In the Name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful
This past week, Pope Benedict XVI met with Muslim envoys to help mend fences after his speech at the University of Regensburg which offended Muslims throughout the world. Frankly, I was taken by surprise by Pope Benedict XVI’s comments about Islam during his recent speech. They simply do not fit in when the entire speech is taken into consideration. Surely, I thought to myself, he knows more about Islam than that.
By now, we all know what were the words that touched off Muslim anger across the world:
In the seventh conversation (διάλεξις – 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, a brusqueness which leaves us astounded, 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 (σὺν λόγω) 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…”.
Yet, the most puzzling aspect of the above passage is this: 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.
This is why I scratched my head: verse 2:256 was revealed to the Prophet (pbuh) in Medina. The Prophet was not, as the Pope said, “still powerless and under threat.” On the contrary, he had an entire city-state with its army at his disposal. If the Prophet (pbuh) was bent upon “conversion by the sword,” why would such a verse be revealed then and there? If anything, this shows that Islam is wholly antithetical to conversion by force. Islam indeed agrees that “God is not pleased by blood.” I am surprised that the Pope seemed to not know this.
For a complete discussion on how I believe there is nothing in the Qur’an that justifies the “murder of infidels,” see my articles published previously. Yet, the fact remains: the notion that the “peaceful” verses of the Qur’an were revealed when the Prophet (pbuh) was weak only to be “abrogated” by the forceful verses calling for arms against the infidel is completely false. Islam does not call for war against all those who are not Muslim. There may be some Muslims who believe so, but they betray Islam by that belief. Period.
For an excellent response to the Pope about Islam and reason, please see the next post.
BTW, I must say that I categorically reject the violent reaction of some Muslims to the Pope’s comments, such as the murder of a nun in Somalia and the torching of Churches in Gaza. What a stupid thing to do, and most un-Islamic. And just to show how Muslims are truly doing good in this world – something which the media doesn’t really like to publicize – American Muslims recently raised money to repair the churches that were damaged by Muslims in Gaza. May God bless them for their efforts.