Pope Benedict XVI resigns the Papacy: how could this effect Islamic relations? (critical commentary)

Posted on February 19, 2013 by


On February 11th, 2013, Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation. For the world’s Catholics, this could possibly signal a myriad of changes in how they practice their religion. For instance, if Benedict’s successor is less conservative and looking to broaden the church’s appeal, restrictions on using condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS may be lifted, and divorced Catholics who, without an annulment, have remarried, may be able to take communion. Though they are small changes, the Catholic church is definitely standing at a crossroads as to where this election might lead, and who will continue to bring the church out of it’s recent turbulence due to the sexual abuse scandals.

Outside of Catholicism, and even Christianity, Benedict’s resignation has far-reaching effects on the religions of the world. According to a blog published by the Religion News Service in relation to Muslims, Benedict made his stance clear in 2006 when he equated the Muslim prophet Muhammad with inhumanity and evil faith preached with use of the sword. Though the Pope realized the errors that he had made in his speech, and even tried to make amends by making visits to Muslim countries, and praying in a mosque or two, the damage had been done. But as the Catholic church stands on the precipice of a new Pope, realizing that Catholicism has spread so fervently south in a geographical aspect, Muslims hold out hope that if the next Pope were to be different, relations between the two religions could change. Some speculators say that if the Catholic church were to elect it’s first African, Latin American, or Asian Pope, there may be a chance for these two faiths, both fundamentally built on forgiveness and mercy, to coexist without conflict or harsh words.

The first statement made by the Al-Azhar al-Sharif institute in Cairo, where the highest-standing religious authority of Sunni Islam presides, was one of reconciliation of the ties between Muslims and Christians based on respect and understanding between the two religions. In this report from BBC, it is stated that though Pope Benedict XVI tried to make up for his harsh words toward Muslims, forgiveness was not something Benedict received from the Muslim community during his term. BBC does not make it a point to show the extent to which Benedict tried to improve relations, but did say that he stopped short of any sort of clear apology.

Between these two sources, there are differences that seem to be attributed to authors and intended audience. Writing for the Religion News Service, Omid Safi is also a professor of Islamic Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill. His writing exudes his theological prowess in the situation and while addressing the remarks made by the Pope, looks toward a reinforced relationship between Christians and Muslims in the future. Ahmed Maher, writing for BBC Arabic, addresses the remarks heavily, and shows a spark of hope as well, though without any clear-defined visions of how that may happen. It seems to me that while they both propose a future of reconciliation, Safi, who seems more educated on the theological principles of both Islam and Christianity, finds solace in reconciliation while Maher finds solace in the lone fact that Pope Benedict XVI will be replaced soon.

In either regard, I believe that Islamic relations to Christianity, two of the most widely observed religious practices, may have a brighter future ahead. Though Pope Benedict XVI made attempts to correct his words of insult toward Muslims, retiring his position for whatever reasons, Islamic theologians and columnists alike view in a positive light for further relations.





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