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.