03/13/2023, 00.00
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Muslim leader: with Pope Francis, 'clear and transparent' Islamic-Christian relationship

by Dario Salvi

Sultan Al Remeithi, former Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Elders, recounts the pontificate from an Islamic perspective. The signing of the document on 'Fraternity', the affirmation of the values of Christianity against materialism, the trips to Muslim countries 'transcend dialogue'. The 'challenges' to be faced and the 'voice of reason' against extremism and terrorism.

Milan (AsiaNews) - Francis enjoys "great admiration" in the Islamic world for his "firm and profound faith in human brotherhood" and for his "constant and lasting support" for "conflict resolution" in the world, especially "in developing nations".

This was emphasised to AsiaNews by Sultan Al Remeithi, former secretary general of the Muslim Council of Elders and member of the Higher Committee of the Human Fraternity, describing the relationship between the Argentine pope and the Muslim world during the decade of his pontificate.

Relations between Christians and Muslims, he continued, "have become much clearer and more transparent since 2013", because the Islamic world "has begun to clearly distinguish between the spirituality and values of Christianity and the moral decay of materialistic modern [Western] societies".

One of the elements that have characterised the pontificate of the Argentine pope, who ascended the throne of Peter on 13 March 10 years ago, is also the relationship with the Sunni (through a privileged dialogue with the Imam of al-Azhar) and Shia Muslim world, after the years of tension and incomprehension of the papacy of Benedict XVI, who had also opened up new spaces for dialogue with Islam.

There are three key moments in the decade: the signing of the document on 'Fraternity' during the historic trip to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 2019; the apostolic trip to Iraq, the first by Pope Francis after Covid, and the meeting with Ayatollah al-Sistani in Najaf; the visit to Bahrain, in the Apostolic Vicariate of North Arabia in November last year, in which he reaffirmed the common commitment to dialogue, religious freedom and a shared commitment to the protection of creation and, above all, the fight against violence cloaked in faith. 

Sultan Al Remeithi served as secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Elders, an influential institution based in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and chaired by the Imam of al-Azhar Ahmed al-Tayyib.

Founded on 18 July 2014 to 'promote peace in Muslim communities' and 'defuse conflicts' as the presentation document explains, it brings together Muslim sages, legal experts, dignitaries 'known for their wisdom, sense of justice, independence and moderation'.

One of the objectives is also to counter "confessional violence and sectarianism", a fundamental task for an association born at a time when the Islamic State (IS, formerly Isis) with its ideology based on terror and death came to occupy almost half the territories of Iraq and Syria. 

Al Remeithi emphasises, "the Catholic Church has long-participated in interfaith dialogue through the Dicastery of Interriligious Dialogue. Since becoming Pontiff, Pope Francis has made sure to visit various nations in the Middle East with predominantly Muslim populations, which transcends dialogue as an extension of goodwill and interaction. This has no doubt been a very positive step in strengthening dialogue and nurturing goodwill between future generations." 

Dialogue in general, warns the former secretary, requires "requires patience and resolve for results on the ground to be clearly seen, which is something that was highlighted in Pope Francis' encyclical 'Fratelli Tutti'. The Middle East has long been a melting pot for conflict and all concerned parties must work together in order to bring full-fledged peace to the region."

Consolidating the relationship between the pope and the Islamic world are also, and above all, the three apostolic trips to nations with a Muslim majority, from the Emirates to Bahrain via Iraq, and which represented a first for a pontiff. Journeys prepared over time and inspired by the work of dialogue and encounter of the saint of Assisi whose name the pontiff bears.

"There is no doubt," says Sultan Al Remeithi, that these three historic visits have been significant moments in the history of Christian-Muslim relations. In all the abovementioned visits, Pope Francis spoke clearly and sincerely about challenges facing the region while calling for the voice of reason to prevail. Likewise, his calls to the Arab world to support Lebanon in its current crisis has shown his genuine and deep love for the region and its people.".

Religions "encourage" people to show "love and respect" for the world they live in, he concluded, "these values must prevail in societies around the world for interfaith dialogue to succeed and for any outstanding conflicts to be resolved."


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