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Mustapha Cherif Holds Dialogue With Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday received in audience an Algerian Muslim philosopher known for his commitment to battling religious hatred.
"I was impressed by his welcome and attention, face to face," Mustapha Cherif, an expert on Islam at the University of Algiers.

Cherif, 50, had requested the audience prior to the Muslim reactions to the Pope's address in Regensburg, Germany, on Sept. 12.

The Holy Father had read an appeal for dialogue, launched by Cherif in the Parisian newspaper Le Monde. The Algerian professor also expressed concern after Benedict XVI's decision to appoint the same cardinal to head the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue and the Pontifical Council for Culture.

The Muslim leader had interpreted this latter gesture as a lack of sensitivity by the Pope to inter-religious dialogue, lessening the weight and identity of that Vatican department.

The audience took place as the Holy Father prepares for his Nov. 28-Dec. 1 trip to Turkey, an overwhelmingly Muslim country.

Speaking about the audience, Cherif said that the Holy Father assured him that Christians and Muslims are "allies and friends."

However, the professor continued, "the return of racial and religious hatred, of anti-Semitism, which has as its objective Muslims in particular, is a threat to all."

Cherif said: "The Holy Father, better than any one, knows that, at the ethical level, one of the missions of the Church is to oppose this foul beast, Faustian logic and warmongering policies, the deformation of religions.

"We Muslims, I told him, are convinced that Your Holiness will say what is right in regard to the problems of the world so that injustices and racism will recede. He shared fully the idea that we have need of objective critical thought and messages of fraternity."

Cherif said he expressed his vision of Islam and "the Pope listened to me with kindness. In regard to violence, I explained that Islam asks each one of its believers to forgive in the face of adversity, to be patient and merciful.

"In regard to collective responsibility in the face of aggressions, in order to avoid entering the logic of the wolf and the lamb [and] to protect the right of peoples' existence, Islam codifies in a strict manner recourse to the 'just war' - which the Prophet described as 'little' jihad - as legitimate defense."

The principle of the "just war" and not of the "holy war" implies "never being the aggressor, protecting civilians - and in particular Christian monks, the weak - the environment and always being equitable," said Cherif.

"St. Augustine did not propose something different. He assented with a smile," added the Muslim. "The great jihad is the effort for self-control, toward spiritual elevation, toward beautiful works. This definition seemed to him to be a salutary illumination, which should be known."

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