Dialog between the Holy See and the Muslims of Cairo

Source: FSSPX News


The discussions dealt with the importance of fighting religious stereotypes and the generalization of religious principles by political powers, as well as of the necessity of a self-critical eye on the part of each of the religions.

Self-criticism is important because it erases stereotypes which exist between Catholics and Muslims, affirmed Youssef El Hage, a Lebanese Maronite, before an audience of diplomats, journalists and students assembled in the PISAI, The Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies in Rome. The lack of self-criticism is a real obstacle to the construction of durable relations, he continued, specifying that self-criticism is a sign of maturity. He insisted again and again on the Day of Asking for Pardon, made by the pope and the Catholic Church, on March 12, 2000 on the occasion of the Jubilee, which he called an event without precedent.

Mgr Michael Fitzgerald, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialog, for his part, added, Let religious leaders and men of politics each stay within their domain and be independent. He said this in the presence of his Muslim counterpart, Sheik Fauzi Al Zafzaf, President of the Committee of Al Azhar. Religions have something to bring to political power, but must be independent of it, he added.

At the time of this encounter, it was also recalled that it was fundamental to not judge persons according to their ethnic or religious affiliation, but on their acts, their attitudes and their behavior. We must distinguish the foundations of the religions and the conduct of their members who are imperfect people, Sheik Al Zafzaf summarized.

Each year since 1998, a session of dialog between the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialog and the Permanent Committee of Dialog with the Monotheistic Religions – a structure of the Islamic University Al Azhar of Cairo specially created for this dialog with the Holy See – takes place alternatively in Cairo and Rome, with February 24 having been chosen by the two parties in memory of the visit of John-Paul II to the Grand Sheik Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, on February 24, 2000. These annual bilateral conversations followed on the accord of May 28, 1998, which engaged the two parties to promote comprehension and mutual respect between Catholics and Muslims thanks to an exchange of information.

The first encounter, in May 1998, dealt with the methodology of the work. The second, held in Cairo on April 13, 1999, had as its goal, besides the application of the accord and the planning of the work, the organization of a colloquium at the Islamic University of Cairo for May 2000; on the them of the role of religious teaching in the promotion of the spiritual values of a culture. The third encounter, in March 2000, some days after the trip of the pope to Cairo, had three objectives: the evaluation of the encounter between the head of the Catholic Church and the Great Sheik, the importance of the interreligious assembly of October 1999 and a reflection on the Day of Pardon of March 12, 2000, requested by John-Paul II for the Jubilee Year 2000. This last theme was also taken up in July 2000 in Cairo, in the new premises of the Moslem Committee.

The goal of the fourth meeting of February 24, 2001 in Cairo was the analysis of the Palestinian situation. The mixed Committee had published a common declaration on the conflict in the Middle East. The following year in Rome, the discussions concerned religious extremism. Finally, in 2003, the Committee addressed terrorism and the responsibility of the religions in the promotion of the peace.

Besides these bilateral conversations with the Moslems of Al Azhar, the Holy See also maintains interreligious links with the Moslems of Iran by mean of colloquiums organized by both parties. The fourth and last colloquium took place in December 2003 in the Vatican, the preceding one having taken place in Teheran in September 2001.

The Holy See, which intends to strengthen the dialogue with other Moslem countries, also established a channel of discussion with Turkey, by a "declaration of intention" signed April 25th, 2002 between the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialog and the head of the Turkish religious affairs.