A narrow majority of Christians say the pope should not have quoted a derogatory remark about the Prophet Muhammad that has sparked Muslim protests around the world, a survey of London Tablet readers has revealed.
Fifty-three percent of Tablet readers said the pope should not have used the quotation, with 78 percent saying that the controversy had damaged Christian-Muslim relations in the short term but 79 percent saying not in the long term. Eighty-one percent said the pope should go ahead with his planned visit to Turkey next month and 95 percent agreed it is important for Christians and Muslims to engage in dialogue.
They also consider that dialogue between the two faiths is important even if only a quarter are themselves involved in such conversations. More than two-thirds believe that Christians and Muslims should pray together. This finding is striking in the light of Pope Benedict’s own disapproval of the practice. He recently let it be known that interfaith prayer brings with it the risk of relativism. “When we come together for prayer for peace, the prayer must unfold according to the distinct paths that pertain to the various religions,” he said earlier this month, on the twentieth anniversary of the interfaith Assisi gathering arranged by John Paul II.
The most common reasons cited for supporting Christian-Muslim dialogue are that “dialogue is essential to promoting peaceful co-existence between different faiths” and the importance of finding “areas of agreement such as social justice and pro-life issues”. Half agree with the statement that “Muslims need to understand Western values”.
Those most critical of the pope’s remarks and fearful of the repercussions live in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Around 63 per cent of these Christians say the pope should not have used the controversial quotation.
Well over a quarter fear that it will do lasting damage to relations between Christians and Muslims and almost all say it is important for the two faiths to engage in dialogue. More than a third of these respondents are involved in dialogue primarily at their place of work or socially, or at an educational establishment such as school or university.
There is more support for the pope from Christians in Britain. A narrow majority of these (52 per cent) think Pope Benedict was right to cite the controversial quotation about Muhammad. They feel Christian-Muslim relations will be damaged in the short term (82 per cent) but will recover. The British Christians are also a little less enthusiastic than the rest about praying with Muslims. Just under 59 per cent support the idea.
Meanwhile, Pope Benedict has insisted in his meeting with ambassadors from mostly Muslim countries last month, that Christian-Muslim dialogue is a ‘vital necessity’ on which ‘our future depends’.
The Catholic News Agency reports that during the meeting with Muslim clerics and ambassadors on 25 September, the pope reiterated his desire to continue down the road of sincere dialogue to foster peace in the world.
The pope told the leaders that dialogue between Christians and Muslims, ‘cannot be reduced to an optional extra’.
Benedict clearly indicated his desire to forge ahead with interfaith talks, barely mentioning the comments which have caused an uproar in the Muslim world.
‘The circumstances which have given rise to our gathering are well known,’ Benedict said, repeating his regrets that offence had been taken and his assurances that the views of emperor Manuel II in no way reflect his own.
Citing the Vatican Council II document ‘Nostra Aetate’ as the ‘Magna Carta’ for the church’s position on Muslim-Christian dialogue, Pope Benedict said that ‘the church looks upon Muslims with respect’.
Assuring them that the Vatican II statement was the ‘perspective’ from which he viewed the dialogue, the pope noted his efforts at continuing the dialogue from the beginning of his pontificate.
Benedict said that he hopes the work of Christian-Muslim dialogue, advanced by his predecessor John Paul II, will not only continue, but also develop further ‘in a spirit of sincere and respectful dialogue, based on ever more authentic reciprocal knowledge which, with joy, recognises the religious values that we have in common and, with loyalty, respects the differences’.
Quoting Pope John Paul’s call for ‘reciprocity’ between cultures, the pope also noted that it was a requirement of Christian and Muslim leaders to ‘guard against all forms of intolerance and to oppose all manifestations of violence’.
After the meeting, Iraqi ambassador, Albert Edward Ismail Yelda, told the press that he is ready to move on. ‘I pray to almighty God the crisis will be behind us,’ he told reporters.
An adviser to the Italian section of the World Muslim League, Mario Scialoja, said that the Holy Father offered a, ‘very good and warm speech’.
‘He recalled the differences but expressed his willingness to continue in a cordial and fruitful dialogue’, said Scialoja, who added that he ‘had not been expecting another apology’.
And in Wellington, Archbishop John Dew and Federation of Islamic Associations’ acting president, Mustafa Farouk, have stressed their commitment to ongoing interfaith dialogue and cooperation in New Zealand, and to the cordial and respectful relationship that exists between their faith communities.
This came in an 18 September meeting with the Human Rights Commissioner.