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September 17, 2006

Rioters’ madness shames Muslim world

Filed under: Uncategorized — limewoody @ 8:25 am

Father Raymond J. de Souza, National Post

Published: Saturday, September 16, 2006

The eruption of rage in some quarters of the Islamic world against Pope Benedict XVI requires that several tough things be said.

Painful though it may be, speaking frankly is necessary if there is to be honest and open dialogue between the Abrahamic faiths. Given the reaction to Benedict’s address, though, one wonders if that dialogue is even possible.

The Pope devoted almost 4,000 words to examining the relationship between faith and reason, and the prospect for dialogue between modernity and the world of religion.

In the course of that address he quoted a dialogue recorded between the Byzantine (Christian) Emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an erudite Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam. The dialogue took place during the siege of Constantinople between 1394 and 1402.

During their conversation, the Pope said, the Emperor “turns to his interlocutor somewhat brusquely with the central question on the relationship between religion and violence in general, in these words: ‘Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.’ ”

Benedict was quoting a 14th-century Christian emperor, under siege from the Ottomans, defending the position that spreading religion by violence is contrary to the nature of God. The Emperor, quite reasonably given his circumstances, suggested to his Persian interlocutor such a view did not prevail in Islamic thought.

In response to this historical excursus in an academic lecture by one of the world’s most erudite theologians, we are witnessing a wave of madness and malice, no doubt an embarrassment to millions of Muslims.

Roman Catholics are likely angry. Relations between adherents of the two religions simply cannot develop without all conducting themselves as mature adults.

It does a disservice to children to call the wild-eyed statements and deranged behaviour of the past days childish.

It is not only the obscenity of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist terrorist band suppressed in several Muslim states, demanding an apology from anyone, let alone the Holy Father.

It is not only the grandstanding Pakistani politicians passing resolutions condemning a papal speech few read, and even fewer understood. It is not only the extraneous charges about the Holocaust and Hitler by the agitated and excited.

It is that we have seen this before.

When Pope John Paul II made his epic pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Palestinian Muslim representatives jostled him on the Temple Mount, shouted at him, and, in one episode of maximum rudeness, abandoned him on stage during an interfaith meeting. Bashir Assad, the Syrian President, treated him to an anti-Semitic rant when the late pope visited Syria.

Catholic goodwill toward global Islam is severely attenuated by such continued maltreatment of our universal pastors.

And it is well past time that the maltreatment of history ceased too.

The irony of the accusations that Pope Benedict has a “Crusader mentality” is that he was speaking about the period in which the Crusades themselves took place.

Catholics have for quite some time now confessed the sinful and wicked shadows that marked the Crusades, but any suggestion the whole affair was about rapacious Christians setting upon irenic Muslims must be rejected.

After all, the formerly Christian lands of North Africa, the Middle East and Asia Minor were not converted to Islam by Muslim missionary martyrs. Those lands were conquered by the sword.

The Crusader idea was that they could be recovered. Who wronged who first is a fruitless historical inquiry, but historical honesty requires an admission that Muslims wronged as much as they were wronged against.

The sword of Islam is carried today by self-professed jihadis. In most countries with Muslim majorities, Christians do not have the full freedom to practise their faith without fear.

Whether private harassment or state-sanctioned torture, Christians the world over know all too well that the sword of Islam has not been sheathed. No doubt the extreme reaction to Benedict’s address will serve the purpose of keeping local Christians in their place throughout the Islamic world.

Pope Benedict is a gracious man and a Christian disciple, so it is likely he will extend an olive branch to Islamic leaders. He will likely speak to his fellow Catholic prelates about the way of the Cross, and that the disciple cannot be greater than the Master. And will no doubt pray that his fellow children of Abraham might turn away from the sword of conquest, and of terror.

It is a prayer for conversion of heart — a prayer urgently needed for the mad and the malicious.


In his lecture, delivered on Tuesday at the University of Regensburg where he once taught theology, the Pope called for a dialogue of cultures “so urgently needed in the world today.” His larger point is that the West’s separation of faith and reason into different spheres (with reason elevated above faith) is offensive to other traditions, including Islam, and is a barrier to understanding. He takes as his point of departure the dialogue between the erudite 14th-century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam.

In the seventh conversation … the Emperor touches on the theme of the jihad (holy war). The Emperor must have known that Sura 2:256 [of the Koran] reads: “There is no compulsion in religion.” It is one of the suras of the early period, when Muhammad was still powerless and under [threat]. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Koran, concerning holy war.

Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the “Book” and the “infidels,” he turns to his interlocutor somewhat brusquely with the central question on the relationship between religion and violence in general, in these words: “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things

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 (syn logo) 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 decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: Not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: 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 [an 11th-century Arab theologian] 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 practise idolatry.

[R]eason and faith [must] come together in a new way … Only thus do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today. In the Western world it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid.

Yet the world’s profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions …

“Not to act reasonably 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.

© National Post 2006


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