Christians and Muslims of Nevers unite against killings in Gaza

August 6, 2014

August 6, “Mossoul’s persecutions. The killings in Gaza. ‘No cause is more important than the other.’  Injustice must be fought wherever it comes from,’” said Izzet Cosgun and Father Jean Baffier in a joint statement discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Cosgun is a Muslim teacher currently working in a Catholic school. Father Baffier is in charge of “relationships with the Muslim world” in his department at the school.

Both have worked together in a joint initiative to host a meeting in Nevers to discuss the current situation in Gaza. “Muslims are concerned by what is happening in Gaza, but are also in solidarity with what is happening to Christians in Iraq,” affirmed Cosgun. When commenting on the political situation in Iraq he stated that any violence was “mercenary acts that do not represent our beliefs.”

Father Baffier confirmed that a delegation of French bishops gathered in July in northern Iraq to express “the solidarity of Christians in France.” The bishops “brought another point of view. It’s not Islam that is fighting Christianity over there. It’s a band of rebels that took power in that city. Don’t make it a misunderstanding. This would only play into the hands of those who want to divide France.”

“Christians are on their ancestral territory in Mossoul,” said Cosgun. He added, “They are at home. Like the Palestinians are at home in Gaza. Like French Muslims are at home in France.”

When discussing the recent incident of racist tagging in Charité-sur-Loire, Cosgun said that “People that do that are enemies of peaceful coexistence. It’s necessary to fight this because the future, it’s peaceful coexistence. Why leave the situation up to those who represent nothing?”

Cosgun believes that “it’s not his meeting that’s going to change things” but hopes that political leaders will pay attention to the initiative. He cited Rumi: “If the fair had as much courage as the unjust, the world would be less unfair.”

The leaders of three mosques in Nevers will be present at the meeting. The bishop has also urged all the parishes in the area to participate.

Perpetrators or suspects: French Muslims at an impasse

August 6, 2014

August 8, Less than a week apart, two public figures have characterized French Muslims as being “too discreet in their denunciation of extremists that claim to be a part of Islam.” On July 28, Figaro journalist Natacha Polony published her article “Letter to a young Muslim compatriot” in which she says that she’s “hurting for her France.” On August 2, Jean d’Ormesson, also a journalist for the Figaro, called on French Muslims to explicitly denounce the Muslim state in Iraq.

Nils Sinkiewicz states that, “On the one hand, the difference between the good and bad Muslims is considered evidence in itself. On the other, the good Muslims are urged to say loudly and clearly that they disapprove of the bad ones. This is hardly consistent, but ‘There are things that are better when said,’ according to Polony.”

French Muslims are required to be both patriotic members of society and to assimilate, “leaving them no choice between the role of the terrorist…or the groveling alien eager to prove his loyalty.”

In the wake of an attack on a church in Alexandria, UMP member Bernard Carayon declared that “the Muslim organizations of France [must] declare a moderate Islam, they must prove that they are not satisfied with press statements that are moving and courteous, that they advocate as a whole against the violence of their fundamentalist coreligionists.”

Sinkiewicz asks, “And what if the advocates for peaceful coexistence have fed misconceptions instead of stopping them? The media attention focuses more on the corruption of the real Islam that it is held to be a religion ‘of love, of peace, and of tolerance.’ From this perspective, terrorist acts are a godsend for the cunning wrongdoers who otherwise couldn’t ask Muslims to ‘prove’ their loyalty without being reminded of the principles of this secularism that is so dear to them.”

In a 2013 IPSOS survey, 74% of Frenchmen found Islam to be “intolerant and incompatible with the ‘values of the French society.’” Beyond the convenient opposition between the good Muslim and brutal Islamist it is “time to admit that far from closing the debate about Muslims in France, the idealization of Islam has instead trapped Muslims and non-Muslims in a never-ending polemic on the moral obligation to condemn everything that moves away from the brochure. One small step for peaceful coexistence–a giant leap for the dialogue of the deaf.”

The Land of St. Benedict is “open” to Islam

July 4, 2013


A center for prayer and for the promotion of Islamic culture will be inaugurated on Sunday afternoon in Cassino by the association of Islamic culture known as “the Light.” The event congregated provincial political institutions and the regent of the Abbey of Montecassino. “One of our goals “ said the president of the association, ironically, bears a name dear to Christianity, Massimiliano Evangelista, 41 year-old Cassino man, converted to Islam in 2004, was there to promote interfaith dialogue and in particular with the Catholic faith with which “we share so many things. We want to know what Islam is, and tell what it is not, dispelling stereotypes created by the Western media.” There are about 400 believers of the Islamic faith in Cassino. “We want a place where, among other things, to pray together so that every individual has the right to practice their religious beliefs. In Cassino there is a large Moroccan community, but there are also some Egyptians and Lebanese, Palestinians and Bangladesh. We had no difficulty in obtaining the necessary permits, because the martyr city has repeatedly demonstrated openings cultural integration among the people.” What do you say to those who fear that such centers can be meeting places for extremists? “It’s a risk that does not exist” says Evangelista.

