Habib Alli Photo by Michael Swan

Pope’s respect for Islam in encyclical a Ramadan blessing

By 
  • June 28, 2015

Laudato Si’ arrived on the first day of Ramadan and it was the first papal document in history to cite a Muslim scholar and mystic as an authority — to the delight of Toronto Muslim leaders.

In paragraph 233, Pope Francis speaks of how God reveals Himself in every part of creation.

“There is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face,” writes the Pope. 

The footnote at the end of this sentence references Shaykh Ali al-Khawas, a 16th-century Sufi poet, teacher and mystic. The lengthy footnote includes a quote from al-Khawas’ writings.

“There is a subtle mystery in each of the movements and sounds of this world,” wrote al-Khawas. “The initiate will capture what is being said when the wind blows, the trees sway, water flows, flies buzz, doors creak, birds sing.”

For Toronto imam Habeeb Alli, the Pope’s gesture of respect for Muslim mystical tradition was a kind of Ramadan blessing.

“I’m indeed thrilled to note that the venerable Pope has quoted the mystic,” Alli wrote in an e-mail. “For at the very heart of Ramadan is the urge to become spiritual and release the barriers that veil humans from the divine and divide humans into beastly kingdoms.”

For Noor Cultural Centre executive director Samira Kanji, nothing could be more appropriate than the Pope referring to a Muslim thinker.

“If it’s unprecedented, it’s certainly necessary,” she said. “You can’t make a global call from a position of exclusivity and hegemony. Islamic mystic poets, such as Rumi and Omar Khayyam, are, in addition, among the most widely read poets in the world and cited regularly by non-Muslims.”

Elsewhere, faith leaders joined in a chorus of approval for the encyclical.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, author of a rabbinical letter on climate change, summed up his response to the Pope encyclical in one word: Hallelujah.

“When the spiritual leader of a billion people says climate change is a moral question, a religious question, then all of us who have been saying that for years are strengthened,” Waskow told Religion News Service. “I certainly feel strengthened, even though I come at it from a quite different religious perspective.”

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians, also applauded the Pope.

“All of us ultimately share the Earth beneath our feet and breathe the same air of our planet’s atmosphere,” he said. “Even if we do not enjoy the world’s resources fairly or justly, nevertheless all of us are responsible for its protection and preservation.”

Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism in Reno, Nevada, said Hindus might not agree with the entire encyclical, but they appreciated the emphasis on linking care of the natural world with justice for the poor. He said he hoped the document would help shape public policy, change people’s behaviour and inspire other religious leaders.

In advance of the document’s release, the Dalai Lama showed support at least for the main message of the encyclical, saying in a June 15 tweet: “Since climate change and the global economy now affect us all, we have to develop a sense of the oneness of humanity.”

(With files from Catholic News Service and Religion News Service.)

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