Muslims have interacted with the Roman Catholic Church and its leaders -- sometimes negatively and sometimes positively -- for hundreds of years. These interactions have included negative periods of needless and counterproductive conflict, as well as positive cooperation on issues of importance to families of all faiths.
With the election of a new pope, Muslims and Catholics should focus on how the next hundred years can mark a period of sustained productive relations contributing to the betterment of humanity.
A Pope's words and actions impact billions of people, including Muslims.
As the 115 cardinals choosing the new spiritual leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics meet in the Sistine Chapel, American Muslims hope the successor to Pope Benedict XVI will share their worldview in which people of every faith and background interact based on mutual respect and a desire for peaceful coexistence.
I was honored to be one of the early signatories, along with 137 other Muslim leaders and scholars, to an open letter titled "A Common Word Between Us and You," which was sent to Pope Benedict, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and more than 20 other Christian leaders.
The open letter was designed to promote understanding between Muslims and Christians worldwide. It stated in part: "[L]et our differences not cause hatred and strife between us. Let us vie with each other only in righteousness and good works. Let us respect each other, be fair, just and kind to (one) another and live in sincere peace, harmony and mutual goodwill."
I urge Muslims not to hold all Christians responsible for any wrongs their brethren commit, just as I hope Christians do not hold all Muslims responsible for the actions of a tiny minority of extremists.
Forgiveness is a virtue, and a focus on what joins us together -- not on what may divide us -- and is key to the next 100 years of positive relations.
Shared values and the belief that God wants what is best for every citizen of the world should propel us to engage in initiatives to promote tolerance, bring peace and help the needy.
In the Quran, Islam's revealed text, God says: "O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice as witnesses to God, even as against yourselves or your parents or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for God can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts) lest you swerve, and if you distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily God is well acquainted with all that you do. (The Holy Quran, Chapter 4, Verse 135)
We ask the new pope, whomever he is, to reach out to Muslims worldwide. We will be there extending our hands to stand for justice and to help him build on the foundation of interfaith trust and respect laid down by his predecessors.
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[Nihad Awad is national executive director for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest Muslim civil liberties group. He may be contacted at: [email protected] ]