Vatican City: March 5, 2008. To seek the paths for "affirming the values of reciprocal respect, solidarity, and peace", looking at what unites us, without hiding what divides us. This is the essential objective of the discussions between Christians and Muslims called for in the letter dated October 13, 2007, written by 138 Muslim scholars to Christian leaders, followed today by a first meeting at the Vatican between some of the signatories of the document and the pontifical council for interreligious dialogue.
It is a discussion of great significance, and is preparatory to a meeting that some of the Muslims signatories are expected to have with Benedict XVI himself, who, responding to the document from the Muslims, in a letter dated October 29 and signed by cardinal secretary of state Tarcisio Bertone, expresses "gratitude" and "deep appreciation" for the initiative and "for the call for a common commitment to promoting peace in the world". "Without ignoring or downplaying our differences as Christians and Muslims, we can and therefore should look to what unites us, namely, belief in the one God, the provident Creator and universal Judge who at the end of time will deal with each person according to his or her actions. We are all called to commit ourselves totally to him and to obey his sacred will".
The group of Islamic scholars is represented by Abdel Hakim Murad of the University of the Muslim Academic Trust (United Kingdom), Aref Ali Nayed, a former teacher at the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Oriental Studies (PISAI), Sergio Yahya Pallavicini of Coreis (Italy), Ibrahim Kalin of the Seta Foundation in Ankara, and Sohail Nakhooda, a Jordanian, director of Islamica Magazine, the periodical that, by publishing on October 15, 2006, a letter from 38 Muslim scholars in response to Benedict XVI`s lecture in Regensburg, can be considered the Muslim inauguration of dialogue.
It is not an easy dialogue. The letter of the 138, entitled "A common word between us and you", in fact proposes essentially a theological dialogue on the commandments of love of God and neighbour, presented in both the Qur`an and the Bible. Benedict XVI, however, has indicated the more concrete topics of "human rights and especially the freedom of faith and its practice", as he said in a passage dedicated to dialogue with Islam in the address to the Roman curia on December 22, 2006.
From a Catholic point of view, moreover, religious dialogue "is one of the most delicate topics" and "also fundamental", emphasises Fr Andrea Pacini, consultant for the commission for religious relations with Muslims at the pontifical council for interreligious dialogue. Interviewed by Vatican Radio, Fr Pacini said that "besides, we have recently seen pressures in different directions within the contemporary Muslim world". On the one side, there is Qatar, with "a great openness" that "has led to the granting of land to the various Christian Churches, in order to build places of worship, and therefore not only an emergence from their underground status, but I would go so far as to say the donation of the property on which to build churches". On the other, "it is impossible to overlook that in Algeria, for example, only two years ago a new law was issued that strongly limits the exercise of religious freedom. And just one month ago, there came news of the arrest of a Catholic priest merely for having led a prayer for a Catholic family. This law provides, in fact, for the celebration of worship only and exclusively in buildings that are authorised for that purpose by the state. Dialogue will, therefore, be effective to the extent to which it passes from the - necessary - cultural dimension to its translation into juridical practices that protect religious freedom. This", he concluded, "seems to me the proving ground and the verification of the effectiveness of any path of dialogue".