Ideological manipulation of religion is real catalyst for tension and division – Pope

AMMAN – Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday said Muslims and Christians “must strive to be known and recognised… as merciful and compassionate and ever mindful of the common origin and dignity of all human persons” as “the burden of our common history is so often marked by misunderstanding”.

“It is often ideological manipulation of religion sometimes for political ends that is the real catalyst for tension and division and at times, even violence in society,” said the Pope, whose remarks in a 2006 lecture angered Muslims across the world.

In the lecture at a German university, he quoted a Byzantine emperor, who described teachings of the Prophet Mohammad as “evil and inhuman”.

The Pope, the leader of 1.1 billion Catholics across the world, also called on Muslims and Christians to strive to be known “as worshippers of God faithful to prayer”, in a speech at King Hussein Ben Talal Mosque, the third mosque visited by a pontiff in history.

“I firmly believe that Christians and Muslims can embrace, particularly through our respective contributions to learning and scholarship and public service,” the Pope told the audience, including HRH Prince Ghazi, the King’s personal envoy and special adviser, key Muslim and Christian leaders, diplomats and senior officials.

Welcoming the Pontiff, Prince Ghazi noted Prophet Mohammad “is completely and entirely different from the historical depictions of him in the West since St. John of Damascus”.

“These distorted depictions by those who either do not know Arabic or the Holy Koran and the Hadith, or who do not understand the historical and cultural context of the Prophet’s life … are unfortunately responsible for much historical and cultural tension between Christians and Muslims,” said the Prince.

Prince Ghazi thanked the Pope for expressing “regret” after the Regensburg lecture of 2006 for the hurt caused to Muslims, adding that Muslims also especially appreciated the clarification by the Vatican that the lecture “did not reflect Your Holiness’ own opinion, but rather was simply a citation in an academic lecture”.

In his speech, the Pope also highlighted Jordan’s efforts in inter-religious dialogue, referring to the Amman Message and the “Common Word Between Us and You” open letter.

The initiative was launched on October 13, 2007 as an open letter signed by 138 leading Muslim scholars and intellectuals to the leaders of Christian churches and denominations all over the world, including the Pope.

The initiative seeks to provide common ground for several organisations and individuals working in the area of interfaith dialogue around the world.

“Such initiatives clearly lead to greater reciprocal knowledge and they foster a growing respect both for what we hold in common and for what we understand differently,” the Pope said.

“Thus, they should prompt Christians and Muslims to probe even more deeply the essential relationship between God and his world so that together we may strive to ensure that society resonates in harmony with the divine order,” he added.

Several Muslims scholars present at the mosque said the Pope’s visit to the Kingdom and his remarks open a new chapter in the relationship between Muslims and Christians.

“The Pope’s visit to the mosque, speeches he delivered and respect he has shown to Islam and the Muslims are all clear indicators that the past is over,” Muslim Scholar Hamdi Murad told The Jordan Times.

“A new chapter has started and a new bridge of dialogue between the Muslims and the Christians has started as well with the visit,” Murad added.

Abdul Nasser Abul Bassal, president of the International Islamic University in Jordan, said the visit laid the foundation for a new chapter with the Christian world, stressing its significance, which he said should be utilised to serve the regional and global issues.