MPAC in the News: Scholars Say Pontiff's Trip Can Make Amends

November 29, 2006

By Laura Barnhardt

Baltimore Sun, 11/29/06

Past comments of Pope Benedict XVI about Islam have hurt his standing among Muslims worldwide, but his conciliatory visit to Turkey, and support of the nation's membership in the European Union, should help repair the damage, scholars say.

"The stakes are somewhat high, but I don't think the deck is necessarily stacked against him," said Chester Gillis, chairman of Georgetown University's theology department.

Some scholars say that the pope's visit is more important than it had been before his comments in September at Germany's University of Regensberg.

In that speech, which sparked protests by Muslims around the world, he included a quote from a 14th-century text that referred to some teachings of the prophet Muhammad as "evil and inhumane."

However, Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles, said he's not sure that the pope's visit "was really meant to repair relations. It was more a sidebar."

The four-day trip was planned long before the pope's comments in Germany and was mainly arranged so that the pope could meet with Orthodox Christian leaders, Al-Marayati said.

He called the pope's support for Turkey's admittance into the European Union a "positive step forward" but said, "It doesn't replace a serious, open discussion dealing with Islamophobia."



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