Italy: Muslim Leader Defends Pope On Inter-faith Dialogue

Roma, 24 Nov. (AKI) – Pope Benedict XVI’s praise for a new book which argues Europe should stay true to its Christian roots should not be misinterpreted, the head of the association of Italian Muslims, Ahmad Gianpiero Vincenzo, told Adnkronos International (AKI).

In comments made in the preface to Italian center-right politician Marcello Pera’s forthcoming book ‘Why We Must Call Ourselves Christian’ Benedict XVI appeared to cast doubt on the possibility of inter-religious dialogue.

The Pope also called for more discussion of the practical consequences of religious differences.

In a quotation from the preface which appeared in Italian newspapers on Sunday, Benedict said the book “explained with great clarity” why “an interreligious dialogue in the strict sense of the word is not possible.”

“The pontiff’s words in his forward to Marcello Pera’s latest book must be correctly interpreted without any manipulation by those who are seeking a clash of civilisations ” Vincenzo told AKI.

“For us Muslims, inter-religious dialogue has a fundamental role in today’s world, where more than ever before the underlying principles that religions have in common need to be underlined, starting with faith in the same God,” he said.

“We totally agree with Benedict that it is not possible to advance dialogue between religions that plays down the specific doctrines and rituals of individual faiths.

“Otherwise, we slide into the relativism of those who believe all religions are the same and that individual religious doctrines and ritual practices are no longer needed,” said Vincenzo.

Benedict XVI’s potentially controversial comments came only a couple of weeks after the Vatican hosted a landmark inter-faith conference in Rome with Muslims religious leaders and scholars, aimed at improving ties between Islam and Christianity. Members of the association of Italian Muslims attended the conference.

The conference agreed to condemn religious freedom and protect religious freedom, but did not address issues of conversion and the rights of Christians in majority Muslim countries to worship.

Ahmad said the conference had however proposed the creation of a permanent Catholic-Islamic Inter-religious Forum to resolve conflicts - at a time when these are intensifying.

“This would be an exceptional opportunity to counter the actions of fundamentalist extremists and reiterate the basic ethical values shared by the Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths – respect for life and religious traditions,” Vincenzo concluded.