NOT IN DEFENSE OF POPE BENEDICT XVI 

By, Dr. Abdulkhaliq Hussein, FRCS; a Muslim Iraqi writer

Translation from Arabic by Abdullah Al Araby

 Yes, it is not my purpose here to defend Pope Benedict XVI, as he certainly does not need my defense.  He has over one billion Catholic followers who revere him and many non-Catholics who have rallied to defend him. 

In addition, the Pope is not an ordinary citizen.  He is a professional philosopher and a renowned theologian.  He was a professor of theology at the University of Bonn from 1969-1971.  Subsequently, he decided to dedicate the rest of his life to church duties.  He was successful and ascended through the ranks of the church until he reached the papacy. Actually, I believe that it is Islam that is in need of defense.

It needs to be rescued from the evil of extremists who have hijacked it and turned it into a vehicle to propagate their own agendas.   They depict Islam to the world as an evil religion that allows the wholesale killing of innocents without any qualms of conscience or concerns about morality.   

Most any reasonable person would no doubt agree with me that fanatics have hijacked Islam.  In so doing, they have forced Muslims into confrontations with the civilized world.  The extremists use the Quranic passages that they label as “the verses of the sword,” as justifications for attacking innocent people who differ with them. 

Their targets are those of other sects within Islam, other religions and anyone who does not interpret the hostile passages in a peaceful way as required by modern age. They have established many terrorist organizations in the name of religion such Al Qaeda and others. They also succeeded in establishing the terrorist government of the Taliban in Afghanistan; and extremist governments in Iran and Sudan. 

The extremist Islamists commonly threaten the world by manipulating naive Muslims and redirect their emotions towards their own purposes.   The efforts of extremists to incite every Muslims to defend Islam are counterproductive. 

Such result in creating hysteria about insults to Islam and promotes the people and publications that are the targets of protests.  Over a year ago, it was a cartoon that insulted the prophet Mohammad which was published in Denmark by an unknown Danish newspaper. 

The uproar that was created launched the newspaper into internationals fame. The fanatics incited crazed mobs to attack innocent Christians in various places.  The embassies of Norway and Denmark in Beirut and Tehran, that had nothing to do with the offensive cartoon, were torched.  Through it all, Islam was greatly discredited.  In the 1980s, enraged Islamists helped a relatively unknown British novelist named Salman Rushdie in a similar manner. 

They urged Muslim mobs into violent protests in streets throughout the world about Rushdie’s book, The Satanic Verses. The book became famous, was translated into numerous languages and brought huge profits to its author and publishers.  Now any novel that the author publishes gets world attention. 

The end result of the hysteria and unreasonable actions of Muslims is that Islam is being hurt and its critics are helped. Now, the comedy is being repeated.  The occasion is the absolutely philosophical academic lecture that the Pope delivered at Germany’s Regensburg University on September 12, 2006. 

It was titled “Religion, reason and the university; memories and reflections.”   The lecture was the Pope’s recollections of his days as a student studying religion and philosophy after which he became one of the university’s professors.  I saw the article published on the website Shaffaf Al Shark Al Awsat.  It was available in Arabic and English and I enjoyed reading it. In the lecture, the Pope tackled today’s most important issues: Namely the relationship between religion, philosophy, ethics, science, logic and faith in God. 

The Pope also addressed the subject of clash of civilizations and the role of all of the aforementioned in creating understanding between nations and the spread of peace on earth.  The lecture also discussed whether or not religion and faith in God should be imposed on people by force or through persuasive reasoning.  It also discussed the differences in the concept of God between those of the Abrahamic (heavenly) religions and those of the Greek philosophers. 

The Pope did not exempt Christianity’s history from criticism.  He gave particular note to the middle ages and how the reformers suffered persecution at the hands of the Church. For those reasons I found the lecture not only worthy of reading, but of thoughtful pondering and careful study.  Such is especially true for the lessons it offers Muslim clerics and Islamists. 

They need to review what the lecture stated without being offended about religious passages that it might infringe.  Such passages need to be reinterpreted in relation to the context of the times in which they were written and in light of the great developments that have taken place in our modern age. 

Everything is subject to change, even religious teaching.  Inflexibility within any religion could lead to its extinction.   However, instead of studying this valuable lecture and trying to benefit from it; the extremists and, unfortunately, the moderates started screaming from the top of their lungs. 

