Papal Ignorance

On 14 September, in a speech on Faith and Reason at Regensburg University in Germany , the German-born Pope of the Vatican Benedict XVI sought to explore the philosophical differences between Islam and Christianity.

However, instead of promoting reconciliation and inter-religious harmony, the Pope threw a bombshell when he quoted an “erudite” Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Paleogogus as saying during a conversation with a “educated Persian” scholar “show me just what Muhammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

The Pope went on saying “ The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul.”

To begin with, I am sure that very few Muslims are interested in disturbing the delicate relations between Islam and Catholicism. This would be immensely corrosive and destructive for both Muslims and Christians. Indeed, it would be truly disastrous for the entire humanity, given the fact that we are talking about more than three billion peoples adhering in one way or the other to Islam and Christianity.

I am equally sure that many, probably most, Christians feel the same. After all, who on earth would benefit from the promotion of religious hatred and violence, be it verbal or physical.

Yes, we both have our misunderstandings and misgivings and peculiar beliefs and convictions, both as individuals and as religious and cultural communities. However, it would be unforgivable if we allowed these differences to marginalize let alone neutralize the fundamental common grounds between our religions, commonly called the Abrahamic religions.

Non the less, it is important that the record be set straight, not so much to get the score even with the Vatican, but rather to enable both Christians and Muslims to understand (and respect) each other better.

There is no doubt that the Pope erred when he cited these particular quotes. There is always a huge reservoir of quotes, positive and negative, about religions and religious symbols. A Muslim or non-Muslim could easily amass a preponderance of quotes and texts from the Old Testament, for example, to prove that the Bible advocates murder.

But this is not the way to build a relation based on mutual respect, mutual understanding and even care and love.

In truth, the Prophet of Islam, Muahmmed (Peace be on him), never ever really called for spreading religion with the sword. As a Muslim, who knows his religion pretty well, I never came across a prophetic saying advocating the use of force to spread the faith. Indeed, coercing people to believe in anything, let alone a religion, is only self-defeating.

The Quran states in Surat (chapter) al-Nahl, v. 134, “Invite to the path of thy Lord with wisdom and good advice, and argue with them kindly, for Thy Lord is well aware of those who go astray and He is aware of those who follow true guidance.”

Indeed, the very next verse states that “if thou should punish (aggressors) punish only in proportion to the aggression inflicted upon you, but if ye be patient, it will be better for the patient.”

I really can’t understand how the venerable Pope could cite dubious medieval quotations, made by the enemies of Islam, which vilify the religion and its Prophet. Well, the Pope could very well quote from Chanson de Roland, the Iberian epic on the wars between Catholics and Muslims which envisioned Islam as a trinity composed of the Prophet Muhammed and two other entities, both devils. Or, indeed, he could invoke the idiotic calumnies by some evangelical circles, particularly in America , which claim that Muslims worship the moon!!!! I really can’t understand how such brazen, malicious canards are allowed to be voiced before a respectable audience. Isn’t ours supposed to be the enlightenment age?

With all due respect, the Pope should understand that humans may willingly and happily choose an alternative path to Christianity for salvation? This is how God created man, each individual with his or her own mind. We are rational animals, aren’t we?

Let us take Indonesia , the largest Muslim country in terms of population size, as an example. Historically, it is well known that no Muslim armies had ever set foot on the huge archipelago. Yet all these millions chose to embrace the religion endeared to them by Arabian merchants and sailors who had exemplified to the natives the Islamic ideals of honesty, purity and faithfulness.

The same can be said about numerous other countries and peoples that accepted Islam.

Even in the West today, many westerners choose to embrace Islam, certainly without any “sword” hovering over their heads.

A few days ago, a Jewish lady, who had lost 8 relatives in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, appeared on Aljazeera TV, explaining why she decided to revert to Islam only a few months after the landmark tragedy.

She simply said that “I found truth in Islam.”

The same can be said about the estimated 20,000 Americans who have embraced Islam after 9/11.

So, what violence and coercion and compulsion the venerable Pope is alluding to? Yes, of course, Islamic conquests were not violence-free. But it is imperative, for the sake of historical truth, to make a distinction between employing the “sword” in spreading Islam’s political authority and employing it in compelling people to embrace the religion itself.

Indeed, if the faith was spread by the sword, we wouldn’t have tens of millions of Christians living throughout the Muslim world. Let the Pope ask the Christians of the East if they have ever been asked to convert, or else?

More to the point, his holiness says, quoting the Byzantine emperor, that Muhammed came only with what is evil and inhuman.

Well, this kind of absolutistic statements shouldn’t be uttered by intelligent people, let alone by the Pope of the Vatican . Such statements, it is amply clear, can only be an expression of fanaticism, lack of rectitude and ignorance.

How could the man, classified by Michael Hart in his book “The 100: A Ranking of the most influential persons in history” as the greatest man to have ever walk on earth, be dismissed, so nonchalantly, so lightly and so irresponsibly as one who only brought only ‘the evil and the inhuman” to humanity? Indeed, this borders on the absurdum infinitum .

Besides, what modicum of objectivity and honesty can there be in the words of an emperor who had lost his throne and empire because of Islam.? What else would we expect from the mouth of that loser?

Furthermore, the Pope should have realized that he lives in a glass house. I want to remind him of the history of the Catholic Church upon the helm of which he now sits. It was the Church that burned scientists alive, it was the Church that invented the Indulgences and Simony systems, it was the Catholic world that invented the Inquisitions, the pogroms, and all other abominations associated with its dark practices against critics and opponents, including Christians who didn’t extend fealty to Rome .

And the Crusades? And the Holocaust? Must we re-open these dark chapters again? Do we have to remind his holiness that in the past century alone, over a hundred million Christians were killed by other Christians in numerous wars, including two world wars? May we remind his holiness that he himself sixty years ago was a member of the Hitler Youth? And then how about the spread of Catholicism in South America ? Was it done through the example of platonic love and self-abnegation?

I understand that the Pope sees in Islam the greatest strategic competitor for the hearts and minds of men in the world today. This is quite legitimate as competition between religions and civilizations is natural and inevitable, just as it is between individuals and companies and other entities.

Well, but let the competition be honorable and free from mendacious vilification.

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