Response to Pope Benedict XVI -I

28/09/2006| IslamWeb

On Sept 12, 2006, Pope Benedict XIV, delivered a lecture at the University of Regensburg. The lecture was in German but was later translated into English by the Vatican under the title, The Three Stages in the Program of Dehellenization. My reply is based on that translation.

The main theme of the Papal speech was the relationship between faith and reason, and it was mainly about the development of Western thought on this issue, especially in relation to Christianity. But for some obscure reason the Pope started off with something that does not at all seem relevant to his central topic. He began by quoting something which the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus of the fourteenth century said about Islam.

“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,” the emperor is reported to have said to his educated Persian interlocutor. He is also reported to have explained this by saying, “God is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably (”syn logo“) is contrary to God’s nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats…. To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death….”

To persuade his audience that the emperor whom the Pope describes as ‘erudite’ did not say what he said out of ignorance of the Islamic religion, the Pope goes on to say, “The emperor must have known that Sura (chapter) 2:256 reads: “There is no compulsion in religion.” It is one of the suras of the early period, when Muhammad  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) was still powerless and under [threat]. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Koran, concerning holy war.”

These statements are full of mistakes, inaccuracies, misconceptions as well as misrepresentations of the Islamic religion.

First, to deny that Muhammad  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) came with something new and of great value, is a sign either of ignorance of his message or of blind prejudice. That Muhammad  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) came with something new and important, especially for the people of the Book, is stated in many places in the Quran.

"O people of the Book! There has come to you our Messenger, revealing to you much in the Book that you used to hide, and passing over much (that is now unnecessary). There has come to you from God a (new) light and a perspicuous Book." [Quran, 5:16]

"Say: 'O People of the Book! come to common terms as between us and you: That we worship none but God, that we associate no partners with Him; that we erect not, from among ourselves, Lords and patrons other than God.'" [Quran, 3: 64]

Second, the Pope says, “the decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: Not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature”. He then quotes the comments on the emperor’s words of Theodore Khoury who published and edited that dialogue, “For the emperor,” says Khoury “as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident.”

A person doesn’t have to be shaped by Greek philosophy to know that violent conversion and not acting in accordance to reason is something that God does not approve of. Prophet Muhammad  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) says, “Never has violence entered into something that it did not make ugly, and never has gentleness entered into something that it did not make beautiful.” It is because of this that a Muslim is enjoined to:

"Invite (all) to the Way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for your Lord knows best, who have strayed from His Path, and who (deserve) to be guided."  [Quran, 16:125]

Third, the verse alluded to is not of the early period as the Pope says, on the authority of his experts. It is a verse in Surat al Baqara which was revealed after the Prophet had migrated to Madeenah and found the support of its people, and started to engage in war against his Makkan enemies. Even the occasion on which the verse was revealed, as mentioned by authorities like Ibn Katheer, proves this. Some Madeenan people who had accepted Islam, but whose sons chose to remain Jewish, thought of forcing them to join them in the new faith, but were told not to do so. Further, why would someone who is “powerless and under threat” advise his followers not to resort to force to convert people? Why would he tell them not to do something that they are not in a position to do anyway?

Fourth, this often quoted verse, is not an isolated one as the words of the Pope intimate. It emphasizes a fact that is stated in many other verses, and that constitute a fundamental Islamic teaching. This teaching is that faith resides in the heart, and that no created beings, neither Prophets nor devils, have any control over the human heart. No one except God has the power to instill faith in a person’s heart or deprive him or her of it. Prophets like Noah, Moses, Jesus, may Allah exalt their mention, and Muhammad  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) are repeatedly reminded that their role is only to convey the message in the best of ways. They guide people to the truth only by conveying it to them, and by attempting to persuade them in the best of ways to accept it; they do not and cannot guide them by forcing them to accept it. Many verses in the Quran state and emphasize this fact. Here are some examples:

"Remind them, for you are but a remembrance. You are not at all a warder over them." [Quran, 88:21-22]

"Is it you who can compel people until they are believers?" [Quran, 10:99]

"You do not guide whom you love (to guide), but Allah guides whom He wills."  [Quran, 28: 56]

"However much you are keen (on them), most people will not believe." [Quran, 12:103]

Would a person who is told this by the God who sent him try to force people to become believers? One might say that the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) did, however, engage in war with some people and did encourage Muslims to fight wars similar to his, and that these wars are called jihad. Indeed he did, but it must be clear now that he could not have done so in contravention to those clear Divine instructions. Those wars must have therefore been engaged in for reasons other than forcing people to accept the Islamic faith. This is not the place to go into the details of the circumstances that led to them or the conditions for waging war. Suffice it to say that they were waged against aggression, against all kinds of aggression: against those who attacked Muslims because of their faith; against those who used their power to try to prevent people from accepting that faith; and against those who breached the covenants they had made with Muslims. All other non-Muslims who did not fall into those categories, including Jews and Christians, did live in peace with and among Muslims from the time of the Prophet until now. Being non-Muslim has never been considered by itself a reason for killing someone. Even organizations like al-Qaida give other justifications for their attacks on those whom they attacked.

Fifth, in his attempt to make the Christian faith compatible with reason, the Pope had to fall back on the interpretations of those, like the emperor, who attempted to marry Christianity with Greek philosophy.

A profound encounter of faith and reason is taking place here, an encounter between genuine enlightenment and religion. From the very heart of Christian faith and, at the same time, the heart of Greek thought now joined to faith, Manuel II was able to say: Not to act “with logos” is contrary to God’s nature

This means that the nature of God becomes contrary to unreasonableness only if, with the help of Greek philosophy, God is identified with Logos, Modifying the first verse of the Book of Genesis, John began the prologue of his Gospel with the words: “In the beginning was the ‘logos’ “.

In the beginning was the Logos, and Logos is God, says the Evangelist

This means that the God whose nature is compatible with reason is not the traditional God of Christianity. It is not God the Father, or God the Son, or God the Holy Ghost, or a combination of the three. The Pope must have had to resort to this understanding of God that identifies Him with reason because he cannot say about the traditional God of Christianity that unreasonableness is contrary to His nature. He cannot say so because he knows that unreasonableness characterizes the traditional conception of the nature of that God. This has always been Islam’s main objection to Christianity. The Quran tells them that the claim that God has a son is not compatible with reason and cannot therefore be compatible with God’s true nature. To explain this let us start with a preliminary understanding of God, an understanding that is shared by almost all those who believe in His existence. The minimum that they say about Him is that He is the Creator.

Response to Pope Benedict XVI -II