Muslim scholars urge Benedict to back dialogue appeal

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PARIS, Oct 23 (Reuters) Muslim scholars pressing Christian churches for a high-level dialogue to improve inter-faith relations have urged Pope Benedict to publicly back their appeal already supported by several non-Catholic leaders.

One of the 138 signatories to the unprecedented appeal told Benedict at a religious gathering in Naples on Sunday that the group was disappointed with what it saw as the Vatican's relatively slow response, another signatory said on Monday.

The group has also sent the Vatican a letter criticising remarks by its top official for inter-faith relations, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, in which he said that serious theological dialogue with Muslims was not possible, signatory Aref Ali Nayed told Reuters.

The novel appeal, representing a broad spectrum of Sunni and Shi'ite groups, urged Christian leaders on Oct. 11 to seek common ground with Islam to help preserve world peace.

''Muslims are still awaiting a proper response from His Holiness Pope Benedict,'' said the new letter.

''We call upon him to embrace the initiative that our scholars made with the same good will that has already marked its reception by so many Christians.'' Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, Lutheran World Federation head Bishop Mark Hanson, World Council of Churches head Rev. Samuel Kobia, US Presbyterian Church head Clifton Kirkpatrick and several leading theologians have praised the appeal as a positive basis for a possible dialogue.

EID MESSAGE ''POLEMICAL'' While several Catholic experts have reacted favourably, Benedict has not mentioned the appeal publicly. Tauran at first praised it as ''very interesting'' but in remarks last Friday raised other issues that could complicate any talks.

The cardinal said Christians could not discuss theology seriously with Muslims because they did not question the Koran.

He also said any talks should discuss why some Muslim states limit church building while Muslims can build mosques in Europe.

''This attitude, it seems to Muslims, misses the very point of dialogue,'' the new letter said. ''Dialogue is by definition between people of different views, not people of the same view.

''Dialogue is not about imposing one's views on the other side, nor deciding oneself what the other side is and is not capable of, nor even of what the other side believes.'' Nayed, a senior advisor to the Cambridge Interfaith Program in Britain, said signatory Izzeldine Ibrahim personally urged Benedict to support the appeal. The two sat at the same table for lunch at the Naples inter-faith meeting on Sunday.

Ibrahim is a cultural adviser to the United Arab Emirates government.

The new letter also said the Vatican's annual message to Muslims for Eid el-Fitr holiday marking the end of Ramadan ''had been made polemical of late''.

Once devoted mostly to religious themes, the messages last year and this year included calls for different religions to fight against terrorism and violence.

REUTERS ARB RK0910

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