How to Cope With Pope's View?
By: Soroor Ahmed
AN OLD STORY retold: Pope Benedict XVI, in his September 12 treatise in Regensburg University (Germany), raised the same old issue regarding the role of the sword in the spread of Islam.The only difference is that he chose to quote the 14th century Byzantine emperor, Manuel II, rather than modern day Orientalists to buttress his points. Without indulging into any acrimony, one can say that the religious head of Roman Catholics has perhaps inadvertently provided an opportunity to have a healthy debate on the subject.
Islam, no doubt, spread fast when Muslims were a global power. Many Muslim emperors, for their own political end, used power to influence the world. But, like the monarchs of other faiths, they have nothing to do with the spread of religion. They had their own agendas, and they exploited religion to achieve their goals. Regarding Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), it is true he fought several battles, but almost all of them were thrust upon the Muslims of that period. He had to fight about half a dozen battles in a decade-long life in Madinah, and only 459 Muslims lost their lives. The number of non-Muslims killed in those battles is almost the same. The Qur'anic verses often quoted by the Orientalists in this connection were revealed in this background and should not be quoted out of context.
If the sword had played a role in the expansion of Islam, there would be no Jews in the world today. Ironically, in Levant, the veritable battleground between Muslims and Christians, millions of Christians still live. Forty-three percent of Lebanon's population is Christian, including its President. Similarly, though the Jews never accepted Holy Prophet Mohammad (S.A.W.), the Muslim rulers did not kill a single follower of Judaism between 629 AD --that is, after the Battle of Khyber, during the time of the Prophet and 1948 when Israel was created. The only possible aberration was 1920 when 12 persons --six Muslims and six Jews-- were killed in a group clash three years after the Balfour Declaration, which calls for the creation of Israel.
After Khalifa Omar's forces conquered Palestine (from Christian Romans) in 638-639 AD, about 70 Jewish families came and requested him to allow them permission to live in Jerusalem. He agreed although he knew, that throughout the life of Holy Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.), the Jews had left no stone unturned to oppose Islam. Similarly, Salahuddin Ayyubi, after re-conquering Jerusalem from the Crusaders, conceded the request of the Jews to return there. During the two centuries of the Crusades, the Christian Crusaders killed hundreds of thousands of Muslims and Jews and, strangely, even the Christians of the Eastern Church.
In the Indian sub-continent too one finds the largest concentration of Muslims in the far-eastern states of Assam, West Bengal and Bangladesh; in the southern tip of Kerala and Lakshdweep islands and the Himalayan Kashmir. These are all the places were the Muslim rulers reached centuries later. Curiously between the Khyber Pass in the NWFP and Delhi, which the Muslim rulers dominated for about 700-800 years a new religion Sikhism emerged --and that too at the peak of the Mughal Empire. Some historians are quick to convert the Sikh-Mughal tussle in 17th century into the religious battle, but they have nothing to say on so many Anglo-Sikh wars fought in the same plain.
In his speech, the Pope said that the violent conversion to Islam was contrary to reason and thus "contrary to God's nature." True violent conversion can never be defended, but how will he define the curious irony of history: Islam spread fast, even faster than Christianity, in the heartland of Africa during the 19th century, the darkest period of Islamic history. The Christianized West, rather than the Muslims, was in the control of the whole region. A number of studies has been done in the West in this regard. Similarly, the largest concentration of Muslims is in Indonesia and Malaysia where Islam was spread by preachers, traders, and seafarers.
On the contrary, take the example of post-modern South Korea. In 1950, just before the start of the Korean War (1950-53) between the Chinese-backed Communists and American backed allied forces, only one percent Christians used to live there. Today Christians are about half the population of that country. Is it because of the presence of the American army in that country for so many decades?
If the Pope is really sincere --and there should be no doubt about it-- for a "genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today," he should avoid making such remarks. It is not only the Muslim world that is facing the problem. He will have to act quickly to stop the massacre of millions of Christians at the hands of Christians in Rwanda and other parts of southern Africa and in Latin America, considered as the most violent continent of the world by the Western media. The civilized Roman Catholics (Croats) fought a bloody, prolonged battle with the followers of the Eastern Church (Serbs) in the then-Yugoslavia in mid-1990s. The world is well aware as to how the Christian apartheid regimes of South Africa, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Namibia, etc. used to treat their Christian Black subjects --not in the distant past, but in the enlightened 20th century. After all, it is essentially Christianized Europeans who killed tens of millions of people belonging to their own faith in the two senseless World Wars. Who knows this better than the German Pope?
Is the Pope a Racist?
Dr. Waheeduddin Ahmed
Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI hails from Bavaria, a part of Germany and has indicated in his past statements that he is a passionate believer in maintaining the Christian/racial purity of Europe. He does not believe that Turkey belongs in Europe. He says that she should apply for membership in the Asiatic Islamic bloc, where she belongs. As the head of the Catholic Church, he gave audience in 2005 to Oriana Fallaci, an Italian journalist, who died recently and who wrote: "The sons of Allah breed like rats" and said that Europe was no longer Europe. It was "Eurabia", a colony of Islam, where the Islamic invasion did not proceed only in a physical sense, but also in a mental and cultural sense. Such concurrence immediately secured her an audience with Ratzinger the Pope.
