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The Vatican and a delegation of Muslim scholars have agreed to improve dialogue by setting up a permanent channel of communication. It will start with unprecedented Catholic-Muslim forum in November attended by Pope Benedict XVI.
NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports from Rome.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI: After a two-day meeting, the Vatican and five Muslim leaders announced jointly that the November forum will discuss theological as well as social and political issues. Catholic-Muslim relations soured after a speech Pope Benedict delivered in Germany in 2006 in which he quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor's description of Islam as violent and irrational. The speech provoked Muslim fury and violent protest in much of the Islamic world. Today, Aref Ali Nayed, Director of Jordan's Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center, said many Muslims are still offended by what Benedict said.
Mr. AREF ALI NAYED (Director, Jordan's Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center): Just because we are part of this initiative doesn't mean that we're not hurt by this. However, we must not only dwell on the negative but also dwell on the positive. And it's very encouraging to see the Vatican standing by us at a moment when some people think that it is part of free speech to humiliate the sacred.
POGGIOLI: Benedict extended an olive branch by visiting an Istanbul mosque and praying with an imam in the direction of Mecca, but he stopped short of a clear apology as sought by Muslims. After the fallout from the Germany speech, 138 Muslims scholars wrote a letter to the Pope in which they said world peace depended on the two faith communities being at peace with one another.
Members of the Muslim delegation said terrorism will have to be one of the main topics of the forum. Sohail Nakhooda, editor in chief of Islamica Magazine, stressed that the way to isolate extremists is to make sure that people understand the true message of spiritual texts.
Mr. SOHAIL NAKHOODA (Editor in Chief, Islamica Magazine): We have to make sure, given the situation we have in a war with neocons, with bin Laden, with Zarqawi, you name it, many mad people around the world, we have to make sure that people do not misunderstand sacred texts, because definitely there is no room for violence.
POGGIOLI: The Catholic-Muslim forum will meet every two years, first in Rome, then in an Islamic country.
Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.