Islamic prince to attend Pope’s interfaith meeting in Assisi

Ghazi, the royal family’s Jordanian exponent who in 2007 promoted the letter sent by 138 Muslim wise men advocating dialogue with Christians, is to take part in an interfaith dialogue convened by Benedict XVI due to take place next October.

Jordanian Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal - promoter in 2007 of the letter of 138 Muslim scholars for dialogue with Christians – will attend the next interfaith meeting convened by Pope Benedict XVI due to take place on 27 October in Assisi. It will therefore be one of the Islamic leaders taking part in the event on the occasion of the twenty-five years since the first day of prayer of the Religions for Peace, commissioned by Pope John Paul II in 1986. The decision was announced by the Muslim dignitary during a recent meeting in Amman with the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Fouad Twal.

Like all members of the Hashemite royal family, Ghazi – a cousin of the King of Jordan Abdallah II – boasts the title of a direct descendant of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam. But beyond his family tree, what counts above all is the commitment to inter-religious dialogue implemented in recent years through the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought in Amman, the Islamic institute now directed by the forty-four year old prince with a degree in literature and philosophy from Princeton and Cambridge.

Already in 2006 - the day after the controversy erupted around the Regensburg speech – Ghazi had distinguished himself by writing his first open letter to Benedict XVI in which, instead of attacking him, he explained his point of view on what the relationship between faith and reason meant to Muslims, referring back to the Pope’s speech. A year later, at the end of Ramadan in 2007, “A Common Word” arrived (“A common word between us and you”), signed by 138 well known Islamic figures from around the world. This document put across for the first time the need for the dialogue between Christians and Muslims to find common ground in the commandments about the love of God and neighbors.

That text created an unprecedented echo in the West and is still the reference point of all academic initiatives to do with Christian-Muslim dialogue, although the same can be said about its spread in Muslim countries. From the beginning, the Vatican welcomed with open arms: in November 2008 a workshop was held in Rome between a small group of Islamist parties and the Catholic delegation, which ended with a joint statement. It is no coincidence – during the trip in May 2009 that brought him to the Holy Land – that Pope Benedict XVI made ​​a stop at the mosque in Amman, where it was to welcome the Prince Ghazi. The Prince even went on to promote a new initiative in the UN, on behalf of his country: a world interfaith harmony week, which the General Assembly of the United Nations established officially in 2011 and is celebrated every year during the first week of February.

Prince Ghazi’s initiatives certainly do not lack political importance. In recent years he has tried to make Jordan a key player in the religious dialogue between Islam and the West (and sometimes in competition with the Saudis). And his work looks to be all the more crucial as the Hashemite monarchy try to weather the storm that has been afflicting the Middle East for weeks now. But the announcement of his intention to attend the meeting in Assisi whatever happens, confirms the proximity between Ghazi, the philosopher-prince and the kind of dialogue with the Islamic world proposed by Pope Ratzinger.

It is not by chance that – according to the report published on the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem’s website, about the meeting with Fouad Twal – in the face-to-face meeting which took place in Amman, one other very important point was discussed: the work on the church of Wadi al Kharrar which according to ancient tradition corresponds to the location of Bethany Beyond the Jordan, the place where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. A site that Amman is using as a Christian pilgrimage destination. It is also the place where two years ago, Pope Benedict XVI laid down the first stone for the building of the new church. The site will be officially inaugurated in November, that is, immediately after the meeting in Assisi. He is also going to be present in Jordan for a visit by an official Vatican delegation.