Pope Francis prays with Istanbul's grand mufti Rahmi Yaran in the Blue Mosque Nov. 29.


Pope Francis prays with Istanbul's grand mufti Rahmi Yaran in the Blue Mosque Nov. 29.

December 15, 2014

ISTANBUL – A day after hearing Turkish leaders demand the West show more respect for Islam, Pope Francis prayed alongside a Muslim cleric inside Istanbul's most famous mosque.

At the Blue Mosque, Istanbul's grand mufti Rahmi Yaran led Pope Francis to the mosque's "mihrab," a niche indicating the direction to the holy city Mecca.

Then, as the grand mufti continued speaking, the pope fell silent and remained so for several minutes, with head bowed, eyes closed and hands clasped in front of him.

The pope later said that during his moments of silence, "I prayed for Turkey, I prayed for the mufti, I prayed for myself because I need it, and I prayed above all for peace and an end to war."

After the pope's arrival in Turkey Nov. 28, Turkish President Recep Tayyip

Erdogan raised the issue of prejudice against Muslims in other countries.

"Islamophobia is a serious and rapidly rising problem in the West," Erdogan said, lamenting that "attempts to identify Islam with terrorism hurt millions."

Pope Francis told Erdogan of the need for religious liberty.

"Freedom of religion and freedom of expression, when truly guaranteed to each person, will help friendship to flourish and thus become an eloquent sign of peace," the pope said.

Commitment to such freedoms is essential to countering "fanaticism and fundamentalism, as well as irrational fears which foster misunderstanding and discrimination," he said.

Turkey's secularist constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but Pope Francis' call for equality "both in the provision and practice of the law" seemed to allude to persistent discrimination against non-Muslims.

Members of the country's minuscule Christian community are commonly regarded as foreigners by the Muslim-majority population.

Like Erdogan, Pope Francis criticized the use of religion to justify violence, particularly in the neighbouring countries of Syria and Iraq.

On his return flight to Rome Nov. 30, the pope called on political and religious leaders in the Muslim world to condemn violence done in the name of Islam.

Pope Francis said he told Erdogan Nov. 28 that "it would be beautiful if all Islamic leaders – whether they be political leaders, religious leaders, academic leaders – would say clearly that they condemn (terrorism), because that will help the majority of Islamic people to say, 'that's true,'" and show non-Muslims that Islam is a religion of peace.

"I sincerely believe that you cannot say that all Muslims are terrorists just as you cannot say that all Christians are fundamentalists; every religion has these little groups," the pope said.