The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan supported both Saddam Hussein, who shed the blood of his own people for thirty years, and Hezbollah, who attacked its own countrymen in Beirut, opposed the Pope’s visit [to Jordan] and refused to meet with him. This is a familiar opportunistic political position, and similar to the one taken by the extremist Jews in Israel who also declared – through senior rabbis – their refusal to meet with the Pope.
Despite this, the world curiously followed up on this unusual papal visit. I myself experienced this same sense of curiosity when I visited the Jordanian capital long ago and noticed a cross hanging inside my taxi. The Bedouin Jordanian driver, dressed in traditional Arab clothing and headdress was an Arab tribesman who maintained his Christianity in a sea of Arab Muslims. This is in the same way that the Arab Jews in Yemen are more Jewish than New York Jews, more Arab than Brazilian Arabs, and more Yemeni than the Sana’a locals.
The news of Pope Benedict’s visit to the Arab world aroused the curiosity of many which resulted in the Wikipedia web-page on Arab Christians receiving unprecedented internet traffic. This webpage displays images of Christians of Arab descent such as writer Khalil Gibran, attorney Ralph Nader, actress Salma Hayek, businessman Carlos Ghosn, and even Argentinean President Carlos Menem.
The Pope’s visit for many remains a significant political step despite these names, images and Christianity’s deep-rooted historical presence [in the Middle East], as Pope Benedict XVI represents a billion Catholics all across the globe. After the Pope stood up for the Palestinians the Israelis [publicly] set fire to images of him, and now senior Jewish rabbis have refused to meet with him. The Pope previously said that Islam was spread by the sword, this resulted in the streets filling with Muslim demonstrators, and so he must not be accustomed to the fact that every sermon that he delivers angers one party or another, and more often than not his followers inside the Catholic Church.
The fact of the matter is that the late Pope John Paul II – who was of Polish origin – was more capable of communicating with Arabs and the Muslims in general than the current Pope. And the Arabs of days gone by were more capable of maintaining religious coexistence for long centuries than Arabs and Westerners are today, this despite the presence of cruel historical conflict [between the two faiths], a conflict that also occurred between the various Muslim sects and denominations.
The storm caused by the new Pope comes following one in a long line of positive visits, but in the world that we live in today a single word is enough to ignite a religious or sectarian war. When uttered by the Vatican Pope, the Imam of the Masjid Al-Haram, the Al-Azhar Mufti, or the Grand Ayatollah, a single word can have the destructive powers of a nuclear bomb.
Muslims around the world today are in need of allies who understand their situation and stand up for them. This is why the call for the Interfaith Conference initiated by Saudi Arabia was such a crucial opportunity; not in order to receive blessing or settle doctrinal or historical differences, but simply to organize the relationship [between the faiths] and achieve peace, in the sense that all are free to worship God in their own way and in peace. Extremism has become a feature in all religions; Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and even Buddhism, which always claimed that it is tolerant above all else. When I see Islamic religious channels becoming widely prevalent, channels that put forward different ideologies, such as those of the Muslim Brotherhood, Salafist, Sufi, Jafari, and other schools of thought, I cannot help but recall the Christian channels in the US in which US clergymen give political sermons on the Jewish right to Palestinian soil. Therefore the warm welcome received by the Catholic Pope in Jordan – whose visit is an expression of religious peace – on his way to the historic site of Christ’s baptism [on the Jordan River] reflects the respect of those seeking coexistence and peace.