ROME — On his flight back to Rome after visiting Turkey, the Roman Catholic Pontiff known as Pope Francis told reporters that Islam should not be equated with terrorism and violence–a statement that some may disagree with considering the teachings of the religion.
“On Islamophobia, it is true that when one sees these terrorist acts, not only in this region, but also in Africa, there is this reaction [of], ‘If this is Islam, I am going to get angry,'” he said. “And so many Islamic people are offended.”
“Many, many [Muslims] say, ‘No, we are not this. The Koran is a book of peace. It is a prophetic book of peace. That (terrorism) is not Islam,” Francis continued.
He posited that Islamic leaders should speak out against terrorism to dispel any negatives perceptions about the religion.
“There are these small (radical or terrorist) groups,” the pontiff stated. “It would be a good thing if all Muslim leaders, whether they be political or religious leaders, say clearly that they condemn that because this would help the majority of the Muslim people to say no.”
Francis asserted that it is wrong to consider Islam a terrorist religion, and compared it to considering all Christians to be “fundamentalists.”
“Sincerely, I think we can’t say that all Muslims are terrorists,” he stated.
“You just can’t say that, just as you can’t say that all Christians are fundamentalists,” the pontiff continued. “We have our share of them (fundamentalists). All religions have these little groups.”
He also told reporters that when he visited Turkey’s Blue Mosque last week, he did so “as a pilgrim, not as a tourist” and that he felt moved to pray while he was there.
“I prayed for Turkey, for peace, for the mufti, for everyone and for myself, because I need it,” Francis said. “It was a moment of sincere prayer.”
As previously reported, Francis took off his shoes, folded his hands and bowed his head inside of the mosque on Saturday, standing silently next to Rahmi Yaran, who serves as the nation’s highest Islamic leader as grand mufti. The two faced Mecca as Yaran prayed with his palms raised.
In providing a tour of the turquoise-tiled mosque, Yaran spoke to the Roman Catholic leader about prayer, and expounded on verses from the Koran. Francis remarked about the importance of adoring God and not only worshiping him.
The pontiff’s visit to the mosque is not the first time that he has made gestures or issued statements seeking understanding between the two religions. As previously reported, last year, Francis issued a written greeting to Muslims in recognition of the close of the Islamic holiday Ramadan.
“Turning to mutual respect in inter-religious relations, especially between Christians and Muslims, we are called to respect the religion of the other, its teachings, its symbols, its values,” he wrote. “Particular respect is due to religious leaders and to places of worship. How painful are attacks on one or other of these!”
Last December, he met with Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), at the Vatican, who he asked to pray for him in the days ahead.
However, some are concerned about the pontiff’s ecumenism with Muslims. Mike Gendron of Proclaiming the Gospel Ministries of Plano, Texas, told Christian News Network following Francis’ meeting with Ihsanglu last year that the influential religious leader’s actions align with Roman Catholic teaching.
“The pope’s request for prayers from the Muslims is consistent his belief that they worship the same God,” he stated. “The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 841, reads, ‘The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims … together with us they adore the one, merciful God.’ This is a blatant rejection of the teachings of Christ, who declared He is the only way to the Father. Those who do not believe Jesus is God will die in their sins.”