2006-09-20 10:30:00

Anatoly Artemov, Islamic researcher.
Is the pope Islamophobic?

On September 12, the Pope Benedict XVI, who is ranked as one of the best theologians in the modern history of the Catholic Church, delivered a lecture on Faith, Reason and the University. Memories and Reflections in his native city of Regensburg. Among other things, he spoke about the polemic between the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian, citing it as follows: “In the seventh conversation (- controversy) edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: ‘There is no compulsion in religion’. According to the experts, this 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 Qur'an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the ‘Book’ and the ‘infidels’, he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness which leaves us astounded, on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: ‘Show me just what Mohammed 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. 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. ‘God’, he says, ‘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 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 Hazm 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”.

Therefore, by quoting the Byzantine emperor the Pope of Rome did not at all agreed with him but cited him just to give an illustration to an old theological controversy. This context was quite clear to his audience, but taken through all kinds of interpretations in the mass media, his words were eventually misinterpreted as an unequivocal outrage against Islam. Threats, insults and demands of immediate apologies were launched at the pontiff at once. The Vatican’s explanations that followed did not in the least relieve the tension, which was to end in raids upon Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican churches, mass protests and demands that Islamic countries should break off diplomatic relations with the Holy See.

Nevertheless, the pope has taken a principled stand stressing that he is not going to apologize to anybody and has actually made it clear that the times of John Paul II, whose repentances turned the history of the Roman Catholic Church into a sheer black spot, are over.

Russian Muslims responded to the growing scandal as well. The Council of Muftis in Russia issued a special statement lecturing at the pope on how academic lectures should be read and calling upon him to apologize. Some representatives of the Council maintained as much as that the pope was ‘a foster child of Hitlerjugend, which cultivated new crusaders of the Nazi type’ and ‘the Great Inquisitor’ and that ‘the pontiff’s statements were another provocation aimed at fanning up religious enmity on the global scale’ and that his lecture was ‘a manifestation of the phobia that has developed recently in the West in the attitude to Islam’. In addition to the above-mentioned judgments, Nafigullah Ashirov, a cochairman of the Council of Muftis, pointed out that all the progress made in the dialogue with Islam under John Paul II could be brought to naught – the supposition that can hardly be challenged as all the efforts of the Council of Muftis for developing dialogue with the Catholic have already been at least depreciated by a couple of harsh statements made by representatives of this body.

The net remainder of this story is a drastic deepening in the already deep rupture between the Western and Islamic worlds. The raids upon churches and insults at the Pope of Rome have hardly added to the benevolence of the Western (as well as Eastern) Christians towards adherents of Islam, the more so that they still keep the memory of the ‘cartoon scandal’ battles which cost the lives of hundreds of Christians, by no means Danish at that.