Pope Benedict XVI will begin his trip to the Middle East and the Holy Land with nearly three full days in the Muslim-majority Kingdom of Jordan. He will meet with Muslim religious leaders and make his second visit to a mosque as Pope.
Benedict will be staying much longer in Jordan than his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, did during his own Holy Land pilgrimage in 2000. The difference may reflect Benedict’s increased concern for dialogue with Islam since September 2006, when he quoted a medieval description of the religion as ‘evil and inhuman’ and ‘spread by the sword’. The Pope has a difficult political role to play since the controversy over his support for a Holocaust-denying Bishop. Jewish-Roman Catholic relations are very much at a low ebb.
The Pope’s speech quoting the medieval description of Islam as ‘evil and inhuman’ sparked violent protests throughout the Muslim world and led to an unprecedented three-day summit between Catholic and Muslim religious leaders at the Vatican last November - the result of an initiative by Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal of Jordan.
Links between Roman Catholic churches and mosques in the UK have been developing and have been illustrated by the Madina Mosque in Sheffield welcoming Roman Catholic staff and clients from a local Catholic centre to events at the mosque.
There are now close ties between Sheffield’s ‘Sharrow Safer Neighbourhoods’ project, the mosque and the R.C. St. Wilfrid’s Centre. At a recent ceremony in the mosque, community development centre worker Mashood Nazir said: “We are very enthusiastic about building relationships with our local community, like St. Wilfrid’s centre, which supports homeless, vulnerable and socially excluded people”. On March 14 the mosque held a ‘Pakistan Day’ and again invited local Roman Catholic leaders to the event. Masood Nazir said of these events: “The aim is to give an insight about what goes on in the mosque and a chance for others to find out more about Islam and its customs”.
Meanwhile the ‘Stop Ahmed Campaign’ - designed to stop Muslim Aaqil Ahmed becoming the Head of Religious Programming at the BBC, has been gathering pace. Ahmed is currently Commissioning Editor for Religion at Channel 4. Ahmed has been publicly criticised in the broadsheet press, not for the fact that he is a Muslim, but for what one Daily Telegraph journalist, George Pitcher, described as “his woeful documentary series on the history of Christianity.”
But BBC insiders have been saying: ‘The job is as good as Ahmed’s already’. Michael Wakelin, formerly head of Religion & Ethics at the BBC, applied for the job but was humiliatingly and publicly rejected.