Pope heads to Israel after fence-mending trip to Jordan
In Jordan, Pope Benedict XVI sought to stress the importance of religion in public life as a way to find common ground with Jewish and Muslim groups.
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Sa'ed Haddad, who for 17 years has worked the counter at a bookstore across from the mosque, says the papal visit was definitely a good thing. "As Muslims, we always welcome coexistence and communication ... this matters to us, so people can know how peaceful we are," he says, adding that he hopes the pope's travels in the region would make the leader more aware of the suffering of Muslims.Skip to next paragraph
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Mohammad Hasan Batat, who came to pray, puts it more simply: "Islam is not a terrorist religion."
"In the Arab world, we care about the West," says Salah Ahmad, another worshiper, wearing white traditional garments, with a huge black beard and a deeply sun-worn face. "We care that through this visit, the Pope will take positions [on issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict] so that the Arabs will be free of injustices that are committed against them by the West and the world."
But while he says he hopes this will happen, he's not optimistic that the discussion will make anything better for Muslims who are suffering as a result of stereotypes. "Dialogue is supposed to reach a goal and a solution," he says: "To reach better understanding, and not view Muslims as terrorists."
Sadness over how the West views Islam
Many here feel that no amount of dialogue will change Westerners' negative attitudes about Muslims. According to John L. Esposito, the director of Georgetown University's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding and co-author of the recent book "Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think," this focus on what the West thinks of Muslims is not surprising.
"In my experience traveling across the Muslim world, particularly post-9/11, there's very much a sense of many Muslims feeling that, as it were, Islam is under siege: Islam is misunderstood, Islam and Muslims are equated with extremism and terrorism," he says. The polling data gathered for his book supports the same conclusion, he adds.
But while for many in Amman, "interfaith dialogue" means nice words with no effect on reality, Mr. Esposito thinks that the Pope's visit could pave the way for changes that could really mean something, from how religion is taught in mosques and seminaries to how faith communities respond to crises and disasters like Hurricane Katrina or the 2004 Asian tsunami. Mr. Esposito is also a former Catholic theologian, and is involved in the "A Common Word Between Us and You" initiative, which was started by Jordanian Prince Ghazi bin Mohammad, as a way of responding to the Pope's divisive 2006 speech.
In 2008, the initiative organized interfaith theological conferences at Yale and Cambridge Universities; a third conference, to be held at Georgetown University this October, will look at how to make interfaith dialogue lead to real world change.
Could concern over secularism bring unity?
In the end, like some in the Vatican, Esposito thinks it will be the struggle to keep faith involved in public life that brings the two together.
"What is often missed, by many on both sides, is that at the end of the day there's a core of religious belief and outlook that many Catholics and Muslims share," he says. "They're very concerned about family values and they're certainly very concerned about secularism ... that is not simply separation of church and state, but secularism that is antireligious."
For many in Jordan, though, that dialogue won't become meaningful until they perceive Christians and Jews as having stopped thinking of Islam as inferior. And there are many who still hold out for a more formal apology from the pope.
"All the Muslims are angry with him, not because he's the Pope, but because he insulted the Prophet [Mohammad]," says Abdulrahman Sleiman, a former teacher with a degree in philosophy, who was praying at the Husseini mosque. "If [dialogue] is the pope's goal, we think it could definitely help. But he's coming here for Christian rites that concern him only."