Jordan's Queen: Pope Controversy Reflects Prejudice Against Islam

Sept. 21, 2006 — -- Jordan's Queen Rania Al-Abdullah believes that Muslims have been victims of stereotypes and that Pope Benedict XVI's recent comments about Islam underscore the prejudice many feel worldwide.

In a Sept. 12 address at the University of Regensburg in Germany, Benedict cited the words of a Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as "evil and inhuman," particularly "his command to spread by the sword the faith."

The pope said Wednesday he did not mean to malign Islam when he quoted the emperor, but did not issue a direct apology.

Some Muslim leaders who were offended by his remarks still want a apology from Benedict.

Rania, the world's youngest queen, said she believed that the pope's comments and the reaction they sparked reflected an ongoing misunderstanding of Islam and Muslims.

"People were incensed by it," she said of the comments. "I think that that highlights the undercurrents of suspicion and mistrust that are existing in our world."

But the queen also said that the religion of Islam shouldn't be judged by some Muslims' outrage.

"You cannot define the entire religion of Islam based on some of its most misguided and extreme followers and likewise with Christianity," she said.

"There will always be extreme elements in any religion, but we really have to focus on the majority of the moderates, because they represent the true essence of that religion."

Rania said the pope's apology was enough for some Muslims.

"We've seen some positive reactions from the Muslim world of people feeling that he has explained his position," she said.

Hope for Iraq

Rania is in New York City today to meet with former President Clinton and world leaders at the Clinton Global Initiative, a conference in New York City that has brought people together to brainstorm tangible solutions to issues affecting the world.

The mother of four told Diane Sawyer on "Good Morning America" that she believed stereotypes prevented Western and Eastern worlds from understanding one another.

"Americans say, 'We'll never be understood.' Arabs say, 'We'll never be understood.' And you know, this is something that baffles me because in this day and age, with the accelerated globalization," she said, "we are having to come in contact with people from other cultures … on almost a daily basis. And yet we come into contact without -- not armed with the knowledge that we need."

The queen believes this cultural ignorance has led to many generalizations and stereotypes.

"The challenge, I think, of the 21st century is for us to really try to educate ourselves a little bit more about each other," she said.

The queen also still holds out hope that there will be progress in Iraq.

"We cannot give up on the hope, because otherwise we're going to accept the suffering of the people and accept it's not going to come to an end," she said.

"That is just not an option for our, our world. I hope there will be a democracy, but it's important to separate between the process of democracy, and the values of democracy."

In order for progress to happen, however, a global effort will have to be made.

"I don't think it's just America by itself. I think the whole international community has to engage Iraq," she said.

"A lot of people say that we can't go and work in Iraq and offer the services that they need because it's an unsafe situation. On the other hand, it will never be a safe situation until we provide people with the quality of life that they deserve."

Tireless Ambassador

The queen's cultural work is tireless. She works with UNICEF, a global literacy and human rights organization.

Her work has taught her that differences can help you grow into something strong.

"We need to start with our children," the queen said. "We don't want our children to inherit our prejudices, our likes and our dislikes."

She now has launched a cartoon show, "Ben and Izzy," to promote that idea.

Ben, an American, and Izzy, a Jordanian, forge a friendship.

"Each journey is a metaphor for understanding, because through their journeys, they meet historical figures, and, and learn a lot about their world," she said.

Working Mom

Rania's youngest, and fourth, child, Hashem, is about 1½ years old. She said that having four children was much more difficult than just having three.

"Sometimes I wonder where I, what did I, get myself into," she said. "It is hard work and you know, it's always this feeling of guilt that you have with you the whole time, knowing that, you know, like I'm here and I know I should be with my children back home."

Still, like other working moms, the queen says she does her best to do everything.

"But it's a balancing act. Sometimes it's, it's a really tough balancing act, but you know, I try to make the most out of it and -- and prioritize whenever I can," she said.

Rania says she always devotes at least one portion of her day to her children.

"Bedtime for me is very important," she said. "You know how it is towards the end of the day, trying to get the children sorted out. You know, sorting out their homework for the next day and getting them through their bath time and -- and putting them to bed. That's always a sort of a, a very hectic but at the end of the day, very peaceful time."