Muslim leaders to meet Pope in Rome
- Riazat Butt, religious affairs correspondent
- Wednesday March 5 2008
Religious leaders and scholars from the Islamic world will meet the Pope in Rome for an unprecedented audience in November, it was announced today after historic meetings between Vatican prelates and their Muslim counterparts.
For two days, senior Catholics and Muslims have been preparing for the autumn encounter, deciding upon subjects for discussion and the size of the delegation to meet the pontiff.
The participants involved in this week's meetings confirmed that 24 representatives from each faith would take part in the inaugural seminar of a newly established, permanent Catholic-Muslim Forum, a direct result of their discussions and correspondence.
The forum will meet every two years. The first one will be held in Rome from November 4 until November 6.
On the third day, the seminar will conclude with a public session and a papal reception, quashing rumours of an August meeting at the Pope's summer residence in Castelgandolfo.
Professor Aref Ali Nayed, from the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre, in Jordan, said: "Who attends the seminar will depend on their diaries. We will ensure that from our side as many regions and sects are represented; who the Catholics send is up to them.
"At times, the meetings have been frank, on both sides, but we realise there is a level of sincerity and genuine concern."
He agreed that the seminar's theme - love of God, love of neighbour - was traditional. "It is best to start with conservative themes and agree on these," he said.
"We do now have a mechanism for working on issues including the difficult ones."
The seminar's location would alternate between the Vatican and a Muslim country, he added.
Last year, 138 Muslim scholars and leaders wrote to the Pope and other Christian leaders to plead for dialogue between the two faiths to reduce tensions between Islam and the west, saying the very survival of humanity could depend on it.
The plea was issued by Jordan's Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, and came in the second open letter from the institute to the Vatican.
The first was sent after the Pope's Regensburg address last year, which left Muslims angry after he quoted a Byzantine emperor who spoke of the Prophet Muhammad's "command to spread by the sword the faith he preached".
Critics said the Pope had appeared to suggest that Islam was inherently violent and irrational, and his remarks were a slur on the faith and its followers. The row sparked violent protests around the Muslim world. and the Pope later said he had been misunderstood.