Organizations comprising the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood varied in their response to the recent U.S. visit of Pope Benedict. National media reported widely on the April 17 event at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington where the Pope addressed 220 religious leaders including Sayid Syeed, secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) who reportedly “thanked the pope for years of efforts for Catholic-Muslim dialogue, but asked that he be cautious not to disrupt it.” Also attending the Washington event was Muzammil Siddiqi, described as the chairman of the Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA), who reportedly said “he told the pope he hoped Muslims might have a special meeting, too.” The media seemed unaware, however, that ISNA and FCNA are part of the same organizational structure instead describing the Syeed and Siddiqi as “Muslim leaders (Siddiqi is a past President of ISNA). Also invited and planning to attend the Washington event was Jamal Barzinji, Vice-President of the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT)
As Americans, we cherish diversity, not only in race and ethnicity, but also in faith. In that spirit, I see the pope’s visit as an opportunity for him to learn more about America and its respect for religious diversity. Unfortunately, some of the pope’s past statements and actions have led to tensions between Muslims and Catholics. It is perhaps best not to dwell on these past events, but instead to use them as a springboard to help deepen interfaith dialogue based on mutual understanding and acceptance of differences. The true test of productive interfaith dialogue comes when we build partnerships to take on the great challenges facing humanity today – injustice, inequality, war, poverty, illiteracy, disease, and hunger. To that end, we must quickly expand and strengthen the constructive conversation between faiths.
However, the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) reported that it had declined the invitation to attend the interfaith meeting and issued a statement saying:
We would like to engage Pope Benedict XVI in honest and serious dialogue that does not overlook real differences, but builds mutual respect between the Vatican and the American Muslim community,” said Salam Al-Marayati, Executive Director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. MPAC calls on other Muslim American groups to add their voices to the letter requesting a substantive dialogue with the Pope.
It is likely that this varied organizational response by the U.S. Brotherhood to the papal visit is a coordinated attempt to preserve the benefits of interfaith dialog while retaining credibility in the Islamic world. This was accomplished by having ISNA/FCNA, the “religious” arm of the U.S. Brotherhood, attend the interfaith meeting with CAIR/MPAC, the “political” arms, taking a more critical stance. IIIT, while part of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood, acts also as a global organization and also frequently participates in interfaith events and coalitions.