Vatican To Launch Muslim-Christian Dialogue

A three-day meeting between Muslim and Catholic scholars begins tomorrow

While the attention of the world is on the United States presidential election tomorrow, the Vatican will be launching a ground breaking initiative on an issue no less momentous for global peace: the dialogue between Christianity and Islam.

Twenty-four Muslim leaders and scholars led by Mustafa Ceric, the Grand Mufti of Bosnia, tomorrow open three days of talks in the Vatican with the same number of Roman Catholic officials, led by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

The talks, entitled “Love of God, Love of Neighbour”, follow an initiative for interfaith dialogue, “The Common Word”, signed by over 200 Muslim leaders a year ago in the wake of violent protests in the Islamic world over cartoons lampooning the Prophet Mohammad originally published in Danish newspapers.

The idea of an encounter in Rome between representatives of the two faiths also stemmed from Pope Benedict XVI’s controversial speech at Regensburg University, his alma mater, two years ago, in which he appeared to suggest in an address on faith and reason that Islam was inherently violent and irrational by quoting a Byzantine emperor to that effect.

The Pope said he had been misunderstood. He later visited Turkey, a secular but predominantly Muslim nation, and prayed alongside the local mufti at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.

Ibrahim Kalin, the Turkish scholar who teaches Islamic studies in Washington and acts as spokesman for the Muslim delegation to Rome, said the two sides needed to develop “a crisis reaction mechanism” to deal jointly with any future tensions or “misunderstandings”.

Pope Benedict, who will address the Rome gathering, is expected to deplore prejudice against Muslim minorities and immigrants in Europe while also calling on Muslims to help defend Christian minorities persecuted or endangered in the Middle East, including Iraq.

Cardinal Tauran has also called for “reciprocity”, with Christians allowed to worship in churches in Muslim nations just as Muslims in the West have the right to worship in mosques.

The Anglican Communion has also actively promoted Christian-Muslim dialogue. Last month Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Ali Gomaa, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, agreed to strengthen links between Western and Muslim universities at a meeting at Lambeth Palace following an interfaith conference at Cambridge University.

At the weekend the Moroccan government banned an issue of the French magazine L’Express International, claiming it had insulted Islam in articles exploring the Muslim-Christian relationship and previewing the Vatican conference, under the headline The “Jesus-Mohammed Shock”.

L’Express said it had sought to be “sensitive to Muslim opinion”, and could not understand the ban. It said it had altered the front cover for the Moroccan market, showing the Prophet Mohammed with his face covered, rather than exposed, as in the French edition.