Islam is being Subjected to Campaigns of Distortion
By: Ayatullah Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah
In the midst of the Arrogant actions against our Arab and Muslim world, whether on the military and security level or the intellectual level, Islam is being subjected to campaigns of distortion to portray it as a religion of insubstantial or weak doctrine (part of which results from what Islam suffers today because of acts of violence that are committed by certain groups against innocent people, acts that many Muslims do not condone), Pope Benedict XVI comes out with a lecture in which he attributes to Islam things that show his lack of knowledge of Islam in its relationship with many issues that he raises, the most prominent of these being the role of reason.
He talked about how Islam is incompatible with reason; he discussed the Muslims’ belief in the will of God, saying that Muslims believe that the will of God is not subject to reason, emphasizing the close connection of Christianity to reason [when talking about the role of Greek philosophy in this matter], saying ‘A profound encounter of faith and reason is taking place here, an encounter between genuine enlightenment and religion.’ This is different from that of those who accept spreading their religion by the sword [which he accuses Islam of]. He also quoted Manuel II Palaeologus, a fourteenth century Byzantine emperor, in a dialogue with a Persian man, saying that the Holy Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.)‘brought … things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.’ In his lecture, the Pope used the terms of ‘jihad’ and ‘holy war’, saying that ‘violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul.’
We pronounced our condemnation of what the Pope said, not because he came out with thoughts that reflect a point of view that should be reacted to with criticism and dialogue, but because the nature of his speech represented an aggression against Islam and its Holy Prophet, using baseless accusations without the checks that are due from a religious person in a position such as his. This does not stop us from explaining our discussion and Islamic viewpoint on the issues that he discussed, so as to clarify these to those who might be confused, and also to emphasize the intellectual approach in executing dialogue, especially in light of the various campaigns that the world is witnessing at the present against Islam as a religion and a reality.
The relationship between Islam and reason
The relationship between Islam and reason is a deep one, since Islam based all its belief, all concepts and all laws on reason, making reason the proof that Allah uses to hold his servants accountable, and regarding reason as the power through which man obeys God and His rulings. If we study the Holy Qur’an closely, we see tens, even hundreds of verses that emphasize the importance of reason, calling on people to make what they think about, act upon and do in their lives subject to reason. The Holy Qur’an regards the way that some people live in ignorance is a result of lack of reason and lack of knowledge. This matter does not require deep or extensive study, since it is obvious to anyone who browses through some of the Qur’anic verses or the Islamic literature of the narrated Sunna (traditions) of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.).
Moreover, the Islamic critical approach is founded on the belief that the religious scripture cannot diverge from reason, so that if the apparent meaning of a given script diverges from reason, the script must be reinterpreted so that it follows reason, otherwise it loses its value as a religious script.
Parallel to that, and in light of what we said above that Islam is based on reason, we call upon the Pope to read some Qur’anic verses that emphasize that – when approaching others from an intellectual perspective - the issue between them and Muslims is that if you stand against the Oneness (tawhid) of God and countenance polytheism (shirk) and such thoughts, you must present your proof. We say to any person who differs in their opinion, and this is the Qur’anic concept in this matter: they have the right to differ with us, but they should present their proof for the beliefs they adopt in exchange for us presenting the proof of the beliefs that we adopt, so that such matters become based on reason and logic, not on unproven thoughts, imagination or the like. This is why God the Almighty said: ‘They also say, “No one will enter Paradise unless he is a Jew or a Christian;” this is in their own wishful thinking’ 2:111; this is their wish, ‘say, “Produce your evidence, if you are telling the truth”’ 2:111; on what basis do you regard Paradise as reserved for you if you are Jews or Christians? What is the guarantee that God has given to you?
Then the Qur’an argues with those who talk about polytheism ‘Have they chosen to worship other gods instead of Him? Say, “Bring your proof”’ of these gods that you regard as God’s partners in divinity; ‘“this is the Scripture for those who are with me”’ which is the Qur’an, ‘“and the Scripture for those who went before me”’, which is the Torah and Injeel , ‘but most of them do not recognize the truth, so they pay no heed’ 24:21. Then it goes on to prove the Oneness of God (and not to present it as a thought that is not based on proof), saying: ‘Have they chosen any gods from the earth who can give life to the dead? If there had been in the heavens or earth any gods but Allah, both heavens and earth would be in ruins’; that is: if there were many gods, and each one of them worked according to the plan that he lays down, which might be different to another god’s plan, in such a case clashes would inevitably ensue between them and the matter would be subject to the corruption that stems from the multiplicity of wills in the movement of the universe and existence: ‘God, Lord of the Throne, is far above the things they say’ 21:22.
