Visiting Mosque, Pope Says Believing In God Means Respecting Others

AMMAN, Jordan (CNS) — To believe in God is to pray, to be merciful and compassionate, to witness to the truth and to uphold the dignity of every person, Pope Benedict XVI said after visiting a monumental new mosque in Amman.

Acknowledging that much of the history of Christian-Muslim relations has been marked by misunderstanding and tension, the pope said it is faith that calls members of both communities to respect each other and join together to promote the common good.

The pope visited the King Hussein Mosque in Amman May 9, the second day of his eight-day trip to the Holy Land. It was his second visit as pope to a mosque; he made history in 2006 when he entered the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey, and stood praying next to the imam.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told reporters in Amman, “It would not be precise to say the pope prayed in the mosque (today), but it would be right to say he paused in respectful meditation in a place where numerous people also pray and meditate before God.”

“The pope was prepared to take off his shoes” out of respect for the Muslim custom, Father Lombardi said, but he was not asked to do so because the Jordanians had unrolled a thick cloth for their guests to walk on.

Pope Benedict said the new mosque, with its copper-topped dome and four copper-topped minarets, and other places of worship “stand out like jewels across the earth’s surface. From the ancient to the modern, the magnificent to the humble, they all point to the divine, to the Transcendent One, to the Almighty.”

Entering a place of worship, people turn their minds to God and recognize that they are his creatures, the pope told the Muslim clerics and scholars, members of the diplomatic corps and representatives of Jordanian universities present for his speech.

The common experience of knowing God is the creator and lord of all, he said, should lead all believers to witness to that knowledge by upholding the most noble aspects of their faith and by resisting all attempts to manipulate faith for political or ideological reasons.

“We cannot fail to be concerned that today, with increasing insistency, some maintain that religion fails in its claim to be by nature a builder of unity and harmony, an expression of communion between persons and with God,” the pope said.

Many people in the world see religion purely as a motive of division, a concern that leads them to resist any attempt to allow the faith of an individual or group to influence public life and public policies, he said.

A central point of the pope’s speech was the need to “cultivate for the good, in the context of faith and truth, the vast potential of human reason.”

Reason is a gift of God, he said, and when people allow their intellectual capacities to be purified by faith, it helps them see beyond their own little worlds and their own interests.

“In this way, human reason is emboldened to pursue its noble purpose of serving mankind, giving expression to our deepest common aspirations and extending, rather than manipulating or confining, public debate,” Pope Benedict said.

When faith and reason inform each other, he said, society is protected from “the excesses of the unbridled ego which tend to absolutize the finite and eclipse the infinite; it ensures that freedom is exercised hand in hand with truth, and it adorns culture with insights concerning all that is true, good and beautiful.”

The relationship between faith and reason also was the central point in the pope’s 2006 talk at the University of Regensburg, Germany, a speech that offended many Muslims because it included a quotation from a medieval Byzantine emperor, who said the prophet Mohammed had brought “things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith.” The pope afterward clarified that he was not endorsing the emperor’s words.

Although the pope did not refer back to the Regensburg speech in his address, his official host at the Jordanian mosque, Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal, thanked the pope for expressing regret “for the hurt caused by this lecture.”

“Of course, Muslims know that nothing that can be said or done in this world can harm the prophet” Mohammed, the prince said, “but Muslims were nevertheless hurt because of their love for the prophet.”

The Mohammed known, loved and emulated by Muslims “is completely and entirely different” from the figure often presented in the West, he said.

“It is incumbent upon Muslims to explain the prophet’s example above all with deeds of virtue, charity, piety and good will,” Prince Ghazi said.

The prince welcomed the pope as the spiritual leader of the Catholic Church, a defender of moral values and as a promoter of ecumenical and interfaith dialogue.

“But most of all, we receive Your Holiness as a simple pilgrim of peace who comes in humility and gentleness to pray where Jesus Christ the Messiah, peace be upon him, prayed and was baptized and began his mission 2,000 years ago,” he said.

The prince, who was instrumental in drafting and promoting the 2007 Common Word declaration of 138 Muslim scholars, told the pope that he and many other Muslim scholars were prepared to continue dialogue with the Catholic Church and find ways to serve humanity together.

Pope Benedict expressed his hope that “reason, ennobled and humbled by the grandeur of God’s truth” would shape the life and institutions of Jordan so the people would flourish in peace.

At a press conference after the mosque visit, Father Lombardi said he would not agree that Pope Benedict had changed his mind about Islam, but rather had moved forward in a process of learning about Islam by meeting and speaking with Muslims.

“Sure, there has been a process, progress,” Father Lombardi said.

Nawal Al Faoury, a member of the Jordanian Senate who attended the talk, said the pope’s visit was positive for “dialogue and being together and common understanding about a lot of issues.”

She said that, like the prince, she was satisfied that the pope did not mean to offend Muslims with his Regensburg speech, “and I think we have to forgive ourselves and others … because we do want to live in peace all over the world.”

Hamdi Murad, a professor of religious studies at the University of Jordan, said, “I am sure his visit opened a new, pure and white page for relations between Muslims and Christians.

“This also has closed that page that had some — if we can say – misunderstanding between Muslims and Christians. So we have many hopes and wishes for the future after this visit,” Murad added.

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Editors: Contributing to this story was Doreen Abi Raad in Amman.