A permanent Catholic-Muslim Forum has been set up by the Vatican following three days of talks. One indication of the mindset of some Muslims is the statement at the press conference by one Muslim leader who denounced Osama Bin Laden, leader of al Qaeda, and “neoconservatives” as “mad”. Or the statement by Ali Aref Nayed, director of the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Amman, who said “The goal is to “return to the roots of the faith—far from the image of violence too often attached to Islam. See how he tried to paint the picture that images of violence are mistakenly attached to Islam?
Personally, I see the divisions between Islam and Christianity as far too great to resolve. Islam is the final religion and is to rule over all other religions. PERIOD. How do you overcome that belief? Furthermore, there is no real religious freedom in the Middle East even though Muslim leaders may say otherwise. A study of law, constitutions and practices in Islamic countries reveals the truth. Below are excerpts from three different reports on the meeting:
In a joint statement they announced that the November “seminar” would bring together 24 religious leaders and scholars from each side. Composition of the Muslim delegation has not been finalised. A second forum is to take place after two years, possibly in the Middle East.
Theological and social issues, as well as terrorism, will be discussed at the conference which is to be called “Love of God, Love of Neighbour”.
The common statement said Pope Benedict would “receive” the participants but gave no details. Mr Nayed told reporters he hoped there would be “parity and symmetry” given to the roles of the pontiff and the Muslim leaders. One party should not be seen to dominate, he said. He expected the Forum to lead to regular, even weekly, communications between the two sides, possibly acting as a kind of ”hotline” to try to defuse crises, such as the Danish cartoon controversy.
Nayed also said he understood that Pope Benedict was concerned about restrictions on religious freedom faced by Christians in some majority Muslim countries, but he hoped the Catholic-Muslim Forum would be a place where leaders from both sides could strengthen their commitment to religious freedom for all people without having the meeting turn into an exchange of “a list of grievances.”
In addition to the formation of the Catholic-Muslim Forum, the Common Word initiative has led to plans for major Christian-Muslim meetings in Great Britain and the United States.
Last week Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the Pontifical Council for Inter Religious Dialogue, attended an inter-faithconference in Cairo sponsored by Al Azhar University, seen as the intellectual centre of Sunni Islam. In a gesture toward Muslim sensitivities he issued a joint statement with Sheikh Abdel Fattah Alaam, chairman of the Al-Azhar Dialogue Committee, “strongly condemning” the “re-publication of offensive cartoons and the rising number of attacks against Islam and its Prophet”.
…Asked why the joint document had failed to call on Islamic rulers to make a reciprocal gesture by respecting the religious beliefs and rights of Christians in the Middle East, Father Andrea Pacini, a Vatican expert on Islam, said the issue was “delicate”. He said the picture was “mixed”, with some Arab countries restricting or forbidding Christian worship but others allowing the construction of new churches.
…Ali Aref Nayed said he realised that Pope Benedict was exercised about restrictions on religious freedom faced by Christians in Muslim countries, but said he hoped the Catholic-Muslim Forum would not turn into “an exchange of grievances”. It should instead be a gathering in which both sides could support religious freedom “for all people”.
CNS, FT.com and Timesonline