French Muslim Leader on Papacy: ‘A New Beginning Is Necessary’

Dalil Boubakeur is one of France’s most prominent Muslims. In a SPIEGEL ONLINE interview, he discusses what retiring Pope Benedict XVI did wrong in bridging the Muslim-Catholic divide and how the two religions need to make a fresh start at interfaith dialogue.

Dalil Boubakeur is in his office at the Grand Mosque in Paris, where he has poured mint tea. The mosque is an imposing example of Muslim architecture, not far from the Seine, and was built in 1926 to recognize the colonial Muslim troops who had fought for France during World War I.

Boubakeur, who knows Latin and is as well-versed in the history of the Catholic Church as he is in the Koran, is an admirer of Germany, which he got to know after World War II. “I love its regions, its literature and its history,” Boubakeur says. He apologizes for his somewhat rusty German. “I don’t have much of an opportunity to speak it,” he said. “The last time was with Pope Benedict.”

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Your excellency, Pope Benedict XVI is stepping down on February 28. What do you wish for from the future pontiff?

Boubakeur: A reversal. Christianity under Pope Benedict XVI started becoming more doctrinaire. He was not able to understand Muslims. He had no direct experience with Islam, and he found nothing positive to say about our beliefs.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You met Benedict XVI during his visit to Paris in 2008. What impression did he make on you during your personal discussions?

Boubakeur: Benedict was shy, reserved, very much the result of a traditional, strict upbringing — friendly, but always keeping a distance.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: At the World Youth Day in Cologne in 2005, only a few months after he was elected, the pope said that inter-religious dialogue between Christians and Muslims shouldn’t be an optional extra. Were his words followed by actions?

Boubakeur: No, not at all. They turned out to be empty words, a fact which I have deeply regretted. And his speech in September 2006 at the University of Regensburg only deepened my disappointment.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In that speech, Benedict quoted the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos, saying: “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only bad and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” What did you think at that time?

Boubakeur: I knew that it was a lecture in front of students and professors, so he was sending an educational message. But the appearance was shaped by an outdated approach to the relationship between Christianity and Islam.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: It resulted in uproar in the Muslim world, protests in Arab countries and attacks on Christians in the Middle East.

Boubakeur: Understandably. The decisions of the Second Vatican Council for inter-religious dialogue seemed to have been forgotten, and we are back to the relationship that has been described as the “Muslim-Christian polemic.” To me, it seemed like a return to those early days when the Christian Church judged Islam to be heresy.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Have any bitter feelings remained?

Boubakeur: It was wrong to remind people of the conflicts between Christianity and Islam, of these terrible confrontations that lasted for centuries. In doing so, Benedict made room for a dogmatic, misleading interpretation.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Criticism has to be allowed. The pope had reminded people of religious freedom when Christians in Arab countries were being discriminated against and persecuted.

Boubakeur: Correct. But sometimes this espousal came with an undercurrent of Islamophobia, when the criticism was made using terms that were otherwise disseminated by opponents of Islam. Benedict XVI repeated what he was told, but without personal sympathy. Where was the talk of brotherhood?


by Stefan Simons in Paris. SPIEGEL.DE

Paris Mosque

6 replies

  1. Christians have spread the baseless rumor that Islam had spread through sword.
    Could anyone write how Christianity has spread in Africa, America, and elsewhere. To my knowledge, it was only slavery and stealing newborn babies and children from Muslim & other faith.


    • My father used to invite Christian Missionaries to our house when I was a boy. There was one from Palestine, who ‘bragged’ how his ‘Christian Community’ grew from the Arab Muslim one. After asking him again and again how he converted a Muslim he finally admitted that he had not actually converted one. What he did was collecting orphan children and bringing them up.

  2. To Aslam Nasir:

    The arab slave trade and the Ottoman slave trade are well documented in history. The only thing that is missing until today is a critical reflection on this in schools as happening in the west with its own slave history. Probably for that reason you do not know about this. The last slave markets were closed in the late 20. century in Saudi Arabia by the colonists. Depite that in the Sudan civil war hundreds of thousands christian and animist women were captured and brought to the muslim north.

    Here is an article about this historical fact of slaves:

    Concering the baseless romour by christians of the expansion by sword in the first centurys after Muhammeds death look here:

    Thats simple basic and easy knowledge of history.

    • Tarkan: If you are such a good student of history you should also know the difference between the American and the Arab slave trade. While Arab Slaves could become Kings and Queens (and did) American slaves were not considered quite human. If an American slave became sick a Veterinary Doctor was called.

      As to the Sudan slave trade: Yes, there was a Swiss NGO who used to purchase slaves to free them. Before his arrival good business men used to go to local schools, ‘rent’ the students for the day, declare them slaves and cash 250$ each, ‘free’ them and return them to school with a 5$ tip.

  3. Very nice for you Rafiy just to delete my comment. Obviously you are afraid of a discussion with arguments and facts. Are you so insecure in your faith? That only supression of free opinions can keep it alive and keep it without mistakes. Faith should always be connected to rationality and truth. Otherwise it is the same as believing in the man on the moon.

  4. Tarkan, when reading The Muslim Times you should have noticed that we do not call every Muslim of today a hero. Neither do we expect that all Muslims of the past were perfect. But, yes, we should stick to the topic of the article when giving comments. Therefore we now close the discussion on slave trade etc. – and, yes, in Islam faith and rationality is closely connected. Please read Khalifatul Masih IV’s book: Relevation, Rationality, Knowledge and truth.

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