Muslim-Catholic Forum Begins In Rome

Yesterday leading Vatican and Muslim scholars gathered for the first the Catholic-Muslim Forum, a new initiative founded to improve relations between Christianity and Islam.

The aim of the three-day seminar, which ends tomorrow, is to discuss points of unity and division in Roman Catholicism and Islam.

Interfaith relations hit an impasse two years ago following a speech by Pope Benedict XVI in which he cited a Byzantine emperor whose words appeared to imply that Islam was a violent, irrational religion. In response, 138 Muslim scholars wrote a letter inviting the Christian community to new dialogue.

Their statement, “A Common Word”, argued that both Christianity and Islam share common principles, such as love of God and neighbour.

The Rome meeting is to be the first in a series held by the permanent Catholic-Muslim forum. It was opened yesterday by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and Mustafa Ceric, the Grand Mufti of Bosnia. Cardinal Tauran hailed the meeting as “ a new chapter” in the long history of frequently tense relations between Catholicism and Islam. Just over half the world’s two billion Christians are Roman Catholics, and recently for the first time the number of Muslims worldwide – 1.3 billion – began to outnumber Roman Catholics.

Muslim scholars attending the meeting which will focus on religious harmony, include the Swiss Muslim Tariq Ramadan, Professor of Islamic Studies at Oxford, who is often dubbed “Islam’s Luther” for his controversial views. The Rt Rev Louis Sako, Chaldean bishop of Kirkuk, Northern Iraq is also attending.

Today’s meetings – which like all during the seminar are closed – will involve discussion on religious freedom.

Delegates are expected to meet Pope Benedict XVI tomorrow.