The Pope, all Christians and Jews were defamed as “the descendents of apes and swine”.  It is as though the Islamists used the Pope’s supposed attack as justification to send their brains on an eternal vacation and to let their primitive emotions run wild.  I saw no evidence of attacks on Islam or any other religions in the lecture.  What I saw was a historic review that called for all nations and civilizations to work towards reconciliation through reason, wisdom and logic; without using brute force and terror. 

Of course certain Muslim groups reject this approach.  Such perceive terrorism and violence as the only means of achieving their evil goals in the name of Allah and Islam. We are not surprised when Islamic parties and those who resort to terrorism are the ones behind the clamor that pushes mobs into the streets of Islamic and Arab countries against the Pope and the Christians of the world. 

But our surprise is that those who call themselves moderates don’t deal with the matter in a reasonable way.  Instead of calming down the situation, they rode the storm and joined the extremists and added fuel to the fire.  Rather than fostering reconciliation between religions they offered the terrorists and Islamists a free service that does not serve Islam well.  To the contrary, it adds flames to the fire and insures what is being called the clash of civilizations. 

Excerpts from the lecture

To bring clarity, I would like to quote some passages from the lecture.  Such are those that caused the explosive reactions in the streets of Islamic nations. We need to know whether or not the things that the Pope quoted and stated actually warrant hysterical outbursts from Muslim communities; whether or not anything has occurred that gives Muslims reasons to want to kill innocent Christians and to burn their churches.  As I have already explained, the focus of the Pope’s address was purely academic. 

It was designed for a specific audience to explore the best methods to create harmonious relationships between the societies within modern civilizations.  This came from a man who is the top authority of Catholic Christianity, which is known to value tolerance.  IE, whoever strikes you on the right cheek; turn to him the left also.  

Therefore, he must reject violence and emphasize the concepts of reason, wisdom and logic for persuasion instead of the use of explosives and time bombs. It is necessary to reiterate that the lecture was progressive.  The Pope started with ancient history and took his audience to our present day. 

His aim was to bring his listeners to the same conclusion to which he had arrived; violence does not solve any problems, but rather intensifies them. The Pope explicitly stated, “Violence is contrary to God’s nature and the nature of the spirit.”  He added “I was reminded of all this recently, when I read the edition by Professor Theodore Khoury (Münster) of part of the dialogue carried on - perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara - by the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both…. 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 Pope concluded with, “The intention here is not one of retrenchment or negative criticism, but of broadening our concept of reason and its application.”  He continued by saying, “Only thus do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today.” And on the relationship between religion and reason, the pontiff added, “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.”  He said, “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...”  The Pope did not restrict his critiques to the quotes that some interpreted as anti-Islamic.  He also quoted statements stated by his former fellow professors of the University of Bonn where he taught theology. 

He pointed out that some of them asserted positions that were against God.  He said, “This profound sense of coherence within the universe of reason was not troubled, even when it was once reported that a colleague had said there was something odd about our university: it had two faculties devoted to something that did not exist: God. That even in the face of such radical skepticism (in the existence of God) it is still necessary and reasonable to raise the question of God through the use of reason, and to do so in the context of the tradition of the Christian faith.” The pope also stated, “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 practice idolatry.”  

In another place in his address the Pope cited texts that explained that Ibn Hazm portrayed God as having a changeable temperament.  It is a mystery as to why Muslims didn’t object and consider the quotes from Ibn Hazm as anti-Islamic in that they depict God as having a changeable temperament. 

It’s equally baffling as to why they would not criticize the Pope for quoting and showing tolerance for the views of atheists. 

Reactions

Needless to say, none of the reactions of Muslims support their boasts of tolerance.   Their bragging is defied by the fact that a lecture given to a group of scholars incited calls for violence from Muslim clerics and political officials that were carried out by moderates in various Islamic countries.  

On one hand they approve violence which they call jihad for the victory of Islam.  On the other hand they attack anybody that describes them as violent.  As of the date of this article, angered Muslim street mobs burnt 7 Christian churches in areas under Palestinian rule.  An elderly Italian nun who worked in a children’s hospital in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, was killed. 

The clerics of every sect of Islam and the leaders of every level of Islamic organizations joined hands in attacking the Pope.   All participated in the protests from Al Azhar to those who wear the big turbines in Najaf and Qum and those of other Islamic capitals, parliaments and governments. 

