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August 13th, 2013

Pope Pens Personal Message to Muslims


Muslim worshippers attend Friday prayers during Ramadan at mosque in Pakistan. (CNS photo/Mohsin Raza, Reuters)

Muslim worshippers attend Friday prayers during Ramadan at mosque in Pakistan. (CNS photo/Mohsin Raza, Reuters)

When Pope Benedict XVI resigned from the papacy earlier this year, I wrote about the ways in which the new pope could bridge the gap between the Muslim and Catholic worlds. This is not to embellish that these two enormous masses of people are antithetically aligned toward one another. That is certainly not the case. But over the years the Muslim world has seen Church leadership as an antagonizing force that does not respect it. For example, the most recent episode took place in 2006. Pope Benedict XVI angered Muslims worldwide when he quoted a Byzantine emperor who linked Islam and violence in a lecture at the University of Regensburg, Germany. The speech came just a year after the Danish cartoon controversy that sparked violent demonstrations throughout the Muslim world. And although the pontiff later apologized and even made a visit to Turkey, the damage had already been done.

So, when Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope Francis, Muslims around the world waited for a fresh start. And a fresh start has been initiated with a message of respect for Muslims during this holy time. Last week, the pope personally signed the Holy See message sending greetings to Muslims at the end of Ramadan in anticipation of the Eid holiday. The message called for mutual respect between Christianity and Islam through education. Though the act is not the first of its kind, it does make an impression on Muslims worldwide. Pope Francis is taking special notice of the Muslim world.

This particular gesture by Pope Francis has not been as widely publicized as his recent pronouncements about gay Catholics or women in the Church, but it nonetheless has received positive feedback. In Saudi Arabia, the King returned the welcome message including “a dispensation for Catholics to practice privately in Saudi Arabia and promised an end to their religious harassment.”

The election of Pope Francis is looking to be good for all faiths. The pontiff has not only extended his hands toward Muslim communities, but to all peoples of different faiths. His message last Friday was a message of mutual respect for all, irrespective of religion, gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. This marks a turning point. This is the 21st century and our world has become hyper-globalized. That means strategies to showcase faith will have to be recalibrated in order to make a real impact.

The pope’s Eid message is a much-needed stepping stone. It paves the way to a future of open dialogue and interfaith relations. As part of the American Muslim community, I am optimistic. This gesture will also reinvigorate our own interfaith work — something I think has lost traction in recent years. It is an opportunity to interact with our neighbors at a deeper level and it should lead us further down the path of fellowship and compassion.

Pope Francis may have also done something more significant through this message of welcome. By opening the doors to more possibilities for interfaith dialogue, he might inspire Islamic leaders and thinkers to do the same. Muslim scholars have had to grapple with new questions and scenarios in today’s world. This might be a chance for leaders of both faiths to broaden their horizons and perhaps become more inclusive of the faithful. As Pope Francis said about gay priests, “Who am I to judge?” I think that message will have far-reaching implications in how faith and modernity converge.

The Author : Reem Nasr
Reem Nasr is a graduate of New York University, where she majored in journalism and Middle Eastern studies. She is of Egyptian and Lebanese descent and is interested in affairs of the Muslim American communities. Fluent in English and Arabic, she hopes to continue her journalistic work in the United States and abroad. She is currently pursuing a Master’s degree at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Brian Hurta

    I respect members of all religions, so long as they respect my belief that Catholicism is the One True Faith, and the fullness of truth.

    There are irreconcilable differences between Christianity and Islam. (Qur’an 5:72 “They are surely infidels who say; ‘God is the Christ, the Messiah, the son of Mary.”) and Muslims are taught to hate Christians. (Qur’an 3.28 Let not the believers take the unbelievers for friends rather than believers; and whoever does this, he shall have nothing of (the guardianship of) Allah, but you should guard yourselves against them, guarding carefully.”)

    The important point is to find a way to live side by side without killing or oppressing each other. But as long as churches (and Christians) are burning in Egypt, Syria, Pakistan, Nigeria, etc. we are a long way from that goal.

    • kerrant

      Are you willing to abide by the same condition of respect that you would expect from the members of other religions? Are you willing to respect their own belief that “theirs” is the One True Faith, and the Fullness of Truth?

      Do you see how framing your preconditions for “respect” around such loaded adjectives might be problematic? It’s rather like me saying: Brian, I am willing to have a debate with you, as long as you respect that my thoughts, perspectives, and arguments are generally superior to your own. Doesn’t seem like a very promising start to a conversation, does it?

      • Brian Hurta

        The answer is yes, I would respect their belief that their faith is true. And I would respect this much more than some weak platitude such as, “We all worship the same God,” or “All religions believe in the goodness of man.”

        In your example – of course you believe your thoughts and arguments are superior. Why would you be arguing for what you believe to be inferior points?

  • Gerry Peters

    As a Catholic, I am so proud that this pope is already emerging as a true peace maker and his reach out to Muslims is wonderful. It’s so important to combat this hysteria against Muslims in the US and worldwide. Most of the billion Muslims in the world are are peace loving people with the same hopes and dreams that most of us share. There are radical fundamentalists of all faiths throughout history and ones that devote their lives to peace and love. It’s time for all people of good will in every faith to unite.

    And on the gay issue that fact that he said “Who am I to judge?” speaks volumes about a humble man that doesn’t have an overinflated view of himself as pope, but understands that first of all he’s just a man like all of us and that we all need to expand our view of others that may be different from ourselves and realize we’re all children of God, deserving respect and understanding.

  • lingvistika

    I deal with a lot of Muslims daily. Their thinking and behavior varies, of course, but one common denominator I find is that, while many of them think they deserve respect from Christians and Jews, they don’t extend that same respect to us. They could start by not spreading the false claim that Christians worship three gods. They could continue by not promoting the fallacy that the Jews and Christians falsified the scriptures to eliminate mentions of Mohammed that they think were in the books but were not. Muslims demand our respect, but in many large and small ways every day, the Muslim world shows outrageous disrespect (and worse) to Christians and Jews. (And, yes, I know that not ALL Muslims do so, so don’t anybody start finger-wagging at me about “stereotyping”.)

  • lingvistika

    What does this sentence mean: “This is not to embellish that these two enormous masses of people are antithetically aligned toward one another.”
    Doesn’t anyone edit this website?

    • markaland

      I will assume you would have preferred ‘… “against” one another’ ? Either word works equally well in this case. If you think of a classic battle, you do have two armies on opposite sides of a field facing (aligned) ‘towards’ each other.

      Similarly, the name “Isra-el” means to “strive with God.” It is debatable whether that means to strive ‘with’ God in God’s cause (Will), or to strive ‘against’ God and His cause.

      • lingvistika

        No, she misuses the word “embellish”, and because of this the sentence makes no sense.

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