Islam: Bologna, Islamic Confederation promotes meeting

April 24, 2013

ROME — ”Diversity in Islam and interfaith dialogue” is the theme of a meeting to be held in Bologna, Tuesday April 30 at 10:00 am, organized by the Confederation of Italian Islam (CII). The objective of the meeting, announced by the CII is to ”create an opportunity for Islamic parties who are interested in the issues of religious freedom and interreligious dialogue.”

Founded in March 2012, CII, headed by Wahid al Fihri, aims to examine issues such as integration, citizenship and civil coexistence among peoples and religions.

Spanish Muslims wish that Pope Francis I, will keep the interfaith dialogue

16 March 2013


The President of the Islamic Communities of Spain, Riay Tatary, expects the new Pope to maintain an open dialogue profile and have a spirit of approchement towards others, not only to Catholics, but to all the great religions that “follow a same god. ”

Riay Tatary, expressed hope that the new Pope would follow the lead of interreligious dialogue that his predecessor Emeritus Pontiff, Benedict XVI, kept.

“If there is peace and cooperation between Christians and Muslims” for sure there will be peace in the world “because interreligious dialogue can promote coexistence, especially among members of the great religions,” concluded Tatary.

Pope Benedict XVI and Turkey’s Muslims – The Eternal Theologian

Pope Benedict XVI was only just in the process of becoming a Pope. He will be remembered by the Turks as someone who got lost in this process. How Turkish Muslims viewed Benedict XVI. By Kerim Balci

The Turks often view global events from the perspective of their own domestic politics. In Turkey, the unexpected abdication of Pope Benedict XVI was compared with the recent resignations of politicians forced to step down from office because of incriminating videos. It is alleged that in the case of the Pope, it was an unknown video – which in all probability does not even exist – that triggered his decision. “He was forced to accept the post and forced to step down” – is the prevailing Turkish view of the voluntary resignation of the Pope.

The clandestine Vatican, power struggles in the vaults of St. Peter’s and the poor elected Pope, without allies and without power – the Turks’ perception of a conspiratorial Vatican is older than that of their own corrupt state. During the Pope’s visit to Turkey in late 2006, seen as an act of reconciliation following his controversial Regensburg address, Turkish bookshops displayed badly written attempts to emulate the work of Dan Brown. One of them is the work of a certain Yücel Kaya and bears the title: “Who Will Kill the Pope in Istanbul?”

Never fitted the same mould as his predecessor

Kaya probably had little appreciation of the potential explosiveness of such an issue. The attempt to assassinate Pope John Paul II in the year 1981 by Turkish ultranationalist Mehmet Ali Agca was seen as the revelation of what is known as the Third Secret of Fátima. The prophecy of three shepherd children from the Portuguese town dates from the early 20th century and was long kept secret by the Vatican. It was eventually made public in the year 2000 by Joseph Ratzinger, among others.

Following Ratzinger’s advice, John Paul II. used the “Third Secret” as a confirmation of himself as God’s chosen Pope, serving the Church until his death when God willed it. It was alleged that this was a tactical move intended to cancel out the arguments of those demanding the resignation of the Pope due to old age. Using the prophecy to consolidate the papal contract was either the clever idea of his future successor Ratzinger, or of the Pope himself.

At least in the eyes of the average Turk, Pope Benedict XVI never fitted the same mould as his predecessor. In contrast to John Paul II Benedict XVI again wore the traditional red papal slippers. This did nothing to change the fact that for Turkey, the Pope still had a Polish face. An image that has been indelibly etched on the collective memory of the Turks.

The lapse of Regensburg

He never managed to free himself from the persona of the German theologian Dr. Joseph Ratzinger. This is exemplified by the charitable organisation “Joseph Ratzinger Pope Benedict XVI Foundation”, set up by his students. While most of its income is derived from the sale of the papal writings of Benedict XVI, the foundation’s declared goal is “to promote theology in the spirit of Joseph Ratzinger”.

This “spirit of Joseph Ratzinger” haunted the Pope during his speech at the University of Regensburg in September 2006, when he infringed upon the sensitivity of the Muslim world with the apparently unintentional accusation that Islam is a religion that has not contributed to the advance of human civilisation.

In order to undo the damage inflicted by Ratzinger’s reference to comments made by the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos, Benedict XVI travelled to Istanbul where he met – the Hagia Sophia as a potential location for prayers – urban Muslims for silent prayers at the Blue Mosque, his face aligned in the direction of Mecca. Just as his critical comments had done before, this gesture also had a far-reaching impact.

Trying to reset Catholic-Muslim dialogue

For the Turks ascribed a particular significance to this shared prayer session: Even though the Pope had not been entirely “forgiven” for the Regensburg lecture, many gained the impression that he had drawn a painful lesson from his error and was now ready to reset exchange between the Catholic and Muslim world.

