Sunday, March 8, 2009

The pope's view of Islam inspired by an Egyptian Jesuit

Before he was Pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger would hold an annual summer retreat for his former theology students that focused each year on a single theme of acute concern. Three months after his rise to the papacy, Benedict XVI continued the tradition with a closed-door encounter in the Vatican's breezy summer residence, Castel Gandolfo. The topic chosen that first year with him as Pope was Islam, and the keynote speaker was Father Samir Khalil Samir, a soft-spoken, Cairo-born Jesuit and an expert on Muslim history and theology.

Thirteen months later, Benedict set off the most explosive moment of his papacy with a lecture at his old university in Regensburg, Germany, about faith and reason and the risk that Islamic theology makes the religion particularly prone to violence. Even as criticism of the speech spread in both Muslim and Catholic circles, Samir was among the first and most steadfast defenders of the Pope's message about Islam. Indeed, they were the same ideas Samir had been espousing for years. (See pictures from Pope Benedict XVI's first year.)

A new book has just been released by Ignatius Press (the longtime U.S. publisher of Ratzinger's work) that lays out in fine detail the Jesuit's vision of Islam's ancient tenets and current tendencies. Called 111 Questions on Islam, it is the translation of a book-length interview two Italian journalists conducted with Samir in 2002 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The priest says that in reviewing the material before the English-language release, he was struck by how little there was to update. "The major points that I laid out are the same today, after more than six years," Samir told TIME in a telephone interview. "This means the problems that we face with Islam continue to be more or less the same."

Read the whole article in Time Magazine.

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