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Pope insults Islam.. What makes him so different?
Posted: 26 September 2006 09:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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An interesting article on Islam and the Pope’s comments

Muhammad’s Sword
by
Uri Avnery


23.9.06

Since the days when Roman Emperors threw Christians to the lions, the relations between the emperors and the heads of the church have undergone many changes.

Constantine the Great, who became Emperor in the year 306 - exactly 1700 years ago - encouraged the practice of Christianity in the empire, which included Palestine. Centuries later, the church split into an Eastern (Orthodox) and a Western (Catholic) part. In the West, the Bishop of Rome, who acquired the title of Pope, demanded that the Emperor accept his superiority.

The struggle between the Emperors and the Popes played a central role in European history and divided the peoples. It knew ups and downs. Some Emperors dismissed or expelled a Pope, some Popes dismissed or excommunicated an Emperor. One of the Emperors, Henry IV, “walked to Canossa”, standing for three days barefoot in the snow in front of the Pope’s castle, until the Pope deigned to annul his excommunication.

But there were times when Emperors and Popes lived in peace with each other. We are witnessing such a period today. Between the present Pope, Benedict XVI, and the present Emperor, George Bush II, there exists a wonderful harmony. Last week’s speech by the Pope, which aroused a world-wide storm, went well with Bush’s crusade against “Islamofascism”, in the context of the “Clash of Civilizations”.

In HIS lecture at a German university, the 265th Pope described what he sees as a huge difference between Christianity and Islam: while Christianity is based on reason, Islam denies it. While Christians see the logic of God’s actions, Muslims deny that there is any such logic in the actions of Allah.

As a Jewish atheist, I do not intend to enter the fray of this debate. It is much beyond my humble abilities to understand the logic of the Pope. But I cannot overlook one passage, which concerns me too, as an Israeli living near the fault-line of this “war of civilizations.”

In order to prove the lack of reason in Islam, the Pope asserts that the prophet Muhammad ordered his followers to spread their religion by the sword. According to the Pope, that is unreasonable, because faith is born of the soul, not of the body. How can the sword influence the soul?

To support his case, the Pope quoted - of all people - a Byzantine Emperor, who belonged, of course, to the competing Eastern Church. At the end of the 14th century, the Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus told of a debate he had - or so he said (its occurrence is in doubt) - with an unnamed Persian Muslim scholar. In the heat of the argument, the Emperor (according to himself) flung the following words at his adversary:

“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”.

These words give rise to three questions: (a) Why did the Emperor say them? (b) Are they true? (c) Why did the present Pope quote them?

When MANUEL II wrote his treatise, he was the head of a dying empire. He assumed power in 1391, when only a few provinces of the once illustrious empire remained. These, too, were already under Turkish threat.

At that point in time, the Ottoman Turks had reached the banks of the Danube. They had conquered Bulgaria and the north of Greece, and had twice defeated relieving armies sent by Europe to save the Eastern Empire. On May 29, 1453, only a few years after Manuel’s death, his capital, Constantinople (the present Istanbul) fell to the Turks, putting an end to the Empire that had lasted for more than a thousand years.

During his reign, Manuel made the rounds of the capitals of Europe in an attempt to drum up support. He promised to reunite the church. There is no doubt that he wrote his religious treatise in order to incite the Christian countries against the Turks and convince them to start a new crusade. The aim was practical, theology was serving politics.

In this sense, the quote serves exactly the requirements of the present Emperor, George Bush II. He, too, wants to unite the Christian world against the mainly Muslim “Axis of Evil”. Moreover, the Turks are again knocking on the doors of Europe, this time peacefully. It is well known that the Pope supports the forces that object to the entry of Turkey into the European Union.

Is there any truth in Manuel’s argument?

The pope himself threw in a word of caution. As a serious and renowned theologian, he could not afford to falsify written texts. Therefore, he admitted that the Qur’an specifically forbade the spreading of the faith by force. He quoted the second Sura, verse 256 (strangely fallible, for a pope, he meant verse 257) which says: “There must be no coercion in matters of faith.”

How can one ignore such an unequivocal statement? The Pope simply argues that this commandment was laid down by the prophet when he was at the beginning of his career, still weak and powerless, but that later on he ordered the use of the sword in the service of the faith. Such an order does not exist in the Qur’an. True, Muhammad called for the use of the sword in his war against opposing tribes - Christian, Jewish and others - in Arabia, when he was building his state. But that was a political act, not a religious one; basically a fight for territory, not for the spreading of the faith.

