After much anticipation, a Muslim delegation representing the “Common Word” Muslim appeal for a theological dialogue between Christianity and Islam finally came to the Vatican. The five-member delegation held two days of meetings onMarch 4-5 with the Vatican’s Council for Inter-religious Dialogue to prepare the groundwork for the meeting of representatives a larger delegation. Both sides decided to establish the “Catholic-Muslim Forum,”the start of a permanent dialogue between the two religions, and hold the first meeting in November. It will include an address by Pope Benedict. This is the joint statement on the meeting. While the highlight of the meeting and a news conference are found in the Reuters story of that day, here are some interesting additional comments from the news conference by theMuslim delegation which give useful insight into their point of view:
Prof. Dr. Aref Ali NAYED, Director, Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center, Amman, Jordan: ”By the end of the meetings, we emerged with a permanent structure that will ensure that the Catholic-Muslim engagement and dialogue continues into the future to work out issues and to work out an exchange of opinions about important matters. So, we together established something which is called theCatholic-Muslim Forum, which will be meeting every two years, one year in Rome and the subsequent meeting will be in a Muslim country, either Amman, Jordan or Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, or Indonesia and there will be alternation. This structure ensures that this is not just a momentary, exciting event but a process that begins with love of God and love of neighbour and continues to build upon this main theme that we gather around to address real issues that concern humanity today.”
NAYED in answer to a question on theassertion by some Catholic officials in the past that theological discussion with Muslims is not possible:
”I think there was a bit of a misunderstanding which was clarified through the two-day meeting. Some people said that in our previous calls for the dialogue to be theological and spiritual, some people interpreted that as escaping from social and political issues. We clarified that we did not mean it that way, what we meant was that addressing social and political issues should be rooted in the revelation of God and in the theological teachings of our two communities, that we cannot just do social-political discussion devoid of theology, that our social-political doctrine and preaching is based on our revelation and our tradition and our theology and we gave that clarification and it was well taken.”
NAYED on the long-term hopes for the Forum:
”The forum will go on for years and I’m sure that we will address more and more issues and more and more difficult issues as we go along.
NAYED on the aftermath of Pope Benedect’s Regensburgspeech:
”You see, this whole initiative is about healing. It is about healing the wounds of a very pained and in many ways destroyed world. We have cruelty all over the place, we have wars, we have famines, we have massacres, we have terrorist acts, we have torture, we have people who are kidnapped.”
”For some Muslims the (wounds of the pope’s Regensburg lecture) are not completely healed and there are some Muslims who are boycotting the Vatican, and some important Muslims and some important bodies of Muslim scholars still feel offended by that quite deeply. We, just because we are part of this initiative, does not mean that we are not hurt by this. However, we must not only dwell on the negative but also dwell on the positive. There have been some recent positive moves by the Vatican which are much appreciated.”
“We don’t like to dwell on the negative. We would like to dwell on the positive because we need hope. We need tobuild up trust rather than mistrust. We have systematically replied to the claims that were made in the German lecture, both at the individual level by various scholars and also collectively in a paper signed by 38 Muslim scholars andwe take those replies to stand because there has not been any substantial reply to such comments. We feel that scholarly discussion and claims should be met with scholarly response rather thanwith violence or agitation or anything like that. We feel that we are in a healing process. We were treated with dignity and respect these two days in Rome and our delegation was treated with the utmost courtesy and we appreciate that and we want tobuild onit.
Dr. Ibrahim KALIN, SETA Foundation, Ankara, Turkey, on how the Forum will blend in with other initiatives and whether meeting only every two years will be enough:
“You have to keep in mind that this is one of the many ongoing initiatives and channels of communications between Catholic and Muslims. This is not the first initiative nor will it be the last one. A number of initiatives are already underway... but this one will probably bewith a new impetus because it will involve the highest authorities in the Vatican and on the Muslim side it also represents a major consensus, being able to bring 138 leading Muslim scholars from every single major Muslim countries, from Africa to Asia, from the Arab world to Europe and the United States, and the number of signatories has gone up to about 240. That means there isgrowing consensus among the Muslim scholars and religious leaders to deal with this issue, so in that regard, wewill see how thingsgo, but we believe that this is a good start.”
NAYED on what they hope to achieve at the November meeting and if they are truly representative of world Islam:
“When you are in a dark cave and in a very dark place, a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel or from above is extremely important for keeping your spirits up and for getting you out of the darkness you are in. Humanity today suffers tremendously from cruelty, it suffers tremendously fromviolence, from disrespect, from torments. We need signs of hope, so when you ask what we are trying to achieve by meeting the pope and not just the pope but other religious symbols like (Russian Orthodox Patriarch) Alexiyor the Archbishop of Canterbury or the evangelical leaders of the United States, we want the sight of these leaders with our leaders together, standing together in love of God, love of neighbour, so that we have signs of hope that the religious communities can a help to get humanity out of the cruelty cycle that it is inrather than being a cause for cruelty cycle.”
”The mainstream that I’m talking about represents 95-97 percent of humans who call themselves Muslims so if we can achieve peace amongst thatcommunity and the counter part, thatitself will give great hope and will also help us deal with the issue of extremism andviolent minorities. Part of the amazing sort of negative dialectic is that byfocusing on the negative all the timewe make the negative grow. What we need is to refocus onthe positive and the goodso that thegood can grow among us”.
”Muslims and Christians make up about 55 percent of the world and there will be no peace in the world unless there is peace between these two communities.”
NAYED on thestructure of Islam:
“We believe that it is very important not to see the distribution of authority in Islam as a weakness. Somepeople say ’you have a problem, you don’t have a pope.’ On the contrary, we feel that we are very strong even though we don’t have a pope ...Islam functions perfectly without a centralised figure because of this phenomenon of distributed authority. It is God who meant it to be for us this way... “