How Benedict XVI Will Make History

Great stuff from Newsweek:

[...] By quoting a Byzantine emperor's sharp critique of Islam, Benedict XVI drew worldwide criticism. Others, however, including significant personalities in the complex worlds of Islam, took the pope's point about the dangers of faith detached from reason quite seriously. And over the ensuing 19 months, there have been potentially historic tectonic shifts going on, both within Islam and in the world of interreligious dialogue.

Benedict has received two open letters from Muslim leaders; the October 2007 letter, "An Open Word Between Us and You," proposed a new dialogue between Islam and the Vatican. That dialogue will now be conducted through a Catholic-Muslim Forum that will meet twice yearly, in Rome and in Amman, Jordan. The forum will address two issues that Benedict XVI has insisted be the focus of conversation: religious freedom, understood as a human right that everyone can grasp by reason, and the separation of religious and political authority in the modern state.

Perhaps even more important, given his influence in Sunni Islam, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia visited Benedict XVI in November 2007. Subsequently, the king announced his own interfaith initiative, aimed at drawing representatives of the three monotheistic faiths into a new conversation, and negotiations between the Holy See and Saudi Arabia opened on building the first Catholic church in the kingdom. (A new Catholic church, also the first of its kind, recently opened in Doha, Qatar.) Abdullah's voice was noticeably absent from the chorus of critics who charged Benedict XVI with "aggression" for baptizing Magdi Allam, a prominent Italian journalist and convert from Islam, in St. Peter's Basilica on March 22. That all of this has happened after Regensburg is, at the very least, suggestive.

In addition to reshaping the dialogue between Catholicism and Islam, Benedict XVI has made significant changes in the Vatican's intellectual approach to these volatile issues. Catholic veterans of the interreligious dialogue who did not press issues like religious freedom and reciprocity between the faiths have been replaced by scholars who believe that facing the hard questions helps support those Muslim reformers who are trying to find an authentic Islamic path to civility, tolerance and pluralism. Thus Benedict XVI has quietly put his pontificate behind the forces of Islamic reform—and may have found a crucial ally with a Saudi king who is wrestling with Wahhabi extremism in his own domain.



Anonymous said…
But can there really ever be religious freedom in an Islamic State. Islam itself is a nation building religion. It would take asecularization of the government.

But even with that said you could look at the secular government of Turkey, a 99% muslim state, where you still see gov't allowed persecution of Christians.

I think it is a noble gesture. More than many have done to reach out, but I doubt any REAL change will ever take place.
Odysseus said…
I agree with Brett (and I am constantly shocked at how my religious leaders in the Catholic Church kowtow to a Muslim world that does nothing but persecute our coreligionists in the Middle East).

I do not say this just because Islam is "different". I can see living peacefully, or at least the possibility of living peacefully, alongside Hindus, Buddhists, etc. Their religions are not necessarily so constructed that they cannot make peace with other religions. Islam is a legalistic religion ,and oppression and violence are written into it's lawbook.
Jeff said…
I think one way to gauge the capacity of Islam for real interfaith tolerance is to look at popular understandings of Islam, such as Islam Online or Sheikh Yusuf Hamza.

Death for apostasy is being widely reexamined.

Islam seems, for example, to have swallowed images and is in the process of digesting music, while remaining true to most of its core doctrines.

I think there is reason for hope that a mainstream Islam at peace with other religions is possible. It's far from a given, but it's not a hopeless case.
Anonymous said…

Don't miss though, that at it's very core it is a Nation building religion. So said its prophet Muhammad. The goal is to bring Allah's kingdom to earth. Islamic law does not distinguish between "matters of state" and "matters of church"

The best measure of their tolerance is to see how tolerant a religion is look at a place where it is in power, not where it is a minority. From hearing Yousuf Hamza, it sounds like he would not object to an islamic state.

In fact, I would argue that the largest surge of islamic conversion has more been out of a social and political ideology rather than a true spiritual belief.
René O'Deay said…
False hopes from King Abdullah. Like Brett said, look at the country where the religion is in power. Saudi Arabia, the source of all the $$ for new mosques and their schools teaching young children to hate all others, esp. the US. and how do they treat other religions there?
(PS, found you on Others Online)

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