Advance for Sept. 23, 2006
Pope Benedict & the Muslims
by Michael J. McManus
The Vatican's newspaper ran a remarkable Page One apology Monday by Pope
Benedict XVI for his speech critical of Muhammad in bold type in Arabic,
French, English and Italian.
No one could ever remember any pope apologizing for anything he had said. And
here was a contrition published in the language of those whom he offended.
The apology was for what Benedict said in a speech at a university where he once
taught. He opened with a famous verse in the Koran, Sura (Chapter) 2, v. 256:
"There should be no compulsion of religion." He then cited a dialogue between a
14th century Byzantine emperor and an educated Islamic Persian. Benedict quoted
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."
Benedict seemed to forget that he was no longer an academic but leader of a
billion Catholics (outnumbering all Protestants), the lead spokesman for world
Within days the Pakistani Parliament voted to condemn him. The leading Shiite
cleric in Lebanon asked for a personal apology. "He is going down in history in
the same category as leaders such as Hitler and Mussolini," said Salih Kapusuz,
the deputy director of the governing party of Turkey where the pope plans to
visit in a few months.
A Catholic nun was killed in Somalia and five churches in Israel were
firebombed. Demonstrations erupted in most Islamic countries. Some Muslims
threatened to kill him.
The Vatican issued a statement Saturday that Benedict's thesis was this
sentence: "A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion
into the subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures."
However, one who wants to enter a dialogue can not insult those he wants to talk
to. When that became clear to Benedict, he made a personal apology on Sunday
before a crowd: "I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few
passages of my address...which were considered offensive to the sensibility of
Muslims. Those in fact were a quotation from a medieval text, which do not in
anyway express my personal thought."
He added that the true "meaning of my address, which in its totality was and is
an invitation to frank and sincere dialogue, with great mutual respect. This is
the meaning of the discourse." These were the words of apology published Monday
in Arabic and other languages.
How did the pope offend Muslims in his original remarks? On the PBS NewsHour,
Nihad Awad, director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, denied that
Muhammad commanded his followers "to spread the faith by the sword." In fact,
Muhammad wrote that "there should be no compulsion in religion." Awad added,
"That's a direct command from the Koran that you cannot spread faith with force,
and it has to be on conviction and reason."
He also took issue with Benedict's translation of "jihad" as meaning "holy war."
In response, George Weigel, who has written landmark books on Benedict and John
Paul, noted on PBS that Manuel II's comments "took place while Constantinople
was being besieged by an Islamic army, to which it subsequently fell some 30
years later. He knew the history by which Islam had burst out of the Arabian
peninsula and within 80 years, had conquered North Africa, the net result of
which was the destruction of Christian communities...The emperor was trying to
raise the question of the relationship between reason and holy war."
Awad responded that in the post-9/11 world, "Muslims feel under siege, that
their faith has been defamed and smeared by sometimes learned people."
What could Benedict have done? He might have spoken like Pope John Paul II in
1985 before 80,000 young Muslims in Morocco, who built bridges between the
faiths by saying his first thoughts were of God, "because it is in him that we,
Muslims and Catholics believe." Therefore, both faiths prayed to God, "for man
cannot live without praying."
Then John Paul asserted that "obedience to God and love for man ought to lead us
to respect human rights...particularly religious liberty." Therefore Muslims
and Christians should build a more "fraternal world," to "tear down barriers
which are sometimes caused by pride."
This conciliatory approach persuaded two Muslim countries, Qatar and Bahrain, to
permit Christian churches to open there.
However, Benedict believes Christians and Muslims don't pray to the same God.
Nor is there an equal respect for human rights by a faith that subordinates
He won't achieve the same results.
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