Beirut (AsiaNews) – “Let us first read what the Pope actually said,” urged Ali el-Amin, Shia mufti of Tyre. Such a view of the controversy that surrounds Benedict XVI’s Regensburg speech reflects the prevailing attitude in multi-faith Lebanon. Even Hezbollah has limited itself so far to express surprise for remarks that “are contrary to the reality of the Muslim religion”, whereas the deputy chairman of the Higher Shia Islamic Council has called for dialogue and the rejection of violence.
In Christian quarters, reactions in the Muslim world are seen as politically motivated. For Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir the Pope’s remarks have been misunderstood. “The motivations behind the criticism are political,” he said. Benedict XVI “did not directly talk about Islam. “Christians and Muslims have an interest of working together, especially in Lebanon”.
In his Sunday’s homily, Cardinal Sfeir reiterated remarks made a Vatican spokesman according to which the Pope did not express his opinion on Islam, which was not an issue in his address. Instead, the Holy Father respects Islam and rejects religious motivations of violence.
The Patriarch also mentioned that in the conciliar document Nostra Aetate, the Church held Muslims in “esteem” for they “adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, Who has spoken to men.”
From the same document, he said: “Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.”
“It was an affront to the Pope for some Muslim religious dignitaries and political leaders to ask him to apologise,” said Mgr Béchara Rai, bishop of Jbeilm.
In an interview with the Voix du Liban, the bishop emphasised the need to read the Pope’s statements before making false interpretations.
“Under normal circumstances, when you have a problem, you go back to the text,” he said. “That is what I did. I read the lecture the Pope gave to a German Theology Faculty on the relationship between faith and reason. It’s deplorable that so many people reacted without having read the text. This no longer belongs to the realm of reason, but to that emotion.”
Bishop Rai added that he hoped Muslim religious leaders “would read the conference [paper] and express their opinion about the issues raised by the Pope.”
Sheikh Abdel Amir Kabalan, deputy chairman of the Higher Shia Islamic Council, also urged people to engage in dialogue and reject violence. He expressed “respect for everyone, those who retracted, those who deplored and those who apologised for the accusation made against them.”
In a final appeal to reject violence, Mufti Ali el-Amin called on people to read what the Pope said with “calm and serenity”, and avoid “impulsive and irrational reactions as well as street language.”