Pope's Remarks on Islam, Repercussions, Apology and Commentary
Please come back later this week for postings on "Forgiveness and Reconciliation" panels that we hosted at the Congress in Montreal and actions of the Interfaith Relations Commission including our thinking on the question of Christian Zionism and the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown settlement in 2007.
However for now: here are some important perspectives on the papal story.
Pakistani Muslims Protesting Pope's Remarks
Pope “Deeply Sorry” for Comments About Islam
Pope Benedict XVI apologized in person on Sunday for offending some Muslims with a recent quotation from a medieval text that said Islamic teachings on holy war were "evil and inhuman."
A day earlier, the Vatican's secretary of state issued a statement saying the Pope sincerely regretted that Muslims were offended by his comments — but the measure stopped short of the personal apology being demanded by many Muslim leaders in the Middle East and Asia.
On Sunday, Benedict told pilgrims gathered at his summer retreat in Castel Gandolfo south of Rome that the text he quoted during a university lecture in Germany on Sept. 12 did not reflect his personal opinion.
Text of the Pope’s Personal Apology
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The pastoral visit which I recently made to Bavaria was a deep spiritual experience, bringing together personal memories linked to places well known to me and pastoral initiatives towards an effective proclamation of the Gospel for today.
I thank God for the interior joy which he made possible, and I am also grateful to all those who worked hard for the success of this Pastoral Visit.
As is the custom, I will speak more of this during next Wednesday's general audience.
At this time, I wish also to add that I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims.
Churches Attacked in Protest Over Pope’s Statements
Churches in the West Bank and Gaza were damaged in several shooting and fire bomb attacks over the weekend, in response to the words of Pope Benedict XVI criticizing the Muslim religion. Thousands of protesters flooded the streets of Gaza to protest.
On Saturday, a Greek Orthodox Church in the Zeitoun neighborhood in Gaza City and four other churches in Nablus were attacked by Palestinians wielding guns, fire bombs and lighter fluid. At least five fire bombs hit the Anglican Church and its door was later set ablaze. Smoke billowed from the church as firefighters put out the flames. The fire bombings left black scorch marks on the walls and windows. No injuries were reported from those incidents.
A Bavarian Provocation
A Commentaty by TARIQ ALI
Was Benedict's most recent provocation accidental or deliberate? The Bavarian is a razor-sharp reactionary cleric. A man who organises his own succession to the Papacy with a ruthless purge of potential dissidents and supervises the selection of Cardinals with great care leaves little to chance.
I think he knew what he was saying and why.
What the Pope Should Have Said to the Islamic World
By Rosemary Radford Ruether
(A prominent Catholic theologian and leading scholar in feminist theology and Palestinian issues -- I quote her fully since this comment is not available online.)
On September 12 Pope Benedict XVI aroused the fury of the Islamic world with a speech given at the University of Regensburg in which he assailed the Muslim concept of holy war as a violation of God’s will and nature. The Pope quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Paleologus, who derided Islam and its founder Muhammad for introducing “things only inhuman and evil,” such as spreading the faith by the sword. The Pope held up (Catholic) Christianity, by contrast, as a model religion that promoted a “profound encounter of faith and reason.”
From many parts of the Islamic world there were angry reactions to the Pope’s words, reminding the Pope of the evil history of Christian crusades. Although Western Christians may think the crusades are ancient history, these medieval wars in which Christian crusaders slaughtered Muslims and established crusader states in Palestine are vivid memories for Muslims. Current Western threats against Islam and invasions of Islamic countries, such as Iraq, are seen as a continuation of the crusades. The US and other Western nations who promote such wars are regularly referred to as “crusaders” in the Muslim press.
The Pope’s words condemning Islam and its founder for holy war, while holding up Christianity as innocent of any such warlike tendencies, has infuriated Muslims and deeply damaged Catholic-Muslim relations. In using a Byzantine emperor to assail Islam, the Pope also failed to reckon with the fact that the Fourth Crusade (1201-4), called by Pope Innocent III, was diverted into an assault on the capital of the Byzantine empire, Constantinople. The Crusaders pillaged and occupied the city, leading to a weakening of the Byzantine world and its eventual fall to the Muslims
Although the Vatican has not invited me to be a papal speech writer, I would like to suggest what the Pope should have said about holy war that would have won Muslim good will and opened up new dialogue between these embattled worlds. The Pope might have opened with some generalities deploring the current state of war and violence in the world. Then he would remark that such tendencies to war are deeply aggravated when religion and the name of God are wrongly used to foment violence and hatred between peoples. God desires peace and love, not war, he might have said.