Jesus said: “You will recognize them by their fruits.” The treatment of other religions by Islam must be judged by a simple test: How did the Muslim rulers behave for more than a thousand years, when they had the power to “spread the faith by the sword?”

Well, they just did not.

For many centuries, the Muslims ruled Greece. Did the Greeks become Muslims? Did anyone even try to Islamize them? On the contrary, Christian Greeks held the highest positions in the Ottoman administration. The Bulgarians, Serbs, Romanians, Hungarians and other European nations lived at one time or another under Ottoman rule and clung to their Christian faith. Nobody compelled them to become Muslims and all of them remained devoutly Christian.

True, the Albanians did convert to Islam, and so did the Bosniaks. But nobody argues that they did this under duress. They adopted Islam in order to become favorites of the government and enjoy the fruits.

In 1099, the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem and massacred its Muslim and Jewish inhabitants indiscriminately, in the name of the gentle Jesus. At that time, 400 years into the occupation of Palestine by the Muslims, Christians were still the majority in the country. Throughout this long period, no effort was made to impose Islam on them. Only after the expulsion of the Crusaders from the country, did the majority of the inhabitants start to adopt the Arabic language and the Muslim faith - and they were the forefathers of most of today’s Palestinians.

There is no evidence whatsoever of any attempt to impose Islam on the Jews. As is well known, under Muslim rule the Jews of Spain enjoyed a bloom the like of which the Jews did not enjoy anywhere else until almost our time. Poets like Yehuda Halevy wrote in Arabic, as did the great Maimonides. In Muslim Spain, Jews were ministers, poets, scientists. In Muslim Toledo, Christian, Jewish and Muslim scholars worked together and translated the ancient Greek philosophical and scientific texts. That was, indeed, the Golden Age. How would this have been possible, had the Prophet decreed the “spreading of the faith by the sword?”

What happened afterwards is even more telling. When the Catholics re-conquered Spain from the Muslims, they instituted a reign of religious terror. The Jews and the Muslims were presented with a cruel choice: to become Christians, to be massacred or to leave. And where did the hundreds of thousand of Jews, who refused to abandon their faith, escape? Almost all of them were received with open arms in the Muslim countries. The Sephardi (“Spanish”) Jews settled all over the Muslim world, from Morocco in the west to Iraq in the east, from Bulgaria (then part of the Ottoman Empire) in the north to Sudan in the south. Nowhere were they persecuted. They knew nothing like the tortures of the Inquisition, the flames of the auto-da-fe, the pogroms, the terrible mass-expulsions that took place in almost all Christian countries, up to the Holocaust.

Why? Because Islam expressly prohibited any persecution of the “peoples of the book.” In Islamic society, a special place was reserved for Jews and Christians. They did not enjoy completely equal rights, but almost. They had to pay a special poll-tax, but were exempted from military service - a trade-off that was quite welcome to many Jews. It has been said that Muslim rulers frowned upon any attempt to convert Jews to Islam even by gentle persuasion - because it entailed the loss of taxes.

Every honest Jew who knows the history of his people cannot but feel a deep sense of gratitude to Islam, which has protected the Jews for fifty generations, while the Christian world persecuted the Jews and tried many times “by the sword” to get them to abandon their faith.

The story about “spreading the faith by the sword” is an evil legend, one of the myths that grew up in Europe during the great wars against the Muslims - the reconquista of Spain by the Christians, the Crusades and the repulsion of the Turks, who almost conquered Vienna. I suspect that the German Pope, too, honestly believes in these fables. That means that the leader of the Catholic world, who is a Christian theologian in his own right, did not make the effort to study the history of other religions.

Why did he utter these words in public? And why now?

There is no escape from viewing them against the background of the new Crusade of Bush and his evangelist supporters, with his slogans of “Islamofascism” and the “Global War on Terrorism” - when “terrorism” has become a synonym for Muslims. For Bush’s handlers, this is a cynical attempt to justify the domination of the world’s oil resources. Not for the first time in history, a religious robe is spread to cover the nakedness of economic interests; not for the first time, a robbers’ expedition becomes a Crusade.

The speech of the Pope blends into this effort. Who can foretell the dire consequences?

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Barry F. Seidman
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Posted: 27 September 2006 12:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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Re: An interesting article on Islam and the Pope’s comments

Hi Barry,

Thanks for reprinting this great essay of Uri Avnery. I agree with the essence of the history but would caution to state that conversions of mainly Christians and other pagan religions were done voluntarily.

