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(September 18, 2006) In a lecture at a German university on September 12th, Pope Benedict described what he sees as a vast difference between Christianity and Islam: while Christianity has reconciled with reason, Islam denies it. To support his case, the Pope quoted a Byzantine Emperor, Manuel II as having said: “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.”
In reaction to his words, Muslims around the world condemned the speech, taking to thes streets in protest, with some even engaging in violence.
First and foremost, no matter what the Pope or anyone else said or drew, as in the cartoon incident last year, there is absolutely no justification for riots, violence, or any other irrational or destructive acts.
Secondly, while one may take issue with the Pope’s thesis or quote, or timing, a day after the anniversary of 9/11, any response to his speech should be through debate and dialogue, not violence and protest.
However regarding his specific reference to Islam, which was only marginal to his entire speech, one may take issue with the premise of his argument that Islam was spread by the sword, a perception that is both theologically and historically false, and negates a verse in the Qur’an that he quoted himself, “There is no compulsion in religion.” On the contrary, Islam has a much more tolerant record than that of Europe towards other faiths, as can be evidenced even today by merely examining the religious make-up of numerous areas that were ruled over by Muslims for centuries, including India, Bosnia, Lebanon, Greece, Hungary, Romania, and numerous Arab countries where Christians still make up 10% of the population. Islam has also never suffered the same tension between reason and religion that was experienced in the West, and on the contrary, the zenith or golden age of Islamic civilization was a direct result of the blending of religion and science by Muslim philosophers, scientists and scholars, a union which has its roots in the Qur’an.
However, the pope has since apologized, and more importantly, has begun a dialogue with Muslim leaders. It would behoove all people in positions of responsibility and leadership at this time to avoid remarks or actions that exacerbate the already tense relationship between much of the Muslim world and the West, and merely flame the fires of radicalism, and the belief on both sides of an inevitable clash of civilizations. Such a clash will have no winners in our world of modern warfare, and all of us should strive to avoid it.