a concluding statement from the talks.

Milanese imam Yahya Pallavicini is part of the delegation of Muslim scholars taking part in the interfaith talks.

“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) on Monday.

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.

The Muslim delegation includes Shias and Sunnis such as 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.

French cardinal Jean Louis Tauran, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, is leading the Catholic delegation at the talks.

There are 24 Vatican officials and Catholic experts on Islam taking part in the talks, 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

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