God the Most High says: ‘O people, borhan (convincing proof) has come to you from your Lord’ 4:174, the word ‘borhan’ here is proof.
He also says: ‘Who is it that creates life and reproduces it?’ It is God who starts it and brings people to existence then reproduces it and reproduces people until they return to the Hereafter, ‘Who is it that gives you provision from the heavens and earth? Is it another god beside Allah? Say, “Show me your evidence then, if what you say is true”’ 27:64.
Then He says: ‘Whoever worships another god alongside Allah – a god for whose existence he has no evidence – will face his reckoning with his Lord’ 23:117.
And He emphasizes to people who enter into arguments that they must be carried out on a scientific, objective basis: ‘You argue about some things of which you have some knowledge,’ among the matters about which you have acquired knowledge one way or the other, ‘but why do you argue over things about which you know nothing?’ 3:66.
God the Most High points out that the matters in the Hereafter, and judgement of people then, will be based on God presenting His proof and evidence about people, so that judgements are not taken without proof; God says: ‘We shall call a witness from every community, and say, “Produce your evidence”’; that is: present your evidence, ‘and then they will know that truth belongs to God alone’, because the evidence is decisive and the proof is overwhelming: ‘the gods they invented will forsake them’ 28:75.
In a dialogue between the kin of Abraham (pbuh) and their arguments with him, he said to them: ‘How can you argue with me about God when He has guided me? I do not fear anything you associate with Him: unless my Lord wills it [nothing can happen]; my Lord encompasses everything in His knowledge;’ since God is the one who has all power and the control over everything, therefore I do not fear your idols that do not harm or bring benefit: ‘how can you not take heed? 6:80. ‘Why should I fear what you associate with Him’ when you, on the other hand, ‘do not fear to associate with Him things for which He has sent you no authority?’ which is a description of evidence and proof that conform to reason and its results: ‘Tell me, if you know the answer, which side has more right to feel secure?’ 6:81. Then, God the Most High concludes with: ‘It is those who have faith, and do not mix their faith with idolatry, who will be secure, and it is they who are rightly guided. Such was the argument We gave to Abraham against his people’ 6:82.
In another context, God the Most High says, when presenting the correct logic that leads to belief in His Oneness: ‘God never had a child, nor is there any god beside Him – if there were, each god would have taken his people aside’ 23:91, which means that if we assume that there are two gods, this means that each one of them will have his own believers, or that each one will have his people, and naturally each one of them will control his group of believers, leading to the corruption of the universe as a result.
In summary, the Holy Qur’an concentrates on the issue of evidence and proof, initiating a dialogue in any intellectual issue, whether it is related to a belief or to the Shari’ah [laws of the religion] or to matters revealed in other religions. On this basis, on such intellectual issues we say to Christians, and also to Jews, and even to those who are completely outside the realms of religion: ‘Show me your evidence then, if what you say is true’ 27:64 – let’s pursue dialogue through the basis of reason, proof and evidence, and let this be the approach between you and us.
In addition to the outright rejection of the relationship between Islam and reason, The Pope tried to emphasize that Christianity differs from Islam by being the religion of reason, but we cannot see how that could be. We have read what one Christian thinker said when arguing for combining the Trinity with the Oneness of God: that the matter is beyond reason because faith is above reason, since it is based on the heart and soul, which do not belong to the realms of reason. In contrast, we see that the Islamic faith must be subject in its entirety to reason; reason is what forms the basis of belief, and is the criterion by which the thought that is to be believed in and obeyed, is to be examined. Even for such matters that lie within the circle of obedience and complete submission, belief in them must be established through reason. When it is proved to us through reason that the Prophet (pbuh) is telling the truth, and that he is the Messenger of God, it is reason that is telling us to accept what he commands, whether we understand it when we acquire the tools of this knowledge, or do not because we have not acquired such tools. Thus, reason becomes the axis around which all issues that form the particulars of faith move, whether on the levels of belief, or Shari’ah, or concepts, or the like.
