Benedict’s address at Regensburg

Well, apparently there’s quite a stink being made about part of an address that Benedict XVI made at the University of Regensburg today:

ROME, Sept. 14 — As Pope Benedict XVI arrived back home from Germany, Muslim leaders strongly criticized a speech he gave on his trip that used unflattering language about Islam.

Some of the strongest words came from Turkey, possibly putting in jeopardy Benedict’s scheduled visit there in November.

“I do not think any good will come from the visit to the Muslim world of a person who has such ideas about Islam’s prophet,” Ali Bardakoglu, a cleric who is head of the Turkish government’s directorate of religious affairs, said in a television interview there. “He should first of all replace the grudge in his heart with moral values and respect for the other.”

Muslim leaders in Pakistan, Morocco and Kuwait, in addition to some in Germany and France, also criticized the pope’s remarks, with many demanding an apology or clarification. The extent of any anger about the speech may become clearer on Friday, the Muslim day of prayer in which grievances are often vented publicly.

The complete text of his address is here. This is apparently the section that some Muslims are taking umbrage at:

In the seventh conversation (*4V8,>4H – controversy) edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: “There is no compulsion in religion”. According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur’an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the “Book” and the “infidels”, he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: “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”. The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. “God”, he says, “is not pleased by blood – and not acting reasonably (F×< 8`(T) 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…”.

The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazn went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God’s will, we would even have to practise idolatry.

I have to admit that my consciousness is not raised on this matter and I don’t hear with Muslim ears but, unless merely mentioning statements somebody made nearly a thousand years ago in the context of a significantly longer address criticizing the use of violence in religion is offensive, I don’t understand what people are getting upset about. Perhaps someone can enlighten me.

What concerns me is the possibility that those who are taking exception with the Pope are attempting to foreclose any discussion.

UPDATE: Professor Bainbridge has a nice analysis of the address. Here’s a notable snippet:

Yet, to see this speech solely in terms of a clash of civilizations between Christianity and Islam would be error. Instead, the Pope is staking out a set of claims about the relationshiop of man and God that stand in opposition not only to the Islam of Ibn Hazn, but also that of the Protestant Reformers, the Jesus of History crowd, and (an area of particular concern for this pope) post-Christian Europe. The Pope is also renewing the claims of the Church Universal to have a truth that is transcendent, rather than culturally-bound…

ANOTHER UPDATE:  I’ve put a round-up of reactions from Western Arabist bloggers and some comments of my own here.

6 comments… add one
  • Fletcher Christian Link

    From slightly later in the Pope’s speech:

    “Were it God’s will, we would even have to practise idolatry.”

    Apparently, according to the Moslems, it is; one of the central tenets of their faith is to travel at least once in your life to Mecca, there to spend a day bowing down to a rock.

  • Fletch, would you rather travel once a week to stare at two sticks of wood? Pick your medium and your matter. It’s funny to watch religionists try to outcrazy one another.

  • Actually I think the speech was attacking Islam by mentioning that quote. If you are giving a speech about irrationality and violence in religion and quote some guy who calls a particular religion irrational and violent then of course members of the targeted religion are going to think it’s about their religion. It is.

    What makes it acceptable to do so is that it’s the truth. Doesn’t matter what they believe. Their religion has been spread by force of violence.

    I find it especially offense when the religious use the argument from popularity as supporting evidence for their beliefs. Of course your religion is more prevalent, you killed off or forced conversoin on all other ideologies. The most widespread religions tend to be the most historically violent and intolerant in spreading their message

  • alsayed Link

    regarding pope address that stirred moslems anger , we hope to shed light onto so importnat points , firstly , why pope mentions old qoutations said by Byzintine emperor ,whose real intention can not be interpeted nothing but insulting to islam ? moreover , regarding the claim of spreading islam by swords , nothing can be stayed in the heart of people by force , and majoiry of moselm nations which was not embracing islam , are still moselm up to this time?
    moreover , regarding linking isalm to reason , islam is away altogether from philosphy or miracles ,it is based mainly on mind , where god is one , god is the creator of this world and all vast universe ,moslems reach to the truth of god throgh using mind , basing upon the fact that because of the creation , then there is a creator ,because of the maker , there is the machine , unlike other religion who claims that god is killed , pls , using your mind and reason , how god ,is killed ? and what forces god to go to lower earth and killed by a group of infidles, it is redemption ? oh , if your mind can understand such a thing more logically , i hope to convince me of it using mind and reason ? and is it fair that god reedems all poeple ,so in this case what is the difference between those who acts good deeds and those evil men ,does god will redeem all people ,ok in this case i will do every evil ,hurt popele ,kill them ,deceives other because i am promosed by god reedmption ? is it logical ?

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