Pope tells German Muslims all must be bound by law

Reuters , Friday 23 Sep 2011

Pope Benedict tells German Muslims in Berlin they can expect cooperation and support from Roman Catholics as long as they respect Germany's constitution and the limits it sets on pluralism

Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI is welcomed by Thuringia's state premier Christine Lieberknecht (centre R) on his arrival at Erfurt airport September 23, 2011. (Reuters photo)

Meeting representatives of Germany's four million Muslims, Pope Benedict said the constitution drawn up in post-war West Germany was solid enough to adapt to a pluralistic society in a globalised world and make room for new religions as well.

Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Muslims last year that Islamic law, sharia, had no place in Germany. She and other conservative politicians have recently been stressing Germany's Christian roots.

Benedict told Muslim leaders that societies needed to agree on fundamental principles: "This common frame of reference is articulated by the constitution, whose juridical content is binding on every citizen, whether he belongs to a faith community or not."

After the meeting, the pope left for the eastern German city of Erfurt, where he was due to meet Protestant leaders in the monastery where the 16th century reformer Martin Luther once lived.

He has said the meeting, which he asked to be longer than originally planned, would be a highpoint of his four-day visit. Protestant leaders are hoping he will signal some flexibility on their requests for more ecumenical cooperation.

Muslims praise Pope 

Muslim leaders praised the pope for confirming through the meeting that Islam was now a part of German society. But they said their loyalty to the constitution was never in question.

"As Muslims in Germany, we have always said that we see the German constitution as a good basis for peaceful life together," Bekir Alboga, head of interreligious dialogue for the Turkish mosque association DITIB, told Reuters after meeting the pope.

Aiman Mazyek, chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, told reporters: "My impression was that the pope wants to launch a new era of dialogue with Muslims."

Alboga said the pope's short address also represented a change from his controversial 2006 speech in Regensburg, where his use of a medieval emperor's quote about Islam being violent and irrational sparked heated protests across the Muslim world.

"The pope has now chosen a new approach in his meeting with Muslims," he said. "I think one must look to the future and see where the possibilities for good cooperation are."

The Bavarian-born pontiff began his third and most challenging visit to his homeland on Thursday with an address to parliament and an open-air Mass at Berlin's Olympic Stadium.

About 8,000 people protested in central Berlin against his conservative moral teachings and the clerical sexual abuse scandals shaking the Church. Almost 100 left-wing deputies boycotted his speech to the Bundestag lower house of parliament.

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