The relationship between the Divine will and wisdom
When it comes to the will of God the Most High, it is also subject to the scrutiny of reason. The Islamic faith emphasizes that God is the All-Wise, and that He does not perform any act that lies outside wisdom, and that He, the Most High, emphasizes, in His creation of the universe, the role of a balanced system that is governed by wise, balanced laws which lead man to all good and all benefits. He says: ‘We have created all things in due measure’ 54:49; He has established laws and norms in the universe and the life of humans. He also says: ‘You will find no change in God’s practices’ 33:62. Also, God is the Gracious and Merciful One, who treats His people with mercy, as He opens up for them the horizons of life with whatever benefits them, and directs them away from corruption.
Researchers know that the approach which the Mu’tazilite and the Ithna-‘asheri Shi’ites follow emphasizes the idea of absolute good and bad that are defined by reason. This point is based on the idea that all acts of God must be good and that He can never commit a bad act. Even the Ash’arites prove the existence of God and the Divine revelation through reason, so that if reason proves something, then they submit to it; and although they do not believe in absolute good and bad, they, nonetheless, do not accept that God does any bad act, only that they do not see a role for reason in that.
Islam and jihad
As for the Pope's idea that jihad represents violence against others to force people to embrace Islam, this shows that he has not studied the philosophy and basis of jihad in Islam. God says: ‘Fight in God’s cause against those who fight you’ 2:190, which is the defensive jihad that means: whoever fights you, you fight them. Also His saying: ‘Why should you not fight in God’s cause and for those oppressed men, women and children who cry out, “Our Lord, rescue us from this town whose people are oppressors”’ 4:76 : fighting in this verse is legitimate as it is in defence of oppressed and subjugated people, not an aggressive act against others. Jihad is a pre-emptive act also, and this is when there are given facts that point to an imminent or certain danger to Muslims and their country; in such cases the jihad starts to relieve them from this danger. God, the Most High, says: ‘And if you fear treachery on the part of any people, throw their treaty back at them, for God does not love the treacherous’ 8:58, so you confront those who betray you regarding the treaties you have made with them. Also in the context of oppressors who impinge on the religious freedom of those who follow Islam as a Shari’ah, God says: ‘Fight them until there is no more persecution, and until worship is devoted to God’ 2:193; this is to deal with the situation when Muslims in Mecca were subjected to oppression, killing and expulsion to force them to abandon their religion and turn them back to the polytheism that they used to follow.
Thus, jihad in Islam harmonizes with the general humanitarian situation of confronting enemies and the dangers that they pose, which is quite different from aggression and oppression against others, even if they are unbelievers. In this regard, we may cite the declaration of the Qur’an that a difference in religion, school of thought or otherwise does not justify fighting; but what justifies it is aggression and oppression against another party, whoever they are. Regarding such matters within the Islamic circle, we can cite what God says about the infighting among Muslims: ‘If two groups of the believers fight, you [believers] should try to reconcile them; if one of them beghet (committed aggression) against the other, fight the aggressors until they submit to God’s command, then make a just and even-handed reconciliation between the two of them, God loves those who are even-handed’ 49:9; here the reference is to ‘beghy’ which is another expression of aggression. As for the context outside the Islamic circle, He, the Most High, says: ‘God does not forbid you to deal kindly and justly with anyone who has not fought you for your faith or driven you out of your homes; God loves the just. But God forbids you to take as allies those who have fought against you for your faith, driven you out of your homes, and helped others to drive you out; any of you who take them as allies will truly be wrongdoers’ 60:8-9; here it is quite clear that a difference in religion does not justify fighting, but, according to the logic of the verse, justification is subject to the aggression of others through fighting, oppression etc.
In fact, the Holy Qur’an is clear in that ‘There is no compulsion in religion’ 2:256; therefore, fighting was never for the sake of making people embrace Islam, and this is the way of a religion that is based on reason and proof when building the faith, in contrast to external pressure, which is counterproductive to self-conviction.
It is rather curious that the Pope said that this Qur’anic verse came from the beginning of Islam, when Islam was weak and the Holy Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) ‘was still powerless and under threat’, and that when he later acquired power, he changed his position to ordering fighting. This points to the Pope’s ignorance of the chronology of the revelation of the Qur’anic verses: had he acquired a proper knowledge of this, he would have discovered that this gracious verse was revealed in Madinah, i.e. after Islam had become very strong, through the leadership of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.), something which was evident in his victories in Islam’s battles with the polytheists.
