Muslim members of a South Jersey interfaith group are giving Pope Benedict XVI the benefit of doubt, following his apology Sunday for any hurt his comments last week may have caused.
In a speech in Germany last Tuesday, the pontiff quoted a 14th century emperor as saying: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."
On Sunday, the pope clarified his comments and said he has great respect for Islam.
The statement was taken out of context, said Andrew Walton, spokesman for the Diocese of Camden.
"Careful reading of the Holy Father's complex and nuanced remarks shows that his words were not an attack on the religion of Islam," said Walton. "Rather, he was expressing concern about those who would use violence in the name of religion, since violence is incompatible with God himself."
Still, the Catholic leader's controversial remarks were called "regrettable" and showed a "lack of wisdom," local Muslim leaders said. They also said they still respect the pope and the Catholic Church.
Worldwide, many Muslim leaders rejected the pope's clarification and called for demonstrations, while some extremists used the comments to justify more violence against the West.
Walton said the anger and violence following the pope's clarification should be condemned by all people of good will.
In the U.S., the Council on American-Islamic Relations called for increased dialogue between Muslims and Catholics. Following 9/11, the group supported a fatwa against terrorism.
The Jewish, Christian and Muslim Dialogue of South Jersey is meeting in Cherry Hill tonight to finalize plans for an upcoming interfaith program, and will likely discuss the controversy. The meeting is not open to the public.
The 3-year-old group usually meets monthly, and organizes joint prayer services and programs for peace.
"Our goal is to build respect and understanding of each other's faiths, and to develop programs that would reach out to the community (to) bring different faiths together," said Alan Respler, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council.
The meetings have forged warm relationships between members who regularly attend.
A.S. Mahdi Ibn-Ziyad of Camden, who teaches philosophy and religion courses at Rutgers-Camden, said the pope's apology is enough for him.
"I think it's just regrettable," said Ibn-Ziyad, who has been involved in the interfaith discussions. "I would hope that people of good faith will talk these things out. I don't think casting aspersions against people of other faiths is very (productive) and, in some ways, it's evil for us to do that. We want to see the goodness and the godliness in everyone, no matter their faith."
Zia Rahman, 60, of Voorhees, said he still respects Pope Benedict, though he was disappointed in him for speaking without thinking about the consequences.
"I would rather he exercise a little bit more judgment," Rahman said.
Christians, Jews and Muslims have much in common, said Rahman, who frequently teaches interfaith workshops. He said it is important that people understand each other and build relationships on common beliefs, instead of making divisive statements.
"If we create distinctions," Rahman said, "than we disharmonize."
Reach Kim Mulford at (856) 251-3342 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Published: September 19. 2006 3:10AM
A.S. Mahdi Ibn-Ziyad, Phd.
Africana Islamic Institute
P.O. Box 1906 Camden, NJ 08101
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
"Never will God change the condition of a people,until they change what is in their hearts."
Qur'an Surah Al-Ra'd/Thunder 13:11