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WEEKEND with Ibraheem Sulaiman

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'Verily, those who have attained to faith [in this divine writ], as well as those  who follow the Jewish faith, and the Christians, and the Sabians - all who  believe in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds - shall have their  reward with their Sustainer; and no fear need they have, and neither shall they  grieve.' - [Quran 2:62]
The above passage - which recurs in the Qur'an several times - lays down a fundamental doctrine of Islam,' Muhammad Asad observes in The Message of the Quran. 'With a breadth of vision unparalleled in any other religious faith, the idea of "salvation" is here made conditional upon three elements only: belief in God, belief in the Day of Judgment, and righteous action in life.' The spirit of the doctrine, that God's infinite mercy is available and open to all humanity, and also the spirit of the Easter, the holiest days of Christianity, invites a sober reflection on the relation between faiths, specifically between Christianity and Islam.
To start with let us look afresh at the lecture delivered at the University of Regensburg, Germany, on September 12, 2006, titled 'Religion, Reason and Violence' by His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI. The substance of the lecture is to, in Pope's words: 'invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures.' To Muslims, Pope's invitation contains the following remarks, quoted verbatim:
In the seventh conversation edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor [of Byzantium] 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 some of the experts, this is probably 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, a brusqueness that we find unacceptable, 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 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.'
As every one could remember, the Pope's lecture was received with alarm and consternation, even derision, throughout the world. The response of Prof. Hans Koechler, the Austrian eminent philosopher and President of the International Progress Organization, is most apt. A gist of his statement issued in Geneva on September 16, 2006, reads:
In his lecture Pope Benedict XVI intended to demonstrate the compatibility of the Christian faith with reason as defined in classical Greek philosophy. He did so, regrettably, at the expense of Islam and Prophet Mohammed, reviving anti-Islamic prejudices of the Middle Ages. In the present context of increasing tensions between Islam and the West, caused to a considerable extent by Western powers' wars against Muslim countries, his remarks and references to false and one-sided perceptions of Islam and to hostile statements against Prophet Mohammed, made hundreds of years ago, [1394-1402] can only be seen as inflammatory and, thus, undermining his predecessor's efforts at dialogue between the two great monotheistic religions and civilizations.
As a scholar of theology, the Pope is wrong about Islam in several respects. For instance, he refers to Sura 2:256 of the Qur'an - "There is no  compulsion in religion" - as one of the Suras of the early period, when, according to the Pope, "Mohammed was still powerless and under threat," while in reality this Sura dates to the middle period (around 624/625 A.D. = 3/4 A.H.) when the Prophet was already in a position of strength, controlling a state in Medina. Pope Benedict's understanding of Jihad also appears to be rather one-sided and narrow, ignoring the term's original meaning, namely that of an effort to achieve human perfection, whereby armed struggle is only one of many aspects.
Apart from the problematic scholarly aspects and certain inconsistencies in his argument, the Pope appears to be rather hypocritical in his criticism of violence carried out in the name of God. While referring to the condemnation, by a Byzantine Emperor, of violence in the name of Islam, he totally fails to address the issue of violence used by the Roman-Catholic Church over hundreds of years against Muslims and others it considered as non-believers. By not even mentioning the crusades and the forced conversions in the course of the Reconquista and in the period of European colonization he has not only defeated his argument, but discredited the Roman-Catholic Church as an honest partner in inter-faith dialogue in the 21st century. Furthermore, the notion of "Holy War" which the Pope appears to detest so much is not an Islamic term; rendering the meaning of the Arabic Jihad by the combination of words "holy war" is highly misleading. Literally, "holy war" is the translation of the Latin term bellum sanctum which was used to describe a "crusade" against the "Saracens" [Muslims] in the Middle Ages; thus, this notion was part of the doctrine of the Roman-Catholic Church over many centuries.
Regrettably, in his lecture preaching reason and the propagation of religious values by peaceful means, the Pope totally overlooks the fact that the Muslim world is again subjected to the imposition of a doctrinary understanding of human rights and Western values by means of armed force - as demonstrated by the project of the "Greater Middle East" which some Western leaders, claiming to be inspired by Christian values, have professed to implement. The illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, having caused the death of thousands of innocent people, the ongoing intervention in Afghanistan, and the threat of war against Iran, are all testimony to this inhuman policy which, unlike his immediate predecessor, Benedict XVI appears to ignore, something that puts in doubt his moral credibility as a religious leader.'
In short the Vicar of Christ was out of step with Humanity. Hate and bigotry must never be promoted as worthy causes. Love is better than hate, peace is better than war, truth is better that falsehood. Humanity must move to a new experience. 'If Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace,' a group of eminent Muslim scholars including politicians, academics, thinkers, from all over the world told the Pope in an open letter dated October 13, 2006. 'With the terrible weaponry of the modern world; with Muslims and Christians intertwined everywhere as never before, no side can unilaterally win a conflict between more than half of the world's inhabitants. Thus our common future is at stake. The very survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake.'

Comments (1)Add Comment
written by Bolakale Sidik, April 07, 2012
Let's tell the Pope and indeed non-Moslems who need to refer to Qur'an that they can't take in the message of ANY verse of the holy book by casual or mere reading the translation. Let's tell them that Qur'an, to serve why it is released, must be interpreted by those who know: the ahalul bait

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