Several hundred protesters gathered in Iran’s holy city of Qum.  The conservative clergyman Ahmed Khatami, lumped the pontiff with President George W. Bush.  He said, “Both are dedicated to the goal of repeating the Crusades.” He demanded that the Pope apologies to all Muslims while he is kneeling down.  Don’t such demands expose an innate desire to humiliate and annihilate an opponent?  Citing the lack of an apology from the Pope the popular Islamic activist Youssef Al Karadawi called for a Friday of “reasonable anger”. 

Al Karadawi is known to take advantage of such occasions to ignite Islamic sensitivities and to provoke street demonstrations.  I don’t know how any type of mob anger can be described as “reasonable”.  Where is reason and logic among those who consider themselves sheiks of Islam? 

Discussing the Pope’s statements

Muslim clergymen and politicians got agitated and excited merely by a single quote in a long philosophical lecture.  They should have dealt with it in its academic context in which it was given.  It would have been better had they considered the surrounding circumstances of the violence that is going on around the world in the name of Islam and Muslim terrorist and the need for dialogue between cultures and religions. 

Instead they acted as though the Pope had fabricated lies that have no correlation with factual events in the history of Islam.  Nonetheless, anyone who explores Islamic religious and historical references will find that the Pope’s quotations were accurate.  Historically, Muslim clerics have not objected to records of the Byzantine Emperor’s statements. 

Why earth should shake when someone like the Pope cites historically accurate information in a private lecture to a group of academics? I don’t believe that the quotes should have caused all this uproar.  If there was a need to respond, it could have been done in a calm orderly manner. 

To settle the controversy the grand sheiks, such as those of Al Azhar, should have requested a debate with the Vatican.  Such would be in harmony with the Holy Koran. -  “Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knoweth best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance.” (Sura 16: 25)   “Repel (Evil) with what is better: Then will he between whom and thee was hatred become as it were thy friend and intimate!” (Sura 41: 34) 

Either Sheik Karadawi and the Sheiks of Al Azhar and Qum are ignorant of these verses; or, they were pushing their personal agendas when their inflammatory words provoked the fires of violence that are now burring everywhere.  Without a doubt the reactions of some Muslims of torching churches and killing innocent people has backfired.  On the global level it has generated new ammunition for the enemies of Islam.   

Now, let’s cover some of the remarks that the Pope made in his lecture that angered Muslims into street violence.  Our question to those who made the enraged demand that the Pope fall to his knees and apologize is two-fold:  Were his statements historically accurate or inaccurate?  Were any of his statements true insults against Islam?   1 – The Pope offered, “Violence is contrary to God’s nature and the nature of the spirit.”  What do the Sheiks of Islam think of that quote?  Does violence agree with the nature of God?  We know that God rejects violence and there are many Quranic verses that support that premise. 

Therefore, the statement in question should not warrant anger from anyone. 2 – Treatment of “People of the Book” (Christians and Jews) as infidels.  This is not a new issue.  It was not the Pope’s fabrication as some Muslims claim.  The concept is recorded in various reliable Islamic passages and sources.  An example, “The (true) religion before God is Islam, he that desires a religion other than Islam never will it be accepted of him.”  It is true that there are verses in the Quran that acknowledge Christians, Jews and the Sabians. 

However, those who advocate violence maintain that those peaceful verses were revealed in Mecca when Muslims were weak.  They claim that such were abrogated by the new Medinian verses after the migration to Medina as Islam grew stronger.   This dictates that the followers of other religions who do not embrace Islam are to be treated as infidels.  This is a matter agreed upon by most Islamic sects.  Defaming Christians and Jews as infidels and descendents of apes and swine is a common topic for the Friday sermons of Muslim Imams at their mosques. 

No Muslim would argue with accusations that the Christians and Jews have corrupted their Bible.  3 – “Spreading Islam by the sword”: Do those who caused the uproar deny the historical facts of the use of the sword for spreading Islam? History proves that during the life of Mohammed, Muslims initiated wars against non-Muslims.   His Guided Companions carried on the tradition and spreading Islam by the sword continued on into the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties and later on to the Ottoman Empire. 

