Roman Catholics have an open invitation to spend an evening at any of the Valley’s 14 mosques when Muslims’ holy month of Ramadan begins Saturday, and it could serve to mend fences in the aftermath of comments by Pope Benedict XVI.
Many Muslims say the pope insulted their religion last week by referencing old texts to describe Islam as “evil and inhuman” and gaining converts at the end of swords.
“We were quite upset about the remarks . . . but we are pushing Muslims and Catholics worldwide to take this opportunity to engage in dialogue with each other,” said Bushra Khan, spokeswoman for the Arizona chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations.
Each day of Ramadan, Muslims fast and then have a meal after dusk, with mosques —including those in Tempe and Scottsdale — hosting meals, discussions and prayer. Khan also wants priests and mosque leaders to speak in each other’s worship spaces to create trust and understanding.
While speaking in his native Germany on Sept. 12, Benedict quoted texts of a conversation between a 14th century Byzantine Christian emperor and a Persian on the truths of Christianity and Islam. The remarks have triggered protests and violence worldwide, including Christian churches set on fire, an Italian nun killed in Somalia, warnings of a new Crusades, worker strikes and banners reading, “Pope is building religion on hatred.”
On Sunday, the pope said he was “deeply sorry,” noting he was only quoting historical passages that do not reflect his personal beliefs. But some Muslims say the pope should admit that he made a mistake.
Local Christian leaders are defending the pope and his apology.
The pope “regrets the misunderstanding of his remarks” and “the violent reactions those words have evoked,” said a statement released Monday by the office of Bishop Thomas Olmsted of the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix. “The Holy Father has made it clear that the quotation to which he referred did not reflect his opinion about Islam,” the statement read.
And the Rev. Tim Davern, judicial vicar and officer said: “I think, perhaps, there are people who feel the Holy Father should have chosen his words a little more judiciously, but certainly there is nothing anti-Islamic in the whole thing.”
A Scottsdale Catholic, John Seliga, said Islam itself is not served by extremists who are using the ill-chosen words to launch rampant destruction and the killing of a nun. Such acts would only affirm any notion that Islam is violent, he said.
Seliga said Catholics and many others know little about Muslims’ beliefs and practices, especially how devout many of them are.
Muslims are overreacting, said Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, a Phoenix physician and founder and chairman of the American-Islamic Forum for Democracy.
However, Jasser, who said he has read the full text of the pope’s remarks, added that the Catholic leader should have been more judicious in his speech, given his role as a pre-eminent leader in interfaith dialogue. “I don’t think it was well-thought-out to give a speech that makes a statement which every moderate Muslim who is pious would disagree with.”
Jasser calls for Muslims to denounce both “political Islam” and violence. He said Muslims would gain better standing and credibility if they had reacted as vigorously to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and later bombings in London and Madrid as they are in condemning the pope’s remarks.
Some Muslims in the world seem to anticipate a new Crusades, pitting Islam against Christianity, “and they are expecting the United States will lead it,” said Deedra Abboud, executive director the Arizona chapter of Muslim American Society. But, she said, Muslims widely condemn violence and said mainstream Islam separates itself from “the very small minority that has hijacked it and are trying to use their political agenda to make it a violent religion, which it is not.”