The president of the Islamic Affairs Council of Maryland offered high praise for Pope Francis, saying the Catholic leader “resonates with the Muslim world,” much like the saint from whom he takes his name.
"From my perspective, Pope Francis is really doing a wonderful job in terms of outreach, in terms of contributing to world peace, in terms of contributing to stopping wars and conflicts, praying for better understanding," said Imam Mohamad Bashar Arafat in an interview with Catholic News Service.
Arafat made the comments after visiting the Vatican in early October as part of a trip arranged by the U.S. State Department. Arafat pointed to a number of examples, including the pope’s recent call for the world to pray and fast in September in advance of what were then-expected U.S. military strikes against Syria.
"St. Francis resonates with the Muslim world," Arafat said, noting that in 1219, Francis of Assisi was the first Catholic leader credited with holding a dialogue with a Muslim leader.
"I see Pope Francis saying the right things and setting the right tone, and also appearing in the right places at the right time," Arafat said.
Pope Francis has repeatedly reached out to the world's Muslims in his public comments. As recently as an August address, Francis said Catholics must learn to live in "mutual respect" with their "Muslim brothers."
Arafat also serves as president of the Civilizations Exchange and Cooperation Foundation (CECF). He has spent years working on interfaith initiatives and currently provides training and instruction for the State Department’s Youth Exchange & Study (YES) program.
“The YES program provides scholarships for high school students (ages 15-17) from countries with significant Muslim populations to spend up to one academic year in the United States,” reads an explanation on the State Department’s website. “Students live with host families, attend high school, engage in activities to learn about American society and values, acquire leadership skills, and educate Americans about their countries and cultures.”