Expressing his deep appreciation, Pope Benedict XVI is inviting a delegation of Islamic scholars, who earlier signed a letter urging greater dialogue between Christianity and Islam, to visit the Vatican to attend the Pontifical Council for inter-religious dialogue.
The Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal, Tarcisio Bertone, who sent the response on behalf of the Pope, expressed the Pontiff's gratitude to the 138 Muslim scholars urging greater understanding between the two great monolithic religions and said the gesture was made in 'positive spirit which inspired the text and for the call for a common commitment to promoting peace in the world.'
The Pope, Cardinal Bertone said, was particular impressed with the two greatest commandments outlined in the Muslims' letter that were 'to love the Lord our God' and 'to love thy neighbour as thyself.' These two commandments are also found in the word of prophet.
"Without ignoring or downplaying our differences as Christians and Muslims, we can and therefore should look to what unites us, namely, belief in the one God, the provident Creator and universal Judge who at the end of time will deal with each person according to his or her actions. We are all called to commit ourselves totally to him and to obey his sacred will," the Pope responded in the letter.
Aref Ali Nayed, a prime promoter of the Muslim scholars' letter, told Catholic News Service (CNS) the Pontiff's invitation to attend would be accepted by the delegation and it should not be seen as a photo opportunity but rather as a real discussion.
"There is a theological and moral principle in Islam that according to the Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, when you are invited to something you should go," he said.
"It should not be a photo opportunity, but a real discussion with the pope and our scholars," he said. "The scholars that signed the letter are theologians and jurists; they see the pope not just as the leader of 1 billion Catholics, but as a scholar in his own right."
Despite the goodwill generated in this exchange, two controversial topics of religious freedom and reciprocity in recognising the rights of Christians in Muslim countries will not be discussed.
Mr. Nayed was pleased with the absence of these two issues in the Pope's letter, telling CNS that it would have caused a 'diplomatic discourse' if the Pope brought it up.