09/19/2006, 00.00
ISLAM – VATICAN

More calls for dialogue in a Muslim world angered by Pope

The Holy See's diplomatic offensive seems to be working. Iran's parliament hopes the Pope won't fall "in the trap" set by those seeking a clash of civilisations. More and more Islamic media detail the Pope's full speech, demand greater knowledge of each other's religion.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – As some pour over Benedict XVI's entire Regensburg speech instead of focusing on a single sentence about Muhammad taken out of context, others accept what the Pope said on Sunday, namely that what he quoted did not reflect his thought, and others even see that in the end the Holy Father did apologise. Overall, the Holy See's diplomatic offensive that has had nuncios working overtime trying to explain to the governments of Muslim countries the real meaning of what the Pope said in Regensburg is bearing fruit.

AsiaNews's sources are saying that the situation in some countries is still tense, but mass protest and incendiary statements appeared to have died down, except for terrorist groups that are still feeding the fire in order to politically exploit the situation.

In Iran, in a statement by President Ahmadinejad read to parliament and published in the semi-official ISNA news agency, Ahmad Mousavi said that it "is expected of the Pope to have a sense of his elevated place and to think about the consequences of his words " and show "respect" for Islam. Mousavi expressed "hope the Pope does not fall in the trap of those who see their benefits in war between Muslims and Christians". As for the controversial speech, the Iranian official said that the "remarks made by the Pope [. . .] were made on a poor foundation of knowledge regarding Islam".

For Saudi online paper Arab News, "[w]hatever views people may have about Pope Benedict's controversial speech at Regensburg University last week; it underlines the urgent need for greater dialogue between people of different faiths. There is a dangerous chasm of ignorance about other faiths and it affects Muslims, Christians, Jews and practitioners of other religions equally; it is dangerous because it is so easily exploited by bigots and opportunists for their own political ends."

The paper goes on to say that the "Danish cartoon row should have provided the stimulus to intensify efforts. It did not. Maybe now, in the full fury of the papal row, the message will get through. It has to. In today's global village, we cannot afford to be ignorant of each other's faiths. Ignorance breeds fear and fear breeds hate—and hate is scarcely a step away from war and conflict."

For its part, Turkish daily Hurriyet, which led the protest, now writes that "the reaction of radical Islamists to the pope's speech justifies claims that Islam is a religion of violence. But if we carefully read the speech by Pope Benedict XVI, we can see that the dialogue between cultures as well as religions will be difficult."

It adds that it "would also be wrong to demand an apology from the pope. He would say that they were the words of the Byzantine emperor. But that's not the essence of all this. It's important to emphasize the common points in a dialogue between cultures and accepting each other the way we are."

For Jordan's Al Ra'i, the Pope's Angelus, many excerpts of which it reprinted, was a step in the right direction, whilst Syria' SANA news agency briefly reported protests in some Muslim countries without any comments and without talking about any reactions in Syria itself.

Hasyim Muzadi, chairman of Indonesia's largest Islamic association Nadhlatul Ulama, said that Muslims must accept Pope Benedict XVI's "apology" for offending Muslims, saying it was "an obligation" according to Islamic teachings.

The Jakarta Post reports that for Hasyim Benedict XVI's regrets were "enough" and that any further resentment on the part of Muslims would only justify the Pope's claims. "If the rage continues, perhaps what the pope said is true," it said.

Taking its cue from Card Julius Darmaatmadja, the Bishops' Conference of Indonesia said that it hoped "this incident does not damage the religious harmony we have tried to build all this time," insisting that "the act of forgiving each other will be the basis for better dialogue in our coexistence."

A singular perspective has been voiced in an editorial article in Asia Times. The paper's editorialist claims that the Pope has called "for the conversion of the Muslims" and for this reason is dangerous. The jihad against which Benedict has spoken "is the fundamental sacrament of Islam, the Muslim cognate of the Lord's Supper in Christianity, that is, the unique form of sacrifice by which the individual believer communes with the Transcendent. [. . .] To ask Islam to become moderate, to reform, to become a peaceful religion of personal conscience is the precise equivalent of asking Catholics to abolish Mass. For this reason the Islamic world sees in Benedict XVI a danger and with "reason".

As for Benedict characterising jihad as an insult to Reason, Muslims might have responded by asking the Pope how much rationality is there in a God that sends his son to die on a cross or in a belief that during mass bread and wine can really be turned into the flesh and blood of his dead and risen son.

For the Gulf Today and the Middle East Time, the Pope's attempt to placate the anger of the Muslim world is a failure as demonstrations and al-Qaeda's threat to "conquer Rome" make clear.

Today though there have been no demonstrations but in Indonesia the Islamic defence Front is still protesting. The group complained that the Pope expressed regrets but did not apologise. For the group's spokesman, the Pope must instead apologise directly to Muslims.

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