In this regard, we can note that the Pope did not talk about what we find in the Old Testament: that the Israelites were ordered to annihilate, through mass killing, all males in the town that they enter. In another scripture: ‘Now go and smite Amalek (the Amalekites), and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox an sheep, camel and ass’ 1 Samuel 15:1-3. We do not know why he did not mention the Biblical scripts that call on the faithful to annihilate others when he discusses what Muslims believe; clearly this was a speech that lacked both depth and honesty!
In addition, if he regards the wars which Muslims fight as holy wars, and that killing people takes place in the name of holiness – although we reject the idea that holiness in the context of the Islamic wars has the same meaning as the concept of holy wars that the Western people have – we would like to ask him about the Crusades, which were called holy wars, and which were led by Popes, and in which Palestine and Jerusalem were attacked, and in which all sorts of atrocities were committed against civilian Muslims. What about forcing Muslims of the Andalus (present-day Spain) to embrace Christianity? What about killing those Muslims in the Andalus who refused to embrace Christianity?
In this matter, in the history of Christianity in the reign of Emperor Constantine, as it became the religion of the palace and Roman Empire, we hear that Constantine placed the Cross on shields so as to make his soldiers more fierce in battle, on the basis that the fighting was under the banner of the Cross.
Quoting the Emperor’s dialogue
If we regard the Pope as mistaken in his understanding in all of the above, he is also mistaken in the way that he recalled old viewpoints by quoting part of scripts that belong to ancient eras, as was the case when quoting the Byzantine emperor. It was later claimed in his defence that using this quotation from the Byzantine emperor did not reflect his (the Pope’s) vision; but if we look at the context in which the quoting took place we see that this does not ring true. This is because the issue is that the quotation makes a point that bears no relation to the matter at hand, which is the relationship between Islam and violence; whatever was needed to focus on this matter could have been achieved without quoting these words. One has to point out that this criticism of Islam - that it is based on forcing people to embrace it through the sword - is not new; in fact, it is a rather old accusation to which Muslims have answered extensively. But the matter in this instance is that the intentional quoting of words that describe the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) likewise implies that this particular description by the Pope is also intentional.
Moreover, if the Pope is saying that he does not ascribe to this opinion, yet uses this quotation from others in a ‘scientific’ lecture, we say to him: you are mistaken in your justification, since the scientific researcher, when producing a quote, must give his opinion of it, be it acceptance or rejection, in order to be faithful to the scientific approach. This did not happen: rather the manner of its presentation seems to be a citation [with approbation], not a mere quotation, because it chimes with the general direction of the lecture accusing Islam of standing against reason, and of adopting violence when calling for the faith; and on the basis that religion is incompatible with violence, the Pope asserts that it is against God and the soul, which, by its implication, means that Islam is not a Divine religion.
It is to be noted when examining the matter that the Pope regarded his lecture as an opener to dialogue between religions; but in fact it was an attack on Islam - which one and a half billion people follow - made in an unscientific manner, based on ignorance of Islamic knowledge, for the dialogue approach needs an objective, scientific, impartial language, not a defamatory one.
This is why we saw the controversy that ensued all over the world against the Papal stance, in the Muslim world and in other places, even amongst some Christians and researchers in the issue of dialogue among religions and civilizations.
As for the opinion of some people that the rejection the Pope’s lecture was politically motivated, such suggestion stems from a non-realistic study, because the Islamic world simply reacted against the wrong done to Islam and its Holy Prophet (S.A.W.), especially given that the Pope does not represent a political position in the world, with all due respect to his position.
Emphasis on dialogue
In closing, we would like to emphasize that in our discussion we do not want to attack the Pope personally, nor to harm Islamic-Christian relationships, which we are keen to encourage – we have been pioneers in the theorization of Islamic-Christian dialogue. Indeed, we continue to call for fruitful, humanitarian, and objective dialogue
* On 12 September 2006, during a journey to Germany, Pope Benedict XVI gave a lecture at the University of Regensburg entitled ‘Faith, Reason and the University: Memories and Reflections’. In that lecture, the Pope attributed things to Islam in a way that showed lack of knowledge of Islam in its approach to many issues – incompatibility with reason, the will of God and spreading the faith by the sword as part of holy war.
His words and their conclusions angered 1800 millions Muslims all over the world, and some responded by taking to the streets and calling for apology.
In the midst of all this, reason and logic should prevail, and it is hoped that this article by his eminence Ayatullah Sayyid Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah, the renowned Muslim religious authority, will provide such discussion based on reason and proof.
The article was published in Arabic in the Lebanese newspaper As-Safir on 23 September 2006. This is the English translation of that article.