ITALY – Assisi Imam thanks Pope Francis for his comments on Islam
Abdel Qader Mohammed, the imam of Perugia, thanked Pope Francis for his recent statement that true Islam is not a religion of violence, but of peace. The Pope had a brief unscheduled meeting with Mohammed during his recent visit to the Porziuncola inside the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels in Assisi.
The Pope’s remarks were made during his return flight to Rome from Poland on 31 July, when he stated that “Islam is not a religion of terrorism, but a faith of peace.” When asked by a French journalist during the flight whether or not Islam as a whole can be considered a violent religion, Francis responded: “I do not believe it is right to identify Islam with violence…This is not right and it is not true.”
“I don’t like to speak about Islamic violence,” the Pope said, noting that so-called ISIS is “an Islamic state which presents itself as violence.” “This is a small fundamentalist group called ISIS,” he said. But “I do not believe it is true or correct that Islam is terrorist.”
Imam Mohammed described his unexpected meeting with Pope Francis as “an exciting, important and necessary encounter, now more than ever…because dialogue is built on mutual respect and sincerity. And today more than ever, firm stances are needed against all forms of violence and terror.” Mohammed offered “A heartfelt thanks to Pope Francis for his closeness to us Muslims,” and ended by praising “Allah, the Merciful.”
This isn’t the first time Francis has met with an imam. On 19March he met with and embraced Ahmed el-Tayeb, grand imam of the al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo. This meeting was seen as a step toward reopening dialogue between Christians and Sunni Muslims. On that occasion, el-Tayeb issued a global appeal against terrorism, which he said is “deviant” from true Islam and threatens both east and west alike. Later Francis sent an envoy to Cairo to discuss reopening of talks between Catholics and Muslims.
Pope Francis was visiting Assisi to mark the 800th anniversary of the “Pardon of Assisi”. According to tradition, Saint Francis had a vision of Christ and Our Lady surrounded by angels in which the Lord asked St Francis what he wanted for the salvation of souls. St Francis responded by asking God to grant a plenary indulgence to all pilgrims who visited the church.
While in Assisi, Pope Francis also heard the confessions of 19 people and visited the hospital of the friars of the Porziuncola in the evening, where he gave a brief speech before returning to Rome.
“Thank you so much for your welcome and I ask the Lord to bless you,” Pope Francis said. “I thank you for this desire to be close to me. Do not forget: always forgive. Forgive from the heart, or if you can get closer… but forgive, because if we forgive the Lord forgives us, and we all need forgiveness. Is there anyone not in need of pardon here? All (are)!”