[In the aftermath of Pope Benedict's speech, clarification and apology, there are questions that trouble many Catholics here. CatholicNews asked Brother Michael Broughton his thoughts on some of these questions. Brother Michael is a Catholic representative on the Inter-Religious Organization (IRO) of Singapore. He is also the Area Director of the De La Salle Brothers, Deputy Principal of St. Joseph's Instituion and Brother President of SJI International.]
Q. Did the pope make a mistake in using the illustration that led to the adverse reaction among Muslims?
Brother Michael: Yes, even the Holy Father himself has come to realize that what he said has led to negative reactions that he had never intended. In the present climate in which many Muslims the world over are made to feel the target of the world's suspicion and negative attention, any such illustration would be read by sensitive Muslims as being yet another attack on Islam especially since the one using this illustration is a prominent and respected Christian leader, the pope.
Q. Is the Muslim reaction understandable or justifiable?
Brother Michael: The Muslim reaction is understandable, given the present climate; it is also understandable that many Muslims feel justified in demanding an immediate apology and retraction of that particular 16th century statement by a Byzantine emperor as well. For more level-headed Muslims who know the actual context of the speech and the good record of Catholic relations with Islam especially these past 40 years, the present criticism is an over-reaction. As Catholics, we ourselves must confess that many of us have not read the pope's full speech which began this controversy; so how can we expect Muslims to have done so?
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Q. Is the pope's apology necessary? If it is, is it sufficient?
Brother Michael: It is always polite to apologize after a misunderstanding. In that sense an apology is necessary. Some will see complete sincerity in the pope's apology and find it sufficient while others, no matter what he says, will view any regret on his part as insincere and too late to repair the damage done. many Muslim leaders and scholars share the sentiments of Imam Habib Hassan of the Ba'alwi Mosque in Singapore when he says: "The pope has already apologized. The matter is over. We should all learn from it and move on." Honestly speaking, this incident can be viewed as yet another window of opportunity to enter into dialogue as we sincerely try to explain our positions.
Q. How has this incident affected Christian-Muslim relations in Singapore?
Brother Michael: Muslims in Singapore generally do not overreact to such incidents, usually waiting for the initial storm to subside and for their imams and uztaz to make reference to these incidents in their teaching or preaching. Singapore has interreligious bodies like the IRO which naturally become a channel of communication between the leaders of one religion and the leaders of another when such a need arises. As Ameerali Abdeali, a Muslim representative on the IRO, said: "We have built up over the years a friendship and trust that facilitates such communication and we shall continue to nurture this relationship between our religions."
Q. Following this incident, has any step been taken or planned for Christian-Muslim relations in Singapore?
Brother Michael: There has yet been no direct approach to the Catholic representatives on the IRO as regards this matter. We are ready to enter into dialogue and listen and explain our pope's statement in the context in which it was used. All Catholics should be prepared to imitate the example of our spiritual leader and humbly apologize and express the pope's regret that his illustration should have caused such upset among Muslims, something that was never his intent.