What Was Benedict Hoping to
Pope Benedict XVI has sparked
a firestorm with his ill-advised comments
about Islam and its Prophet. Though his comments
about Islam were not central to his lecture
at the University of Regensburg they were
important because they were part of his lecture.
Had he still been a university professor,
the fallout would have been negligible. But
he spoke as head of the Roman Catholic Church
and as such to quote from a medieval dialogue
between a Byzantine emperor and a Persian
Muslim scholar was symbolic and meaningful.
This invariably raises a question: why was
it necessary for him to mention something
that was bound to inflame passions in Muslims?
Was the Pope merely trying to entice Muslims
to take a good look at their faith and start
the process of reformation? It would have
been more convincing if the pope had started
his remarks by alluding to dark chapters in
Christian history- forceful conversions, pogroms,
Crusades etc- and the role reformation played
in shaping Christianity since the 16th century.
His was not an invitation to dialogue as some
have surmised; it was a broadside delivered
in the voice of a medieval Byzantine king.
Pope Benedict has brought with him a hardline
attitude towards other religious traditions.
As a cardinal he was skeptical of John Paul’s
dialogue with other faiths. He has called
Buddhism an autoerotic spirituality, rock
music a vehicle of anti-religion and while
visiting Auschwitz he, in a convoluted reasoning,
partly blamed Jews for their ordeal for not
standing up and said that the real victims
of the Holocaust were God and Christianity.
He opposes Turkey’s inclusion in European
Union because Turkey is a Muslim country.
Many Christian scholars have expressed their
surprise and dismay at the pope’s speech.
According to William Graham, Dean of Harvard
Divinity School (as quoted in Newsweek), ‘Historically
there are no more basis for arguing that Islam
is irrational than there is arguing the same
about Christianity or Judaism. In all three
you can find tremendous discussion about revelation
and reason, and there are people in all three
who have landed outside the rational. Islam
has bloody borders right now, but Christianity
has certainly been bloody, as has Judaism
in its more extreme forms.’
Father James Bacik, pastor of Corpus Christie
University Parish in Toledo and a well-known
theologian and historian was surprised by
pope’s mention of Islam in his Regensburg
speech. ‘It was not at all necessary
to the development of his point’, he
said in an interview with the Blade.
It took Christianity1500-years to embark,
albeit reluctantly, on the long and arduous
road of Reformation. Perhaps Islam would also
undergo its own reformation in due course
but Christianity is ill placed to point an
accusing finger at Islam and Muslims at this
volatile period in history.
People in the West are always surprised at
Muslim reaction to religious insults. They
fail to understand that most Muslims, and
that include non-practicing Muslims as well,
consider the sacred text of their faith and
the Prophet of Islam beyond reproach. And
as such their reverence for and a deep-rooted
attachment to the Prophet are not negotiable.
Whether one takes to the streets on a rampage
(uncalled for in my book) or agonizes in silence,
the pain of insult is just the same.
Muslims around the world may be forgiven for
thinking that the West has embarked upon a
Crusade against them and their religion. I
recently participated in a Voice of America
call-in show where people from remote parts
of Pakistan called to draw parallel between
the war on terrorism, Danish cartoons, the
Christian fundamentalists calling the prophet
a pedophile and recent remarks of the pope.
Now that the pope has tendered a qualified
half-apology, Muslims ought to accept that
with grace. If this episode compels the pope
to make some adjustments in his attitude towards
Islam and other religions then a good purpose
would have been served. Equally important,
it is also an opportunity for the silent majority
of Muslim to challenge old dogmas and archaic
interpretations of their faith. If Muslims
believe their religion is not violent, then
they have to sideline those who act as if
(S. Amjad Hussain is an op-ed columnist for
the Blade of Toledo, Ohio. email@example.com)