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.

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.”

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.”

Family backs Tlaib’s decision not to visit Israel

Updated 53 min 36 sec ago

Family backs Tlaib’s decision not to visit Israel

  • Israel said a humanitarian travel request by Tlaib would be considered as long as she promised not to promote a boycott against Israel

RAMALLAH: Relatives of a US congresswoman say they support her decision to decline Israel’s offer allowing her to visit them in the West Bank because the “right to travel should be provided to all without any conditions.”

Rashida Tlaib said she would not see her family, even after Israel lifted a ban on her entry, because the government had imposed restrictions on her trip.

“We totally understand her position and support her in her efforts. The right to travel should be provided to all without any conditions,” her uncle Bassam Tlaib told Arab News.

He was speaking from the family home in Beit Ur Al-Fuka, which is 3 km from the West Bank city of Ramallah, and was flanked by his elderly mother.

He said his niece had visited them many times in the past, but there had never been any conditions attached to her travel.

“She said we will meet when she can come without conditions,” Tlaib said. “One idea has been floated of flying the grandmother to the US or finding a way to have the two meetings in a third country. You know my mother is nearing 90 and it is not easy for her to travel but we are checking out all options.”

Tlaib, a Democrat, has criticized Israel’s policy toward Palestinians and had planned to make an official visit to the country.

Israel said a humanitarian travel request by Tlaib would be considered as long as she promised not to promote a boycott against Israel, local media reported.

But the congresswoman, who is Palestinian-American, lashed out on social media.

“I can’t allow the State of Israel to take away that light by humiliating me & use my love for my sity to bow down to their oppressive & racist policies,” she tweeted, using the word sity to refer to her grandmother. “Silencing me & treating me like a criminal is not what she wants for me. It would kill a piece of me. I have decided that visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in — fighting against racism, oppression & injustice.”

The NGO hosting and organizing the trip, Miftah, has been criticized by supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

Hanan Ashrawi, the NGO’s founder, said her staff had organized other congressional trips. “This was the third trip we have organized, and we try to do our work professionally and seriously,” Ashrawi told Arab News. “Our very mission is to promote global dialogue and democracy.”

Ashrawi said the attacks on Miftah were unwarranted.  “Miftah has been targeted with the expressed goal of trying to discredit us even though our record is clear. We believe that they are trying to keep organizing congressional delegations within the AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) monopoly, while we are trying to provide visitors with an opportunity to learn about Palestinian life under occupation and to understand the Palestinian narrative by providing opportunities for delegations to see and engage with Palestinians of all walks of life.” 

Ashrawi said Miftah had been “vetted” by the US Congress’ ethics committee. “We might not be able to bring hundreds of congress people like AIPAC, but we can bring a few and have them see, hear and interact with Palestinians.”

US President Donald Trump had called on Israel not to allow Tlaib and fellow congresswoman Ilhan Omar into Israel as admitting the two “would show great weakness.”

He tweeted that the pair “hate Israel and all Jewish people, and there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds. Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace.”