Derogatory remarks about Islam and Muslims are not a new thing. They are to be expected. You cannot expect your enemies to shower flowers on you. Christianity and Islam have had an intermittent adversarial relationship ever since the clash with the Byzantine army. It is interesting to note that Ratzinger has invoked a historical dialogue between the Byzantine emperor in the Fourteenth century and the "Persian interlocutor" and puts the onus on Theodore (Adil) Khoury, a Christian Lebanese writer, to cleverly disguise his own opinion, a dishonesty unbecoming of any Pope but Ratzinger.
His lecture, which is the subject of this controversy, is a discussion of faith and reason. His starting point is the Qur'an, which he says rejects reason in appealing to the soul, instead relies upon physical compulsion. He says that not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature and in contrast presents Islam to be averse to reason and says that according to Ibn Hazm "God doesn't have to act with reason, is not bound by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us and were it God's will, we would even have to practice idolatry." Ibn Hazm was a Tenth century Muslim scholar of Spain, a protagonist of the Zahiri school of thought. Ratzinger surmises that Christianity was a product of synthesis between the faith of the Old Testament and the Greek philosophy of reason. Here he detaches Christianity from its Hebraic origin and occidentalizes it, thus once again revealing his European partisanship.
His is a scholarly presentation since he is first and foremost a scholar of theology. If he meant to throw a challenge to Muslim scholars to discuss the merits and demerits of the two religions in terms of faith and reason, any third grade Muslim scholar would be most willing to accept it. However, Ratzinger must first give up his post and go back to the academics. In contemporary history, Popes have never indulged in inter-religious debates. At least the last three Popes were the conscience of the world and commanded respect from all the religions. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany was wrong in suggesting that the Pope meant to start a debate. No, he meant to derogate and debase a religion. His statements and his stances vis-à-vis world issues have exposed a racial bias. It is not up to us to say how Christianity should be defined. It is up to the Christians to say what their Pope should represent and it is up to the non-European Catholics to say whether a racially biased Pope is acceptable to them.
Could the Pope be joking?
Last week, Pope Benedict XVI quoted the 14th-century Byzantine emperor Manuel II: "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."
The Vatican later claimed that the Holy Father had simply intended "to cultivate an attitude of respect and dialogue toward the other religions and cultures, and obviously also towards Islam."
It is hard to believe how this quotation can "cultivate an attitude of respect and dialogue."
But could the Pope have intended to make a joke by comparing Islam to Catholicism? Or perhaps the Qur’an to the Old and New Testaments? And was that joke intended to hide what the Catholic Church teaches on a number of topics? Despite all the media "damage control" the Vatican has done since his controversial talk in Regensburg last week, it seems only His Holiness knows for sure.
To help the Pope next time he makes a speech comparing the teachings of any religion, including Islam, to the teachings of Christianity, particularly the Catholic Church, I offer here a few good points for the Holy Father to consider. In doing so, I have used only quotations from Catholic sources, or from the Old and New Testaments.
1. The Pope should state up front that the only "true" Christian is a Catholic.
Catholic scholar Darwell Stone wrote in "Outlines of Christian Dogma" (1929) that the word "Catholic" is used to denote the Church throughout the world in communion in contrast not only to particular bodies of Christians, but also "to heretical sects out of communion with the Episcopate [hierarchy of bishops]."
2. The Pope should make it clear that only Catholicism can address faith and reason.
"Among the statements of the Vatican Council on the relation of faith and reason," wrote Stone, "it was said: Although faith is above reason, yet there never can be any true dissension between faith and reason, since the same God, who reveals mysteries and bestows faith, has given to the human mind the light of reason; and God cannot deny Himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth."
3. The Pope should explain the inconsistencies and violence found in Biblical books like the Old Testament's Deuteronomy, a book that is holy to both Jews and Christians.
On Deut. 24:1-4, Stone says; "This passage, while it forbids the re- marriage of a divorced wife, sanctions re-marriage in the one case of a husband who has divorced his wife for adultery."
4. Similarly, the Holy Father should tell us if he believes in:
Deut. 7:16, "You shall destroy all the peoples ... showing them no pity."
Deut. 20:12, "... All the people present there shall serve you as forced labour."
Deut. 20:14-15 and 17, "... You shall put all its males to the sword. You may, however, take as your booty the women, the children, the livestock, and everything in the town -- all its spoil -- and enjoy the use of the spoil of your enemy which the Lord your God gives you ... You shall not let a soul remain alive."
5. The Pope should enlighten students and faithful about the following ideas:
In Leviticus 1:9, about "burning a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, if it could still create a pleasing odor for the Lord," or in Exodus 21:7 which describes selling one’s daughters into slavery. Should such practices be allowed?
Lev. 25:44 states that the faithful may possess slaves purchased from neighboring nations. Does this teaching include the Americans (who didn't exist as a nation until millennia later)?
Ex. 35:2 states that anyone who works on the Sabbath (Jewish Shabbat) should be put to death.
Lev. 21:16-24 states that anyone among the descendants of Moses' brother Aaron (those who aspire to priestly duties) having a physical "blemish" or defect -- such as impaired vision -- may not approach the altar of God. Why was that so? And how can it apply today when so many "blemishes" can be corrected with inventions such as glasses?
Perhaps -- all joking aside -- there are practical and humbling lessons here for all who attempt to justify religious arguments through isolated quotations, whether scriptural or not. Time and history demand that we both revere and examine teachings that are too often accepted so literally that they no longer make sense, and no longer embody the spirit of divine guidance under which they were originally set down. This is a challenge worthy of all three great monotheistic faiths -- Judaism, Christianity and Islam -- as they learn to dialogue in a 21st-century world.