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Muslim scholars write the pope – and everyone else

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Sohail Nakhooda says Islam has a problem getting its message heard.

Thirty-eight Muslim scholars from 20 countries sent a letter to Pope Benedict XVI urging mutual tolerance and respect over the weekend, and 500 prominent Muslims signed a religious ruling rejecting violence against civilians on Tuesday. Neither got much publicity.

But when Al Qaeda's No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, issues his latest bloodcurdling threat it dominates the airwaves. Mr. Nakhoodas doesn't deny that a problem exists inside Islam, but says that a violent fringe is coming to represent the whole of the religion in Western eyes.

And that, he says, lies at the root of Pope Benedict's critical comments about Islam in September.

"What you see in the media are people like [Osama] bin Laden, or Zarqawi, the sorts of people who don't represent Islam or the religion at large,'' says Nakhooda, the Jordan-based editor in chief of Islamica Magazine, which has been helping to publicize the "unprecedented" open letter by Muslim scholars.

"These individuals are a law unto themselves and, sadly, they get the most publicity.... The intent [of the letter] is to start a dialogue rolling so the public would see there's a positive initiative, an alternative to anger."

His magazine, a quarterly that describes its mission as providing a platform for mainstream Islamic ideas that are rarely heard in the West, has been working to get out the letter to the pope by Muslim scholars from eight different schools of thought and from more than 20 different countries, seeking to correct what they see as errors in his address and open up what they hope will be an ongoing dialogue. While it hasn't received much attention in the West, the letter has been widely covered in the Muslim world.

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