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ZENIT News Agency, The World Seen from Rome  
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Benedict XVI Meets With Muslim Philosopher
Mustapha Cherif Tells of Cordial Dialogue

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 13, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI received in audience a Muslim philosopher from Algeria who is known for his commitment to battling religious hatred.

"I was impressed by his welcome and attention, face to face," said Mustapha Cherif, an expert on Islam at the University of Algiers, after the audience Saturday. His comments were reported in a message sent to ZENIT.

Cherif, 50, had requested the audience prior to the Muslim reactions to the Pope's address in Regensburg, Germany, on Sept. 12.

The Holy Father had read an appeal for dialogue, launched by Cherif in the Parisian newspaper Le Monde. The Algerian professor also expressed concern after Benedict XVI's decision to appoint the same cardinal to head the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Pontifical Council for Culture.

The Muslim leader had interpreted this latter gesture as a lack of sensitivity by the Pope to interreligious dialogue, lessening the weight and identity of that Vatican dicastery.

The audience took place as the Holy Father prepares for his Nov. 28-Dec. 1 trip to Turkey, an overwhelmingly Muslim country.

Speaking about the audience, Cherif said that the Holy Father assured him that Christians and Muslims are "allies and friends."

However, the professor continued, "the return of racial and religious hatred, of anti-Semitism, which has as its objective Muslims in particular, is a threat to all."

Cherif said: "The Holy Father, better than any one, knows that, at the ethical level, one of the missions of the Church is to oppose this foul beast, Faustian logic and warmongering policies, the deformation of religions.

"We Muslims, I told him, are convinced that Your Holiness will say what is right in regard to the problems of the world so that injustices and racism will recede. He shared fully the idea that we have need of objective critical thought and messages of fraternity."

What Islam asks

Cherif said he expressed his vision of Islam and "the Pope listened to me with kindness. … In regard to violence, I explained that Islam asks each one of its believers to forgive in the face of adversity, to be patient and merciful.

"In regard to collective responsibility in the face of aggressions, in order to avoid entering the logic of the wolf and the lamb [and] to protect the right of peoples' existence, Islam codifies in a strict manner recourse to the 'just war' -- which the Prophet described as 'little' jihad -- as legitimate defense."

The principle of the "just war" and not of the "holy war" implies "never being the aggressor, protecting civilians -- and in particular Christian monks, the weak -- the environment and always being equitable," said Cherif.

"St. Augustine did not propose something different. He assented with a smile," added the Muslim. "The great jihad is the effort for self-control, toward spiritual elevation, toward beautiful works. This definition seemed to him to be a salutary illumination, which should be known."

The Algerian philosopher explained that "our duty consists in criticizing vulgar blends between Islam and extremism. The Muslim community can regenerate itself and help the modern world, which is going through a tragic moment, despite the prodigious scientific progress, to reinvent a new civilization which is so necessary."

Cherif said that Benedict XVI "told me that one of the problems of our time is the extreme secularization and that we must witness with courage and reason the religious dimension of existence."

The Algerian professor said he made three proposals to the Holy Father:

-- "the holding of an interreligious colloquium on the topic of the struggle against religious hatred."

-- "the sensitization of the international community on the condemnable character of offenses and attacks against religions' sacred symbols," and on respect for the right "of freedom of expression and criticism."

-- The "expansion of groups and networks of friendship, dialogue and Muslim-Christian research throughout the world."

Cherif added: "The Holy Father told me that he shares fully our concerns, and totally supports these noble objectives. This unforgettable dialogue of faith and thought, open to others, opposed to all hatreds, is a sign of hope."


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