.- The first Muslim intellectual to have a private meeting with Pope Benedict XVI since his election said the pontiff has a real thirst for understanding Islam and conducting a sincere dialogue with its followers.
Muslim philosopher Mustapha Cherif, a former higher education minister and ambassador of his native Algeria, met with the Pope for a half-hour at the Vatican on Saturday.
Cherif, who has long been active in Christian-Muslim dialogue in France where he resides, described the Pope as “a man of dialogue.”
Cherif told Reuters that the Pope indicated he wants to understand Muslim views on jihad and the role of reason in faith. The pontiff also wants to explore how the religions could work together.
"He is a great theologian but not an expert in Islam," Cherif told Reuters on Monday.
Cherif said he told Benedict that jihad, understood in the West as holy war, is similar to what St. Augustine said about just war with rules on fighting and protecting non-combatants.
"He was surprised by that and said it had to be better known," Cherif was quoted as saying.
Cherif said he also refuted what Benedict had referred to in his Regensburg speech — that Islam was spread by the sword and that it did not value reason. Cherif noted that the Pope had expressed regret for appearing to criticize Islam.
He said he accepts the Pope’s readiness for dialogue, which could help Christians and Muslims to see that they are allies in a struggle against the loss of faith and rise of religious hatred, reported Reuters.