[Altaf Ali is executive director of the South Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.]
In Sept. 2006, Pope Benedict XVI sparked tension between Catholics and Muslims by what appeared to be an endorsement that early Muslims spread their religion by violence. Many Muslims were offended by this and some took to the streets in protest. American Muslims called on the church in the United States to establish more dialogue between Muslims and Catholics and offered the U.S. public a free book or DVD on the life of Muhammad.
One must seize the opportunity to bring about success from every adversity. Last year, Muslim leaders and scholars around the world signed a letter entitled, "A Common Word Between Us and You." The letter called for understanding between Christians and Muslims. This letter can be found at www.acommonword.com.
It is with open arms that I welcome Pope Benedict to the United States. I hope and pray his visit will make us take a hard look at ourselves and question our commitment to justice and peace. We must learn to put aside our differences and understand that we are all God's creations. It is only with love, understanding and respect that we will be able to live in peace and harmony. In order for this to happen, people with influence must set an example and be ambassadors to humanity.
As a person who strives to build bridges of understanding, I have experienced the fruits of participating in interfaith events. On Saturday, May 10, the interfaith community in South Florida will hold an event titled, "Bridges to the 21st Century." For more information, call 954-272-0494. When people challenge themselves to travel beyond their own boundaries, they will be able to reap any benefits.
Recently, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia made an appeal for dialogue between Judaism, Christianity and Islam. This call was impressive and momentous — it was the first of its kind by an Arab leader. Most importantly, it was a plea from a Muslim country that is home to two of Islam's most sacred sites, thus drawing a significant endorsement by Muslims worldwide. I embrace this noble gesture with enthusiasm.
Recent reports also suggest the Vatican is exploring the possibility of building a church in Saudi Arabia — the first church in this sacred Muslim land. People of other faiths were allowed freedom in the state governed by Prophet Muhammad. In 628 C.E., Prophet Muhammad granted a Charter of Privileges to the monks of St. Catherine Monastery in Mt. Sinai. The charter covered the rights of Christians, including freedom of worship, exemption from military service and the right to protection in war.
For the past several years, St. Katharine Drexel Catholic Church has invited me to address its congregation during mass services on Thanksgiving Day. Last Thanksgiving, I brought my three children to the mass. I wanted them to meet their extended brothers and sisters in faith.
Let this visit by Pope Benedict be a source of inspiration to all Americans, and an example to the world. America today is moving beyond its boundaries. Let us capitalize on these opportunities to send a message to the world that regardless of race, color or religion, America is indeed a land of opportunity.