Such wars were called conquests.  Muslims gave the conquered the choices of converting to Islam or execution by sword.  When the latter was chosen the men were killed and the women and children were sold in the slave markets as  spoils of war and became concubines and slaves. How did Islam expand to Iraq, Iran, Syria, Egypt, North Africa, Spain and other countries?  Did Muslims send them missionaries to preach as the Christians do? Or, were massive, well-armed armies sent to conquer them and claim triumph of Islam? 

As an example, in the conquest of Spain, the leader of the Muslim army was Mussa Ben Nusseur.  He sent five thousands Spaniard virgins to the Umayyad Khliph in Damascus, in compliance with the fifth of the spoils offering stipulated by the Quran,  That explicitly infers that the total number of virgins captured was around twenty-five thousand.   Dr. Ali Al Wardi (See: Note) sarcastically wonders: “How did the Islamic army that invaded Spain acquire these virgins?

Did the Muslim soldiers knock at doors begging each family to donate one of their virgins for God’s sake?  Or, did they enslave them after killing their fathers and brothers?  Al Wardi adds, “We condemn Hillock’s crimes in Baghdad and describe it in the most terrible terms. At the same time we take pride about how our ancestors committed similar acts in the name of Islam in Spain.  Are such barbaric acts acceptable in our times?” 

It was not only fanatical clergymen who condemned the Pope.  Liberal clerics like Dr. Ahmed Sobhi Mansour joined in the denials that Islam was spread by the sword.  He tried to deny a hadith mentioned in Al Bukhari where Mohammed says,” I have been ordered to fight with the people until they say there is no God but Allah…”  In an article titled, “Regarding what Pope Benedict XVI said about Islam,” on the Arabic website “Al Hiwar Al Motamadian”

Dr. Mansour made some sobering statements. He maintained that the hadith was fabricated by Al Bukhari.  He added that Al Bukhari’s true name was Ibn Bezeweh, and he was from kharasan, a group which was known for its hatred of Arabs and Islam.  Okay, we hope that the hadith was fabricated. 

 

But, how does Dr. Mansour explain some Quranic passages that call for using the sword in spreading Islam? Such are numerous.   I will cite just one where Allah says, “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” (Sura 9: 29)   

 

During the time of Mohammed an army lead by Osama ben Zaid was sent to Syria.  Iraq and Egypt were invaded during the era of the Truly Guided Companions, and Spain during the Umayyad era.  The people of those countries believed in Christianity, which means they were People of the Book.  So why were they fought?

 

 Why did the Apostasy Wars take place in the time of Abu Bakr?  It resulted in the killing of about twenty-eight thousand people who wanted to abandon Islam? Why didn’t Muslims use persuasive reason and logic with them?  What is the fate of an apostate of Islam in our modern day? 

 What would happen if a Muslim decided to leave Islam and embrace another religion?  I’m not denying that there were some nations like Indonesia that accepted Islam peacefully without the use of force.  Merchants brought the religion to them. 

Nonetheless, history tells us that the majority of today’s Muslim nations were conquered by battles that are labeled Islamic conquests. 4 – The Pope emphasized something at the conclusion of his address, “"God is not pleased by blood - and acting reasonably is not 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...” Then he added, “The intention here is not one of retrenchment or negative criticism, but of broadening our concept of reason and its application.”  He followed by saying,” Only thus do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today.” 

Isn’t this a genuine call for a dialogue by peaceful means? Why didn’t the Muslim clergy and political leaders resort to peaceful dialogue instead of inciting the mobs? When some Muslims resort to violence after a lecture, the publishing of a cartoon or some novel that is deemed objectionable; it taints the reputations of all Muslims. 

 

It causes many of the world’s non-Muslims to think of us as violent psychopaths with explosive temperaments.  That kind of behavior makes Islamic nations a mockery among non-Muslims as though we didn’t deserve the respect of other nations.   Truly, the nations of the world are at loss about how they should deal with Muslims. 

 

Are there any reasonable Muslims out there who are willing to advise us on how we are to relate to the modern world in accordance to what the Quran says, “And argue with them in ways that are best?”  Is this verse still in effect, or has it also been abrogated by the verses of the sword?  Please, advise us, may God have mercy on you!!

 

 Note: Dr. Ali Al Wardi is the father of modern sociology in Iraq. He was also a staunch advocate of liberalism and democracy, since 1952, when he first published his book in Arabic “Waaz Al Salateen.” (Preacher’s of Kings)  

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