Friday, January 04, 2008

The Door to Dialogue

Following the Pope's open-door response to the request for dialogue from 138 Muslim leaders, plans for a top-level summit are quickly taking shape:
The top Vatican official in charge of relations with Islam, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, said he expected an advanced group of three Muslim representatives in February or March to lay the groundwork for the meeting.

"In a certain sense, (the meeting) can be defined as historic," Tauran told the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, in an edition published earlier this week.

[The] 138 Muslim scholars wrote to Pope Benedict and other Christian leaders in October, saying "the very survival of the world itself" might depend on dialogue.

The Pope... responded in November by welcoming their call and inviting them to Rome....

Tauran raised eyebrows last year by expressing doubt over whether the two faiths could agree on issues such as God, love and how to read sacred scripture.

But he told L'Osservatore Romano that the Muslim scholars' call for dialogue in their October open letter may have marked a turning point.

"It's still true that, for some Muslims, inter-religious dialogue is neither a reality nor a priority. But it's also true that we're perhaps seeing an interesting development in the open letter," Tauran said. "The 138 signatories effectively represent 43 countries."

Among the items on the agenda were respect for an individual's dignity and teaching tolerance to new generations, Tauran said.

...meanwhile, in Malaysia, a Catholic paper's use of the term "Allah" for God -- a practice frequently adopted by Christian communities elsewhere in the Arab world -- has led to government scrutiny:
Malaysia has ruled that a Catholic newspaper cannot use the word Allah, clarifying reports it had reversed an earlier ban on the use of the word by non-Muslims.

The move deepens fears the government is trying too hard to please the more extremist sections of its Muslim majority at the expense of other religions.

Father Lawrence Andrew, the editor of Kuala Lumpur-based "Herald - the Catholic Weekly" was reported this week as saying the government had renewed its publishing permit, without restrictions, after earlier ruling that non-Muslims are forbidden from using the word Allah.

But Abdullah Md Zin, a minister for religious affairs, said on Friday the ban on the use of the word remained despite the renewal of the permit.

"It was just the priest's interpretation that there was no restriction on the use of the word," Abdullah told Reuters.

This is the latest in a series of disputes that is feeding fears of a gradual erosion of the rights of non-Muslims.