Francis in Arabia, the Muslim-friendly pope

The faithful greet and take photos of Pope Francis (L) as he arrives for the weekly general audience at Paul-VI hall on January 30, 2019 at the Vatican. (AFP / Andreas Solaro)
Updated 31 January 2019

Francis in Arabia, the Muslim-friendly pope

  • His constant appeals for refugees to be welcomed, many of whom are Muslim, have helped win him support from the community
  • Pope Francis puts Christian, Jewish and Muslim fundamentalisms on the same level — they are all “deviations”

VATICAN CITY: When Francis becomes the first pope to visit the Arabian peninsula on Sunday, he takes another important step in his efforts to build bridges with Islam and confirms inter-religious dialogue as a keystone of his papacy.
In the long, complicated and often bloody history of papal relations with the Muslim world, Argentine pontiff Jorge Bergoglio stands out for his fraternal language and broader desire to reach out across religious divides.
“Pope Francis is different from his predecessor Benedict XVI because he prefers interpersonal encounters to theological subtleties,” said Valentino Cottini who teaches Islamic-Christian relations at the Pontifical Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies (PISAI) in Rome.
Retired German pope Benedict XVI, a theologian, spoke the most about Islam, giving 188 speeches on the subject.
But years of glacial relations followed his decision to quote a XIVth century Byzantine emperor who spoke of against Islam.
He insisted the comment during a 2006 speech at Regensburg in Germany did not reflect his own views but the damage was done and street protests erupted in the Muslim world.

Dialogue
Pope Francis, however, avoids analyzing the Qur'an.
His constant appeals for refugees to be welcomed, many of whom are Muslim, have helped win him support from the community, just as when he brought three Muslim families back on the papal plane from the Greek island of Lesbos.
In 2016 and 2017 the spiritual leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics met with the imam of Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, Sunni Islam’s highest body, Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb.
Tayeb, an Islamic philosophy lecturer critical of jihadists who draw inspiration from hard-line salafism, will again meet with the pope on Monday in the United Arab Emirates for an international inter-religious meeting.
“It’s either dialogue or war. We’re condemned to dialogue,” French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran frequently repeated during his time at the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue.
Tauran, who died last year, said that the fact there was any dialogue at all was an enormous achievement.
But he also feared that dialogue would be limited to “little steps at the level of the elites, which don’t turn into laws, don’t reach the street.”
Pope Francis has insisted that “the dialogue is moving forward,” but also said Muslims should look at the Qur'an in a more interpretive way.
But, notes Christian-Islamic expert Cottini: “We have more freedom of interpretation of the founding texts of Christianity, because the status of the word of God in the Bible is not the same as in the Qur'an, which Muslims consider the literal word of God.”

Tactfulness
Pope Francis takes great care not to use the word “Islamist” when an attack is carried out in the name of Islam, preferring to use “terrorist.”
In 2014, he called for Muslim political and religious leaders as well as academics unambiguously to condemn terrorism, a source of Islamophobia.
He also puts Christian, Jewish and Muslim fundamentalisms on the same level — they are all “deviations.”
In 2016 Francis declined to “associate Islam with violence” when asked about the murder of French priest Jacques Hamel by two jihadists.
In the wake of the attack, he said that “the world is at war” but argued that religion was not the cause.
“When I speak of war I speak of wars over interests, money, resources, not religion. All religions want peace, it’s the others who want war.”


Turkey irked over joint declaration by Cyprus, Greece and Egypt

Updated 22 min 7 sec ago

Turkey irked over joint declaration by Cyprus, Greece and Egypt

  • The joint statement also asked Turkey to accept Cyprus’ invitation to enter negotiations for an agreement on maritime delimitations

ISTANBUL: Turkey’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday slammed a joint statement by Greece, Cyprus and Egypt that condemns Turkish energy exploration in the eastern Mediterranean and numerous “provocations” that they maintain are threatening regional peace.
The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it “fully rejected the declaration containing baseless accusations and allegations.”
During a trilateral regional summit on Wednesday in Nicosia, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis urged Ankara to end its “aggressive” actions.
The joint statement also asked Turkey to accept Cyprus’ invitation to enter negotiations for an agreement on maritime delimitations. Greece and Cyprus have signed maritime border agreements with Egypt while dismissing a similar deal that Ankara signed with Libya’s Tripoli-based government as “legally invalid.”
The Turkish Foreign Ministry said the declaration attacked Ankara rather than supporting peace and stability in the region. It repeated Turkey’s position that cooperation could only take place with the inclusion of Turkish Cypriots in governing and sharing the resources of the ethnically divided island nation.
“We will continue with determination to protect our rights and the rights of Turkish Cypriots in the eastern Mediterranean,” the ministry statement said.
The trilateral summit took place amid high tensions between nominal NATO allies Greece and Turkey over maritime borders and energy rights.
In late summer, Turkey dispatched a research vessel escorted by warships to conduct seismic research in a part of the Mediterranean Sea that Greece claims as its territory, which prompted the Greek government to deploy its own warships.
Turkey pulled the research ship back to shore for several weeks for maintenance and to allow time for diplomacy but redeployed the Oruc Reis on a new energy exploration mission. A maritime announcement by Turkey says the Oruc Reis and two other ships would continue working in the area until Oct. 27.
Turkey also has had ships prospecting for oil and gas reserves in waters that Cyprus claims as its exclusive economic zone.