Pressure on Pope to rebuild ties with Islam

Pressure on Pope to rebuild ties with Islam

From correspondents in IstanbulNovember 05, 2006 11:29pmArticle from: Reuters 

PRESSURE is growing on Pope Benedict XVI to use a trip to Turkey this month to rebuild badly strained ties between the Vatican and the Muslim world. Two new developments last week – a shooting incident at the Italian consulate in Istanbul and news that Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan would not meet him during his visit – have given an added edge to the visit from November 28 to December 1.The Muslim world was enraged in September when the Pope gave a lecture at a German university in which he quoted a Byzantine emperor in a passage which denounces Islam as violent.His repeated expressions of regret have failed to quell the anger in the Middle East which has also been keenly felt in politically secular but mostly Muslim Turkey.“The majority of Turkish society was very angry with his Regensburg (University) speech, but many of them will see this visit as a chance for the Pope to explain his own thoughts on Islam,” said Cemal Usak, a Muslim activist in Turkey who has long been involved in inter-religious debate.“I believe he can compensate for his faults on Islam during his visit.”On Thursday, a young Muslim Turk fired a gun in front of the Italian consulate in Istanbul to protest against the Pope’s visit and called on him to stay away.The Vatican played down the protest and the fact that Erdogan would be too busy to meet the Pontiff.“We think it (the Pope’s visit) is a good chance to develop good relations,” said Sheik Muhammad Dormuhammad, secretary general of the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya, who was in Istanbul to attend a religious conference.The crisis – like controversies over Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad or the death sentence for an Afghan convert to Christianity – reveals a deeper gulf between two world views that only sustained dialogue can overcome.Some even accuse Pope Benedict of undoing years of bridge-building by his predecessor.Father Francois Yakan in Istanbul, the former Byzantine Christian capital conquered by the Muslim Ottoman Turks in 1453, said the visit would open up much-needed dialogue.“The Pope’s visit will calm things a bit and improve relations between Europe and Islam,” said the patriarchal vicar of the Chaldean Catholic Church.“Don’t expect miracles here.”It will be Pope Benedict’s first visit to a Muslim country since becoming Pontiff in April 2005.“Maybe he will learn something about Islam, because the things he has said in the past are not good about Islam,”said Mohammad El Amin Nibaruta, secretary general of the Council of Religious Organisations of Burundi.“We think he doesn’t have enough information about the religion,” he said at the religious conference.peTwo weeks ago, 38 Muslim scholars sent Benedict an open letter pointing out what they said were wrong or tendentious statements about Islam made in the Regensburg speech.Turkish nationalists and Islamist activists – both suspecting the Pope’s visit was aimed at boosting non-Muslim faiths – have called for his trip to be cancelled.Even before the Pope’s latest remarks on Islam, Turks were distrustful of Benedict, who before becoming Pope said Turkey as a non-Christian country would not fit into the European Union.“The Pope will be coming at a time when relations with the West are deteriorating and Turks feel the EU doesn’t want them,” said Hasan Unal, a nationalist-minded academic at Ankara’s Bilken University.The nationalist mood has strengthened following a barrage of criticism from EU leaders of Turkey’s failure to recognise Cyprus, improve human rights and bring the revered military firmly under civilian control.The Pope’s visit will also put a spotlight on religious freedom in Turkey.His main purpose in visiting the country which spans Europe and Asia, is to meet Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the Istanbul-based spiritual head of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians.

 

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