VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – The top Vatican official in charge of relations with Islam on Friday welcomed an unprecedented call from 138 Muslim scholars for peace and understanding between their religions.
Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran told Vatican Radio he found the letter, released on Thursday, “very interesting,” in part because it was signed by both Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims and made numerous references to the Old and New Testaments.
The letter, addressed to Pope Benedict and other prominent Christian leaders, said finding common ground between the world’s major faiths had to go beyond polite dialogue because “the very survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake”.
Tauran, a Frenchman who heads the Vatican’s department for inter-religious dialogue, said he welcomed the fact that the letter was “not polemical” and called for a spiritual approach to inter-religious dialogue.
Such a joint letter was unprecedented in Islam, which has no central authority that speaks on behalf of all worshippers.
The list of signatories includes senior figures throughout the Middle East, Asia, Africa, Europe and North America. They represent Sunni, Shi’ite and Sufi schools of Islam.
Relations between Muslims and Christians have been strained as al Qaeda has struck around the world and as the United States and other Western countries intervened in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Pope Benedict sparked Muslim protests last year with a speech hinting Islam was violent and irrational. It prompted 38 Muslim scholars to write a letter challenging his view of Islam and accepting his call for serious Christian-Muslim dialogue.
Benedict repeatedly expressed regret for the reaction to the speech, but stopped short of a clear apology sought by Muslims.