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Muslims Rage Against Pope's Quote of Islam by Force


Cults, Religions, and Faith Traditions

When Pope Benedict XVI quoted an obscure historical source on Islam's penchant for spreading its power, control, & religion by force, he stirred a maelstrom of reaction from the Islamic world. Some demand the Holy Father apologize to all Muslims in the world.

On a papal visit to his native Germany last week, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, in one of his speeches, talked of the need to use reason, & not violence, to engage in religious interaction with people of other faiths. The speech, Three Stages in the Program of De-Hellenization, included a partially quoted Medieval dialog between a Persian Muslim academic & Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus, whose rule over the eastern part of what had been the Roman Empire had been virtually destroyed by Muslims during his reign between AD 1391 & 1425. Worldwide, Muslims are incensed at the Pope's quotation from Palaeologus: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, & there you will find things only evil & inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." The Pope's office (the Vatican, or Holy See) has offered the full text of the speech & responded that not only was the Pope quoting someone else, but that the purpose of the citation in its entirety was to advocate peaceful, reasoned dialog among religions rather than violent or violence-inducing responses.

A Closer Look at the Speech. Pope Benedict introduced the quotes by noting that their theme was "on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both." Providing the context for the quote that would subsequently incite contemporary Muslims, he continued, "In the seventh conversation. . . the emperor touches on the theme of the jihad (holy war). The emperor must have known that sura 2:256 reads: 'There is no compulsion in religion.' It is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under [threat]. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Koran, concerning holy war." Benedict then characterizes the emperor's next statement as "brusque," & quotes it -- with the clear intention of providing the framework for the main thrust of the emperor's speech, as Benedict summarizes it: "The emperor 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. 'God is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably . . . is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats.... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death....'"

The rest of Benedict's speech, including a summary of the work's translator's discussion of the nature of God & His will, is a call to join faith & reason, to reject the false dichotomy between the truncated reason of modernism (limited entirely to the empirical) & the shallow immitation of faith as blind, & to approach our inter-cultural, inter-religious dialogs with reasonable faith, not an oxymoron.

The translator's note is essential to an understanding of Benedict's use of the emperor's dialog. Translator Adel Theodore Khoury noted that the Muslim concept of God so stresses his transcendent & ineffable, unknowable nature, that reason may be meaningless to ascribe to him. Benedict summarizing Khoury's warning: "For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazn went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God's will, we would even have to practice idolatry."

From this framework of contrasts -- the emperor urging reason as obedience to God from whom reason flows, & Islam's view that reason could be apart from God & not coming from God, Benedict then argues that our Western world over the centuries has mistakenly divorced reason from theology & in doing so diminished the value of both reason & faith. End of the Closer Look.

The speech concludes, "'Not to act reasonably (with logos) is contrary to the nature of God,' said Manuel II, according to his Christian understanding of God, in response to his Persian interlocutor. It is to this great logos, to this breadth of reason, that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures. To rediscover it constantly is the great task of the university."

Meanwhile, internationally, Muslim reactions are not to the Pope's plea for reasonable faith & reasonable dialog about faith, but to what they perceive as an unfair accusation of violence in Islam historically. Senior Muslim representatives (there is no central Muslim leadership or authority) have called for the Pope to apologize, have asked their governments to sever ties with the Vatican, urged the expulsion of Vatican representatives from their countries, & even urged the government of Turkey to cancel a papal tour of the country scheduled for November.

For the full story: Muslims Enraged by Pope's Remarks on Spreading Islam by Violence.

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The Lord's Servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will give them a change of heart leading to a knowledge of the truth
II Timothy 2:24-26