Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Muslims complain about lack of face time with the Pope

The Associated Press reports that Unease with Pope Benedict XVI's approach to Islam has led a U.S. Muslim group to decline joining in an interfaith event with him later this week:

Several other U.S. Muslim leaders expressed similar concerns about the pope, but pledged to participate in the Washington gathering, saying the two faiths should do everything possible to improve relations.

"Our going there is more out of respect for the Catholic Church itself," said Muzammil H. Siddiqi, chairman of the Fiqh Council of North America, which interprets Islamic law. "Popes come and go, but the church is there." [...]

Salam al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, an advocacy group based in Los Angeles, said the event seemed "more ceremonial than substantive" and his organization would not participate. He said he was disappointed that no time was made in the pope's six-day trip for even a brief private meeting with U.S. Muslim leaders. ...

"It would have been a good opportunity for him to have a dialogue," al-Marayati said.


Imam Yahya Hendi, a leading advocate of interfaith dialogue and chaplain at the Jesuit-founded Georgetown University, had met John Paul and said he would participate in the interfaith gathering, because "I believe in the power of love and the power of dialogue." Hendi will also be among the thousands of people at a ceremony for the pope Wednesday at the White House.

But Hendi said that he and other Muslims were concerned that the pope wasn't visiting a mosque or meeting with leaders who represent the millions of Muslims living in the U.S.

"Since he came to office, things have happened that have been used on both sides to build up walls," Hendi said. "I think this could be a good opportunity for Pope Benedict to help people to build bridges."

Quick thoughts: this appears to be a case of dueling expections. Benedict has already clarified the nature of his visit and his two primary objectives. While a largely-ceremonial interfaith meeting is scheduled, serious dialogue and "fence-mending" don't appear to be on the table ("But what about the Jews?" -- the Pope's quick stopover at the Park East Synagogue in Manhattan is scheduled to last about twenty minutes. Not a lot of quality "dialogue time" there, either.

As far as Muslim-Catholic dialogue is concerned, Pope Benedict has already expressed his intent to meet with the signatories of "A Common Word" (the Muslim "open letter" to the Pope), inviting them to the Vatican for what appears to be serious talks between the world Muslim community and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. I trust there will be time then for "a more substantive", rather than ceremonial, meeting.