They were not far wrong with this assessment. Benedict XVI paid a visit to the Directorate of Religious Affairs, an unprecedented event in the history of Turkey. The directorate decided to take part in the summit of the Catholic-Muslim Forum, which convened at the Vatican for the first time in 2008.

Benedict XVI also helped give the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID) a new lease on life by restoring its former independent status. The council, to which the Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims is also affiliated, was placed under the leadership of the President of the Pontifical Council for Culture by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006, thereby robbing it of its autonomy. But in 2007, the council was again given its own President, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, and is now at least as proactive as it was during the papacy of John Paul II. But the Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims continues to lack autonomy – in contrast to the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews.

Catholic-Muslim bonds put to the test

The durability of Catholic-Muslim bonds was put to the test on further occasions during Benedict’s papacy: once by the murder of the Catholic priest Andrea Santoro in Trabzon in 2006; and again in 2010 by the murder of Bishop Luigi Padovese, the Pope’s apostolic vicar in Anatolia. The Vatican did not criticise the Turkish government or Turkish Islam following these attacks. In actual fact, the families of the murdered men devoted the pain of their loss into opening up new channels of interfaith dialogue.

But in the end, Benedict XVI’s Muslim interlocutors appeared to be more interested in interfaith dialogue than could be said of the Pope himself. While John Paul II had to wait two decades for a response from the Muslim world to the “Nostra Aetate” declaration of 1964 regarding interfaith exchange, Benedict XVI tried to do justice to a network of Muslims in leading positions from the entire Muslim world willing to enter into dialogue.

This is how the Catholic-Muslim Forum was founded, in response to an open letter from 138 Muslim theologians calling for peace and cooperation between the Catholic Church and the Muslim world. It was a dialogue long advocated not only by the Directorate of Religious Affairs, but also important religious organisations such as the Gülen movement.

No one attempted to kill the Pope in Istanbul. But if you bear in mind the Turks’ susceptibility to conspiracy theories, it would not come as a surprise to see bestselling books on the shelves of Turkish bookshops with titles such as: “Who Forced the Pope’s Resignation in Rome?”

Kerim Balci

Italy the UCOII’s turning point: “From now on, Imams have to speak Italian.”

Izzedin Elzir, the newly elected president of the Union of the Islamic Communities in Italy (UCOII), has stated that Italian language must be adopted by all the imams. The moderate leader that is also attentive to the interfaith dialogue wants to loosen the traditional tie of its association with the Muslim Brotherhood. He underlined some crucial points; such as the need for transparency and for greater integration by Muslims into Italian society. He also expressed his commitment to make the Italian language the common idiom for the plethora of Muslim communities. His goal is to attain an agreement with the Italian state, which entails funding for Islamic places of worship. He also articulated his position concerning other hot button issues: on the veil, for example, he stated that although he thinks the face should be uncovered, it would be wrong to regulate by law matters that infringe upon freedom of choice. Regarding the knowledge of the Italian constitution and language as the prerequisite for obtaining a resident permit, he claimed that such knowledge is fundamental. He went on to state, that it is important to avoid propaganda but rather cooperate with the institutions and employers to set up workable laws which are able to counteract clandestine practices. Finally, asked on the issue of crucifix in the schools, he highlighted the need for approaches that are inclusive of other cultures.

Franciscans publish imam’s book on Allah and his prophets

Yahya Pallavicini, imam of the mosque al-Wahid in Milan, vice-president of the Italian Islamic Religious Community and founder of the International Committee of Imams, and Rabbis and Christians for Peace UNESCO in Paris, has decided to publish his last book “The Merciful. Allah and his Prophets” with a major catholic publishing house in Italy, Edizioni Messaggero.

It is a strong choice in a country that fights the veil and mosques. In Veneto, worshipping space is denied to Muslims and non-catholic religious symbols aren’t accepted. Pallavicini believes that courage is necessary to enhance dialogue, the only way to overcome isolation, prejudices and contrasts.

Spreading knowledge about Allah’s prophets (the same for Muslims, Jewish and Catholics), discusses how to foster integration while avoiding suspicion, fear and ignorance about different traditions. The book tries to facilitate the encounter of two worlds. Following what San Francesco once said regarding the Crusades: “We don’t have to go against anybody, rather we have to go among everybody”, the book seeks to meet the Others upon ideas of mercy and dialogue.

Prince Charles praises British Muslims for their “selflessness”

The Prince of Wales has praised the “energy, dynamism and selflessness” of British Muslims. He attended the 25th anniversary dinner of the charity Islamic Relief, in the Grosvenor House Hotel in central London, which he acknowledged helped to bring together people of different faiths.

The Prince said: “We hear rather too much misleading information about a small minority of your community and not nearly enough about the vastly more numerous acts of compassion and commitment which characterize the work of Islamic Relief and its supporters.”