Muslim Prime Minister of Lebanon Pays His Respects to Pope

Hariri Says Islam and Extremism Are Not Synonymous

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 31, 2003 ( John Paul II received in audience Rafiq Hariri, the Muslim president of the Lebanese Council of Ministers, who arrived in part to show his respect to the Pope.

In statements to Vatican Radio, Prime Minister Hariri explained that he came to Rome today because the Lebanese Council «must maintain close relations with the Vatican.»

«I also wished to come to manifest my respect to John Paul II, whom I have esteemed for the last 10 years,» he said. «It was a great honor for us when the Pope came to Lebanon and paid us a visit.»

The Holy Father visited the Lebanon in May 1997 and was warmly welcomed by Catholics and Muslims alike. Catholics account for about 25% of the nation’s 3 million inhabitants. Muslims are the majority.

The Prime Minister, who arrived at the Vatican with his wife and entourage, said: «The political issues that we wish to discuss with those who are responsible in the Vatican are primarily the question of Iraq and of peace in the Middle East.»

«There is much talk of Islam, of fundamentalism and extremism,» he told Vatican Radio. «But the latter is not Islam; it is the attitude of mad people who have nothing to do with our faith. We firmly believe that Islam is a religion that asks for tolerance, peaceful coexistence and respect for one’s neighbor.»

Hariri continued: «Some talk about a struggle among Christians, Muslims and Jews, and between Christianity and Judaism. I cannot understand how it would be possible for a Muslim to have the right to marry a Christian or Jewish woman and to have children by this woman and then regard the uncle of these children — whether Jew or Christian — as the very enemy. This cannot be right! It cannot work!

«Therefore, so long as we allow, as has happened in the course of history, that a family be formed — namely, the highest expression of relations between persons — and that a family be formed of a Muslim man and a Christian or Jewish woman, this will represent the highest expression of interpersonal relations.»

«We are not in conflict with anyone,» Hariri added. «We respect the other religions, we respect Christianity, we respect Judaism.»

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