In a speech during a visit to Germany, the Pope quoted a 14th century Emperor who said that the Prophet Muhammad had brought the world only "evil and inhuman" things by implication that that Islam incites violence. And sure enough the Muslim response has fulfilled the expectation.
Two years ago the Pope warned against Turkey a Muslim country be allowed to join the European Union because its Muslim values were, according to him, incompatible with "Christian Europe's values". He forgot at that time that two Muslim nations Bosnia-Herzegovina and Albania are already a part of Europe. This time again his remarks are creating worldwide anger among Muslims. It is unfortunate that given the state of turmoil in world politics the Pope should have chosen the example that he did to be included in his scholarly and useful discussion on the interaction of Faith and Reason the day after the fifth anniversary of the tragedy of 11th September. These remarks further provide fodder to religious radicals who subscribe to "clash of civilization" between Islam and the West.
It is useful to remind ourselves that there is a great difference between Islam and Islamic history just like there is a great difference between the message of Jesus and the history of Christianity. This His Holiness knows well. In reading the full article one may infer that unlike Muslims the Catholics are rational. One needs only to look at the history of the Catholic Church persecuting a number of scientists. Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake for only trying to prove that the earth was not flat! And the history or Inquisition surely is not a rejection of the use of force or violence in a religious discourse or interaction.
If the poorly chosen example of the Pope assumes that violence was the exclusive domain of the Muslims, it is not only unhelpful currently but also historically inaccurate. Christian rulers were certainly not more gentle or generous than their Muslim counterparts on the battlefield. Spain and Anatolia changed hands at about the same time between Christians and Muslims. In Spain all Muslims and Jews were forcibly converted or killed or driven out; the seat of the Orthodox Patriarch still remains in Istanbul, which the Pope chose to refer by its pervious name Constantinople! Yet all this recounting of historical events does not by itself constitute the true sum and substance of Christ's Message nor should it cast any aspersions on it.
Enough said about Faith, now let us turn to the role of Reason which the Pope as a Theologian reflects upon. This is useful for the Muslims as a timely reminder of their past heritage and also a necessary requirement in dealing with modernity and the challenges they face.
The unrest, the demonstrations, the burning of flags and effigies-a common street scene in the Muslim world, is only an indication of the deep rooted anger and frustrations of the masses who feel powerless and betrayed by their own leaders and the West. Poverty stricken and with a high level of illiteracy among them, the Muslim masses are greatly vulnerable to manipulation especially in the name of religion. Because of this it is emotions through which they react rather than reason. Offended by anything critical of Islam Muslims seek to censor these critics. However this need not take violent expressions, which are against Islam's true teachings, as Muslims would argue. Yet again we have the Muslims expressing their outrage at another affront to their sensitivities. Riots and death accompanied the printing of cartoons in the Danish newspaper; a Dutch film director was killed because of a film offensive to Muslims. Is this how Muslims want to assure the rest of the world that they are non-violent and peaceable people? Being outraged every time one's religion is perceived to be slighted only perpetuates the differences between people, preventing reasonable and civilized discourse and tacitly promoting violent reaction. Also it shows a lack of self-confidence and maturity. Muslims can do well to remind themselves of how the Prophet Muhammad himself reacted with dignity, compassion and forgiveness towards his sworn enemies.
The stakes are high for Muslims and Islam. There is deep and growing feeling that indeed there is an unbridgeable chasm between Islam and the norms that govern most modern states and societies. Different toxic brands of what is claimed to be "True Islam" are currently being perceived as the sum total of the true faith itself. The "Sunni-Wahabi_Shia-Talibanised" version with its emphasis on authenticity of its own brand at the expense of rejecting all others is causing major upheavals within Islam and also in its encounter with others.
Muslims have long given-up the openness with which they in their own history have discussed matters and differences regarding Faith and Religion. The record of the debates between the Mutazailites and the Asharites during the 12th. Century on these and other issues holds no parallel in the history of that era or for that matter any till Europe and Christianity woke up with the Enlightenment and Reformation. At the time of Islam's rise and spread to distant parts of the world, the people understood and accepted Islam through the conduct of the Muslims of that time. Why should it be any different now?
Muslims now must re-engage with that same spirit of free inquiry and attitude in order to move forward from total adherence to an over-ritualized process that they have come to understand as Islam. Without the infusion of Reason the desired change is not obtainable for their own society or for the Global community that they interact with.
In the Pope's lecture there are points with which Muslims can agree. He has attempted a Catholic critique of modern reason which he emphasizes "is not about turning the clock back to the time before the Enlightenment and rejecting the insights of the modern age" with the progress it has brought humanity. His attempt at broadening the concept of reason is a call for reason and faith to come together in a new way, The Pope makes a point about the exclusion of religion from reason with which Muslims can only agree. He says, "Yet the world's profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions. A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures." He is making a call to listen to the great experiences and insights of the religious traditions of humanity as a source of knowledge which should not be ignored and must be shared.
The Pope has already apologized to the Muslims and they now must go past their hurt. They must meet the his call to dialogue not through demonstrations, violence or vehement reactions but through the cultivation of a civilized discourse based on the moral and ethical demands of Qur'anic universalism and the Islamic conscience that it engenders.
Dr.Nazir Khaja, is the Chairman of Islamic Information Service based in California., U.S.A
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