Between Rome and Mecca translation is a literary first

A book that explores the complex relationship between the Vatican and Muslims has been translated into Arabic, making it a literary first of its kind.

A book that explores the complex relationship between the Vatican and Muslims has been translated into Arabic, making it a literary first of its kind.

Kalima, the translation arm of the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (Adach), has produced the Arabic version of Zwischen Rom und Mekka Die Päpste und der Islam - Between Rome and Mecca: the Popes and Islam, by the author and journalist Heinz-Joachim Fischer. It hits bookstores this month across the Arab world.

"There is no such book in Arabic literature exploring in such depth the relationship between the Vatican and the Muslims," said Dr Ali bin Tamim, Kalima's project manager.

Launched in 2007, Kalima funds the translation, publication and distribution of 100 books a year from other languages into Arabic.

The latest title is a rare offering from a writer who has enjoyed direct contact with high officials of the Holy See for more than 20 years.

Mr Fischer travelled with the late pope, John Paul II, during his visits to Muslim countries and also travels with the current pontiff, Benedict XVI, on his trips.

"It is a very important book with lots of interesting and surprising information," said Dr Tamim. "It is written in a journalistic style instead of an academic one, allowing the average reader to understand and enjoy the book."

The book, brought from German into Arabic by the Kalima translators Dr Sami Abu Yahia and Fuad Ismail, begins with the author's teenage crush on a Turkish Muslim girl, Tamara. Although no real relationship ever bloomed, his experience with the conservative girl marked Mr Fischer's introduction to Islam.

The author makes a comparison between the Muslim World League and the Vatican, and writes about the Crusades and the Ottoman siege of Vienna.

The book covers contemporary popes and their opinions on Islam and devotes a section to Pope Benedict XVI, addressing relevant speeches, trips and his relationship with the Middle East.

Last month, the Pope presided over a Synod of Bishops from the Middle East in the Vatican, which saw each bishop raise the specific issues that face their church and its followers.

The book also includes a letter on the importance of friendship and peace, titled A Common Word, sent by 38 Islamic figures - including muftis and religious scholars from the Arab and Muslim world - to Benedict XVI in 2006. Dr Sheikh Izz al Din Ibrahim, adviser for cultural affairs at the Ministry for Presidential Affairs, and Sheikh al Habib Ali Zain al Jifri, the founder and director of the Taba Institute, were the UAE representatives to sign the letter.

The Vatican established diplomatic ties with the UAE, at the ambassadorial level, in May 2007. In May of this year, the UAE ambassador to the Holy See, Dr Hissa al Otaiba, met the Pope in the Vatican, marking a milestone in diplomatic relations.

Also this year, Archbishop Petar Rajic was appointed as Pope Benedict XVI's representative in the UAE and Yemen.

Dr Fischer also explores the obstacles created by the Crusades for constructive dialogue between Muslims and Christians and recounts the legendary parable of the "three rings". Originally told by the Italian poet and writer, Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375), and developed further in Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's 1779 play, Nathan the Wise, the parable left a great impression on Dr Tamim, who is also a poet and scholar in religion.

As the story goes, when the Muslim leader Saladin asked a wise man, a rich Jew of Alexandria by the name of Melchizedek, "which is the best, Judaism, Islam, or Christianity?" he replied with the parable.

"Once upon a time, there lived a wealthy man who possessed a ring of inestimable worth," said the wise man. "Its stone was an opal that emitted hundreds of colours, but its real value lay in its ability to make its wearer beloved of God and man.

"The ring passed from the father to the most favoured son for many generations, until finally its owner was a father with three sons, all of whom he loved equally.

"Unable to decide which of the three sons was most deserving, the father commissioned a master artisan to make two exact copies of the ring, then gave each son a ring. Each son believed that he alone had inherited the original and true ring."

"It left me thinking, and wondering, like the author, if real dialogue is ever possible between the different religions if each one of them believes they own the true ring," said Dr Tamim.