Muslim-Catholic relations are complex and ridden with religious strife. This apology is a small, albeit important, step in the process of reconciliation and cooperation.
The Pope's reference to the Crusades reminds Muslims of the vilification of Islam that took place over 1000 years ago. Islam was viewed as a barbaric cult to the point that the eradication of Muslims and the dismantling of Islamic civilization were construed to be divine will: a Middle Ages version of ethnic and religious cleansing.
A developed Western phobia against Islam continues. Negative attitudes are evident in the eradication of Muslims from Bosnia, Kosovo, and Chechnya, and in the discrimination found against Muslims in Europe (such as in France, where women are penalized for their decision to wear a head scarf.)
We continue to hear of a "Judeo-Christian tradition," a myopic construct of global relations that adds to the theory of the Conflict of Civilizations. It breeds a new world order that excludes Islam, even though Islam is an Abrahamic faith: "Say, We believe in Abraham, and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes, and we believe in God and the Last Day."- Quran.
Karen Armstrong, in her book "Holy War," mentions that the term "crusade" carries with it a positive and socially valuable connotation, yet is founded in a time of savagery and fanaticism. The term Jihad, on the other hand, means striving and struggling for human rights, yet its connotation has replaced the historical meaning of the word "crusade."
Hopefully, the Pope's insistence that we take responsibility for the suffering of others will build a foundation for greater understanding between people of different faiths. We can then begin to work on reconciling past aggressions and correcting current human rights violations.
Directing religion's energy against hatred and violence is the next step to complete atonement. The interfaith effort should focus on resolving conflicts begun in the name of religion, and the solutions must respect religion.
We welcome the Pope's statement of apology and his decision to incorporate the claims of other legitimate faiths into his views and the views of the Catholic Church.
Salam Al-Marayati is the director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.