WASHINGTON - American Muslims have offered best wishes to Pope Benedict XVI following his surprise resignation, voicing hope for better relations between Muslims and Christians under his successor.
"We offer the American Muslim community's best wishes to Pope Benedict XVI as he leaves his position as head of the Roman Catholic Church, Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said in a statement obtained by OnIslam.net on Tuesday, February 12.Pope Benedict announced Monday that he was stepping down because of poor health.
The pontiff would step down on February 28, leaving the office vacant until a successor was chosen.
The Vatican says a new pope could be elected as soon as Palm Sunday, on March 24, and be ready to take over by Easter a week later.
"I have so much admiration for the Pope, for being honest and humble," Imam Hassan Qazwini, who has met the pontiff twice as the leader of the biggest mosque in Michigan, told Detroit Free Press.
"The man was honest that he was no longer capable of keeping his duty because of his fragile health. That is truly to be admired.
He's someone who does not favor his selfish interests by insisting to stay in his position when he knows he no longer can function."
Qazwini met with the Pope as part of delegations in 2006 at the Vatican and in 2008 when the Pope visited the United States.
"He sounded very welcoming, very humble," Qazwini said.
Benedict is expected to go into isolation for at least a while after his resignation.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said Benedict did not intend to influence the decision of the cardinals in a secret conclave to elect a successor.
American Muslims voiced hope that the new pope would work for better relations between Muslims and Christians.
"In recent years -- and despite some passing controversies -- relations between Muslims and Catholics have strengthened, particularly on issues related to social justice and family values, Awad said.
"We look forward to continued and growing positive interfaith relations under the new pontiff as Muslims in the United States and worldwide join with people of all faiths and cultures who seek to make a better world."
Relations between the Vatican and Muslims strained in 2006 after Pope Benedict quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor that everything Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him) brought was evil and inhuman.
The pontiff's lecture triggered criticisms from Muslim countries, scholars and intellectuals and strained ties between the Vatican and the Muslim world.
Benedict has repeatedly said the words did not reflect his personal views but stopped short of a clear apology to Muslims.
Qazwini, the Michigan mosque leaders, is also hopeful for better relations between Muslims and Christians under the new pope.
He said Benedict's remarks about Islam and violence were "viewed negatively by the Muslim world".
"But after that, I think he tried his best to reach out of the Muslim world. He kind of apologized, not just through words, but practically to amend the relationship with the Muslim world, something we should really respect for doing."
Dawud Walid, executive director of the CAIR chapter in Michigan, agrees.
"Though he started his papacy on rocky terms with the Muslim community, he repeatedly called for Muslim-Christian cooperation in ending the international disease of violence, he said.We hope that his successor calls for even more cooperation between Muslims and Christians to end injustice in America and around the globe."