The Islamic Sharia which follows Quran and Hadith (traditions of Prophet Muhammad) makes a distinction between a Muslim and a non Muslim in land ruled by Muslims. the non Muslim is referred to as “dhimmi’s” and they suffered punitive penalties economically in the form of extra taxes.

It made sense for many non Muslims to convert to Islam. To state that this is a voluntary conversion is euphemistic and understating the truth. It was compelled, not with a sword, but with economic survival. But I certainly agree that compared to Christian atrocities in trying to keep power, Islam is tame in comparison.

However I have been giving much thought about the uproar amongst Muslims calling for a complete apology by the Pope for his remarks and not a belated one for simply causing offence. I disagree.

It seems that Muslims throughout the world, instead of debating, like your article has done is trying to change opinion by violence. We have a “You had better apologise OR ELSE ” attitude prevailing. Ever since the Prophet Muhammad cartoon fiasco Muslims are refusing to use reason in trying to show where the Pope is wrong. The attitude is one of “HOW DARE YOU, YOU HAVE NO RIGHT”.

Much is said of the bias and the insensitivity of the Pope and his statements. But why as secular humanist should we have expected any more or any less. The Pope is acting in the interest of his papacy and this is quite clear. It seems that Muslims and now secular humanist are saying “YOU SHOULD KNOW BETTER”. This is a ridiculous way of debating an issue to show why the Pope is WRONG.

I remember Pope Paul endorsing that condoms should not be used in sex, even in marriage if one of the partners is inflicted with AIDS. I remember also how all reasonable people of the world were opposed to such outrageous ideas and we provided reasons why this act was STUPID. Funny I don’t remember in this debate anyone asking the Pope to apologise to the world.

So thanks Barry for this enlightening essay. The problem is to show how Muslims can use such a REASONABLE essay to show why the Pope is wrong without having to murder and terrorise Christians worldwide.

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Fayzal Mahamed,
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Posted: 27 September 2006 06:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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Calmer Protests?

So thanks Barry for this enlightening essay. The problem is to show how Muslims can use such a REASONABLE essay to show why the Pope is wrong without having to murder and terrorise Christians worldwide.

Actually, as I have mentioned before, I think the current anger of some Muslims has much to do with the last 75 years (especially the Iraq war and re Palestine), of Western antagonisim… I think people have had enough!

Barry

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Posted: 27 September 2006 07:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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Re: Calmer Protests?

[quote author=“Barry”]
Actually, as I have mentioned before, I think the current anger of some Muslims has much to do with the last 75 years (especially the Iraq war and re Palestine), of Western antagonisim… I think people have had enough!

I must disagree. I think part of this complex problem is Western Imperialism. But I think the problem goes much further than that.

Many countries throughout the world suffered from Western Imperialism yet the populace of the majority of these countries have gone on to embrace globalisation and not keeping its memory in the past. Good examples are India, China and even the country I live in South Africa.

Yet the Islamic countries seem to be yearning for the nostalgia when Islam was practiced nearly deep into Europe in the middle ages. Muslims are having a difficult time trying to figure out how come such a great religion has been reduced to nearly being useless in influencing events in the world.

This fact combined with a deeply ingrained idea in the hearts of all Muslims that the only solution to their economic, social and political problems is through a theology of Islam than the pangs of adjusting to a modern society of secularism is causing Muslims to lash against the West.

I see Islam as being 500 years younger than Christianity. Whereas Christians have already gone through the pangs of adjusting to a secular society Islam is just beginning to endure those pangs.

That is why I am against Bush going into Iraq to DISH OUT democracy. Democracy has to be EARNED and it has to be a secular deomocracy as well.

I personally believe that as Muslim countries gets continually sidelined in global affairs it will discover that the only way to be strong is to emulate the west in politics, economics etc. This means that the Muslim populace will have to have its own internal revolution.

To conclude I am against Bush’s policies as much as you are Barry but I think the theology of Islam is as big a culprit if not more. Muslims keep on complaining that the West is decadent and want to be left alone with no interference in their internal politics. I just dont’ see how this is possible.

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Fayzal Mahamed,
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Posted: 21 October 2006 03:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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I agree with George Smith about faith contradicting reason . Faith is the I just say so! It begs the question about a god to have faith in. :!: Fayzal , try the religion forum at Mail and Guardian

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Fr. Griggs rests in his Socratic ignorance and humble naturalism.He might be wrong!His cognitive defects might impact his posting. Logic is the bane of theists.‘Religion is mythinformation.“Reason saves, not that fanatic Galilean!
  ’ Life is its own validation and reward and ultimate purpose.”

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