Benedict to meet Muslim ambassadors today

As Benedict XVI prepares to meet Muslim ambassadors to the Holy See today, a number of Asian Muslim leaders have came out in support of the Pope on the eve of Ramadan, accepting his apology and call for dialogue.

Reuters reports that invitations were sent to Vatican ambassadors from Islamic countries and to Italian Islamic leaders for today's meeting at the Pope's summer palace in Castel Gandolfo, near Rome.

"The purpose of this meeting is to relaunch dialogue with the Islamic world," said a senior Vatican official.

Many Muslim leaders have welcomed the timely initiative.

"We ... are definitely going to participate," said Iran's deputy ambassador to the Holy See, Ahmad Faihma. "This is a positive signal from the Vatican. I know that this will improve relations with the Islamic world."

"This meeting will be very important, especially in these days, to try to stop every action that is not good," said Fathi Abuabed at the Arab League's Vatican mission.

Iraq's Vatican envoy, Albert Edward Ishmail Yelda, said he hoped there would be an "exchange of views" at the meeting today rather than just a papal speech.

"I hope we'll be able to put an end to the misunderstanding between the Vatican and Islamic and Arab nations," he said.

However, Turkey's religious affairs director Ali Bardakoglu urged the Pope not to use the meeting just to reiterate that he was misunderstood. He told CNN Turk that taking this line "comes near to accusing people of blindness in their perceptions".

But Mr Bardakoglu would consider meeting if Benedict's planned trip to Turkey in November goes ahead.

In Afghanistan, where 10 people died in February in protests against cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in European papers, scholars called the remarks "psychological warfare" on Islam.

"He ignorantly hurt the hearts of one and a half billion Muslims," Enayatullah Baleegh, senior cleric at Kabul's main Blue Mosque, said at Friday prayers. Some members of the congregation chanted "Death to the Pope!"

In Malaysia about 300 Muslims waved anti-Pope banners at a peaceful rally and supporters of the opposition Islamic party PAS demanded the Pope's resignation.

European Commission president disappointed EU leaders did not defend Pope

Also in Europe, the Age reports that the president of the European Commission has expressed disappointment that European leaders failed to defend the Pope over his remarks about Islam.

Jose Manuel Barroso said that while Europe must take the threat of Islamic extremists "very seriously", it must not confuse tolerance with "a form of political correctness" that puts others' values above its own.

"I was disappointed that there weren't more European leaders who said, 'Of course the Pope has the right to express his point of view'," Barroso was quoted as saying in Germany's Welt am Sonntag weekly on Sunday.

"We must defend our values."

Mr Barroso also urged Europeans to encourage moderate Islamic leaders to take a stronger stance against the extremists.

"The problem is not the comments of the Pope, but the reaction of the extremists," Barroso said.

Muslims back Pope

In another sign of improved relations, Filipino Muslim leaders yesterday signed a manifesto expressing their support for Benedict XVI and their acceptance of his personal apology for the speech, according to the Philippine Star.

According to a spokesperson, Romulo Macalintal, the leaders wanted to make public their position as a sign of peace and unity. "(This is) one way of showing our sympathy and sincere concern for our Pope," he said.

Macalintal said the leaders came up with the manifesto after consulting their religious leaders. The manifesto was signed on the eve of Islam's holy month of Ramadan.

"It is our honest belief that it was never the intention of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to hurt or offend the feelings of Muslims like us," the leaders noted.

The Filipino Muslim leaders also manifested their support for "further inter-faith dialogue instead of recriminations so that we can attain peace that Islam and Christianity like to obtain all over the world."

"A man of peace like Pope Benedict XVI deserves the full support of all peace-loving people and community and we assure His Holiness that the Filipino Muslims, like the rest of the Muslim people in the world, know how to forgive and give a chance to whoever might have offended us," they added.

UCA News also reports that Pakistani Christians and Muslims have issued a joint press release on the controversy.

Six ulama (Islamic scholars) and four Catholic representatives signed the statement. Bishop Joseph Coutts of Faisalabad, Dominican Fr Pascal Paulus, lawyer Khaliq Tahir and Fr Aftab James Paul, in charge of interfaith dialogue and ecumenism for Faisalabad diocese, signed for Catholics.

The press statement asserts that the Pope had no intention of insulting Islam or Prophet Muhammad.

It blames some media for "playing a negative role" in reporting the Pope's speech and for not considering "the good relations the Catholic Church has" with Muslims and people of all religions.

The signatories urged the people to continue living in peace and harmony without being led astray by irresponsible media. They agreed to issue the original text of the Pope's lecture in the local press.

Pope Benedict has said he was "deeply sorry" for the reactions "to a few passages" in the address he gave on 12 September at the University of Regensburg in Germany.

Much media attention has focused on the quote the Pope attributed to a 14th-century Byzantine emperor: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

Pope did not read whole book he quoted

Meanwhile, interest in the Pope's remarks has also sent journalist back to the source he quoted, a book by Adel-Theodore Khoury entitled A Debate with a Muslim.

According to Zaman Online, the Pope said that he quoted the parts in question to prompt dialogue among religions.

Yet, the author of the book, Adel-Theodore Khoury, said that these expressions were "an obstacle against dialogue".

The book, examined by Zaman, deals with a debate between Byzantine Emperor Manuel Paleologue II and an Islamic cleric.

While the Byzantine emperor utters remarks against Islam, the Islamic counters his remarks. He said that the religions brought by Jesus and Moses were distorted later on and the actual irrationality was in Manuel's belief.

Moreover, the book's author, Adel-Theodore Khoury also severely criticises the remarks of the emperor quoted by the Pope.

Zaman found the book that the Pope made a quote from the dusty shelves of the Sorbonne University Library.

Khoury's book is based on his 1966 thesis at the University of Lyon which examines the debates on Christianity and Islam that Emperor Manuel had with an Islamic cleric in Ankara.

Khoury thought it was impossible to dialogue unless one tried to understand the opposing party. The only way is to be open to the other person.

He said that the only common ground on which people could come together was reason; however, Manuel and the Islamic cleric were using theological reason.

He continued: "What is needed is a common agreement and a common language," adding that application of the mind would otherwise be an "illusion", a trap which Manuel fell into, Zaman concludes.

Photo: Adel-Theodore Khoury

Pope sets up meeting to calm tensions over speech
Europe blasted for not defending Pope
Benedict XVI to visit Benedict XV (Hurriyet, 24/9/06)
Filipino Muslims support Benedict (Philippine Star, 24/9/06)
Christians, Muslims issue joint statement on Pope's controversial speech (Indian Catholic, 22/9/06)
Pope Didn't Read the Whole Book he Quoted (Zaman Online, 24/9/06)

No winners in Benedict polemic, says Melkite archbishop (CathNews, 22/9/06)
Sorry Benedict reiterates "deep respect" for Islam (CathNews, 21/9/06)
World leaders bid to hose down flames of Benedict controversy (CathNews, 20/9/06)
Australia's moderate Muslims a sign of hope, Pell says (CathNews, 19/9/06)
Benedict "deeply sorry" for Muslim outrage but violence continues (CathNews, 18/9/09)
Benedict tells priests to serve Christ and be His voice (CathNews, 15/9/06)
Religious violence contrary to God's nature, Pope says (CathNews, 14/9/06)
No chance of world without reason, says Benedict (CathNews, 13/9/06)
Benedict says learn Gospel from Africa and Asia (CathNews, 11/9/06)
Benedict heads home to Bavaria, Germany (CathNews, 8/9/06)

25 Sep 2006