A group of Muslim scholars who have called for greater dialogue with Christians have started two days of talks with Vatican officials to prepare for an official audience with Pope Benedict XVI.
The delegation wrote to the pope and other Christian leaders last year urging both religions to develop their common ground of belief in one God.
Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, who heads the Vatican’s pontifical council for inter-religious dialogue, is hosting the meeting in order to lay the groundwork for the papal audience which is expected sometime later this year.
Tauran said the meeting, which Benedict proposed as part of his official response to the Muslims’ letter, could start a “historic” dialogue between the faiths.
The Vatican had welcomed the Muslim letter as an encouraging sign, eager to improve relations ever since the pope angered many in the Muslim world with a 2006 speech about Islam and violence.
In the speech, the pope cited a medieval text that characterised some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as “evil and inhuman”.
The pope later said he was “deeply sorry” over the reactions to his remarks and that they did not reflect his own opinions.
In the letter to the pope and other Christian leaders, the Muslim scholars, muftis and intellectuals drew parallels between Islam and Christianity and their common focus on love for God and love for one’s neighbour.
They also noted that such a focus is found in Judaism.
“As Muslims and in obedience to the Holy Quran, we ask Christians to come together with us on the common essentials of our two religions,” the letter said.
“Let this common ground be the basis of all future interfaith dialogue between us.”
Noting that Christians and Muslims make up an estimated 55 per cent of the world population, the scholars concluded that improving relations would be the best way to bring peace to the world.