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Pope Benedict's Islam Speech in Regensberg

Muslims have been greatly offended by references made about Islam in a speech that Pope Benedict XVI delivered on September 12 at the University of Regensberg entitled "Faith, Reason and the University – Memories and Reflections" Muslims were insulted by the speech's misrepresentation of Islam as a religion that is spread through violence.

The Vatican defended the speech claiming that the Pope was merely quoting the words of Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus from a medieval ****. In the Vatican's official statement of 16 September, it reads: "As for the opinion of the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus which he quoted during his Regensburg talk, the Holy Father did not mean, nor does he mean, to make that opinion his own in any way."

In the Pope's subsequent apology, he apologizes for the reaction that Muslims had to his speech and affirms that the views of Emperor Manuel II do not reflect his own, saying: "At this time, I wish also to add that I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims. These in fact were a quotation from a medieval ****, which do not in any way express my personal thought."


However, many Muslims do not consider this explanation and apology to be sufficient. For one thing, it only addresses the quotation form Emperor Manuel II, though the misrepresentations of Islam contained in the speech are not limited to that quote. Also, his apology is merely for the Muslim's reaction and not for any fault in the speech itself.

To understand this better, we need to look carefully at the key paragraphs of the speech – paragraphs three and four – and clarify what about them Muslims find offensive:

Here is paragraph three of that speech:

In the seventh conversation 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 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...".

As we can see, this paragraph is not merely a quotation of a passage from a medieval ****. The quoted words of the Emperor form only a part of it, and much of what is offensive and inaccurate in this paragraph is not from that quotation, but from the words of Pope Benedict XVI himself.

The Pope introduces the quote by mentioning that the Emperor must have known the verse of the Qur'ān that reads "There is no compulsion in religion." This is a claim being made by the Pope. He then goes on to assert on the basis of some "experts" that this verse was revealed in the early days when Islam was weak. He then goes on to say that the verses relating to "Holy War" came later.

These are the Pope's words. They are inaccurate and their implications are sinister. They are inaccurate because the verse "There is no compulsion in religion" was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in Madinah when Islam was at its most powerful. The Pope's words imply that the verse which declares there is no compulsion in religion was only for the early days of Islam and was replaced with more militant injunctions when Islam grew stronger. Again, this implication does not come from something quoted from Emperor, but from the words of the Pope.

Here, the Pope needs to clarify that Islam does not preach violence against non-Muslims and that Muslims do not advocate spreading Islam through violence, since this is the implication of his own words. Therefore, this is something that he has to either explain or retract, and it is something about which Muslims feel he should apologize.

After Pope Benedict XVI makes these observations about the verses of the Qur'ān, only then does he begin quoting the words of the Byzantine Emperor, which include the statement: "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"

He makes no effort to distance himself from this statement or t show that he disagrees with it, which is something that a man of his position should have taken pains to do, especially after preceding this quote with the introduction that he gave.

It is good that the Pope has now made it clear that the words of the Byzantine Emperor do not reflect his own views. However, more is needed. He needs to apologize for his poor choice of words that lead listeners to believe that he supports the Emperor's idea that Islam advocates the spread of faith through violence. He also needs to clarify his preceding statements about the verses of the Qur'an – statements which are inaccurate and which imply the same negative meaning as the Emperor's.

We will now look at paragraph four:

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 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.

We should note that in this paragraph the Pope does not quote the Byzantine Emperor at all. Here he quotes from the comments made by Theodore Khoury, the editor of the Emperor's writings, which are being cited as an analysis of those writings. The statement of Khoury that he quotes here seeks to explain the difference in attitude between the Emperor and the Muslims towards violence by saying that Muslims do not subject God to the dictates of reason.

At this point, it would have been necessary for the Pope to state his disagreement with Khoury's general statements about Islam. He needed to clarify that the views being expressed about Muslim beliefs by Khoury and those supposedly held by the "educated Persian" are not representative of the beliefs of the vast majority of Muslims. As it stands, paragraph four merely reinforces the idea that the Emperor's views about violence and those of the Muslims are in actuality opposing views.

The fact is, Muslims agree with the Emperor's words: "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"

This is the very idea enshrined in the Qur'ān – in the verse that the Pope wrongfully dismisses – where Allah says: "There is no compulsion in religion. Truth stands out clear from error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold that never breaks. And Allah hears and knows all things." [Sūrah al-Baqarah: 256]

Therefore, a clearer apology is needed from the Pope where he at least admits to having chosen his words incorrectly, and where he makes it clear that he is not advancing the idea that Islam espouses irrational violence as a means of spreading the faith.

We as Muslims need to make clear exactly what grievances we have with the Pope's speech. We need to be precise in what we say and show where the Pope's speech was in error. In doing so, we need to take the opportunity to explain the true, peaceful teachings of Islam and to call people to Islam. We must restrain our anger. We must avoid all acts of violence and impropriety, conduct which only serve to advance the falsehood that Islam is a violent religion. We must also understand that though demonstrations and protests communicate to the world the anger that the Muslims feel, they do not explain to the world exactly what was wrong with the Pope's statements or why his apology is insufficient. What is needed is for us to speak calmly and convey a clear, well-reasoned message.

And Allah knows best.

Source - Author: Mosa Ali  -



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