The Pope would then turn to the history of the crusades and acknowledge with sorrow that Christianity has often been wrongly used to promote hatred and violence against others, perhaps quoting some pithy statements of popes who called for crusades against Islam. He would then declare that Christians must repent of such religiously inspired war-making. He would ask for forgiveness from “our Muslim brothers and sisters” for having wronged them in the past by calling for crusades against them. He would end with a call for all peoples to unite to overcome war and violence, and to reject any use of religion to promote violence.
This speech, I suggest, would have won the hearts of Muslims around the world and would have made the Pope welcome in Turkey for his planned visit there on November 28 of this year rather than putting this trip into jeopardy. Catholic-Muslim dialogue would have been put on a new and positive footing by having the “leading cleric” of the Western world publicly repent of the errors of the crusades. It would also have put Christians in the US and elsewhere on notice that the language of promoting Western “anti-terrorist” wars against the Muslim world in the name of a “crusade” (the term George W. Bush actually proposed for his wars against Afghanistan and Iraq) are not acceptable.
Some more historically aware advisors of the Bush administration realized the volatile nature of this term and warned him against his use of it. But Christians need to do more than not use the term “crusade,” while continually the reality of such war and warlike God-talk. We need to confront the questionable history of such wars against the Muslim world and the use of Christianity to promote such wars.
Is it too late? Although my influence in Vatican circles is limited, there is no reason why other Christian bodies, Catholic and Protestant, might not come together to publicly issue an apology to the Muslim world for the crusades and to call for a rejection of militarist responses to terrorism and the use of religious language to justify such militarism.
We cannot afford to maintain these ancient prejudices against Islam:
The Pope's remarks were dangerous, and will convince many more Muslims that the west is incurably Islamophobic
By Karen Armstrong: Guardian UK, Monday, September 18, 2006
(Karen Armstrong is a Catholic scholar of Religion. She is the author of Islam: A Short History.)
In the 12th century, Peter the Venerable, Abbot of Cluny, initiated a dialogue with the Islamic world. "I approach you not with arms, but with words," he wrote to the Muslims whom he imagined reading his book, "not with force, but with reason, not with hatred, but with love." Yet his treatise was entitled Summary of the Whole Heresy of the Diabolical Sect of the Saracens and segued repeatedly into spluttering intransigence. Words failed Peter when he contemplated the "bestial cruelty" of Islam, which, he claimed, had established itself by the sword. Was Muhammad a true prophet?"I shall be worse than a donkey if I agree," he expostulated, "worse than cattle if I assent!"
Peter was writing at the time of the Crusades. Even when Christians were trying to be fair, their entrenched loathing of Islam made it impossible for them to approach it objectively. For Peter, Islam was so self-evidently evil that it did not seem to occur to him that the Muslims he approached with such "love" might be offended by his remarks. This medieval cast of mind is still alive and well.
Last week, Pope Benedict XVI quoted, without qualification and with apparent approval, the words of the 14th-century Byzantine emperor 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." The Vatican seemed bemused by the Muslim outrage occasioned by the Pope's words, claiming that the Holy Father had simply intended "to cultivate an attitude of respect and dialogue toward the other religions and cultures, and obviously also towards Islam".
But the Pope's good intentions seem far from obvious. Hatred of Islam is so ubiquitous and so deeply rooted in western culture that it brings together people who are usually at daggers drawn. Neither the Danish cartoonists, who published the offensive caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad last February, nor the Christian fundamentalists who have called him a paedophile and a terrorist, would ordinarily make common cause with the Pope; yet on the subject of Islam they are in full agreement.
Our Islamophobia dates back to the time of the Crusades, and is entwined with our chronic anti-semitism. Some of the first Crusaders began their journey to the Holy Land by massacring the Jewish communities along the Rhine valley; the Crusaders ended their campaign in 1099 by slaughtering some 30,000 Muslims and Jews in Jerusalem. It is always difficult to forgive people we know we have wronged. Thenceforth Jews and Muslims became the shadow-self of Christendom, the mirror image of everything that we hoped we were not- or feared that we were.