Friday, September 15, 2006

Islam Outraged: Chapter Infinity Plus One

Islam seems to be a religion of perpetual outrage at the rest of the world. Cartoons of Mohammed, piggy banks, Burger King ice cream, and beauty queens are but the smallest of samples of persons, places and things that send its adherents into public paroxysms.

And now it's His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, who has sent them into screaming rage not for what he said himself, but for whom he quoted in a speech before a group of university professors in Germany:

Pakistan's parliament on Friday unanimously adopted a resolution condemning Pope Benedict XVI for making what it called "derogatory" comments about Islam, and seeking an apology from him for hurting Muslims' feelings.

The resolution, moved by hard-line legislator Fazal Karim, was supported by both government and opposition lawmakers in the National Assembly or lower house of parliament.

Chaudhry Ameer Hussain, speaker of the National Assembly, allowed Mr. Karim to move the resolution after Mr. Karim said the Pope had insulted Islam and the Prophet Mohammed, and hurt the feelings of the entire Muslim world by making "derogatory remarks."

The measure was adopted a day after the Vatican sought to defuse criticism of the pontiff's remarks, when he quoted from a book recounting a conversation between 14th century Byzantine Christian Emperor Manuel Paleologos II and an educated Persian on the truths of Christianity and Islam.

"The emperor ... said, I quote, '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,'" he quoted the emperor as saying.

But a careful reading of the Pope's speech at the University of Regensburg, titled Three Stages in the Program of De-Hellenization", shows that this quote was far from a gratuitous swipe at Islam, and actually quite an intelligent exposition at how differences in the theological understanding of the nature of God have led Islam to consider jihad and forced conversion to be morally right and holy:

I was reminded of all this recently, when I read the edition by professor Theodore Khoury (Muenster) of part of the dialogue carried on -- perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara -- by the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both.

It was probably the emperor himself who set down this dialogue, during the siege of Constantinople between 1394 and 1402; and this would explain why his arguments are given in greater detail than the responses of the learned Persian. The dialogue ranges widely over the structures of faith contained in the Bible and in the Koran, and deals especially with the image of God and of man, while necessarily returning repeatedly to the relationship of the "three Laws": the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Koran.

In this lecture I would like to discuss only one point -- itself rather marginal to the dialogue itself -- which, in the context of the issue of "faith and reason," I found interesting and which can serve as the starting point for my reflections on this issue.

In the seventh conversation ("diálesis" -- controversy) edited by professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the jihad (holy war). The emperor must have known that sura 2:256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion." It 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 Koran, concerning holy war.

Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels," he turns to his interlocutor somewhat brusquely with the central question on the relationship between religion and violence in general, in these words: "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 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 is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably ("syn logo") 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 practice idolatry.

Most journalists, having little education or interest in history, theology or philosophy, would have missed the entire point of the Pope's speech and rushed, as they did, to write stories with headlines such as "Pope condemns science" and "Pope attacks Islam."

And most journalists, having been educated to believe, and still fervently believing, that all religions are the same, just as no culture is superior to another, demonstrate just how intellectually incurious they are.

They do themselves a disservice, because uninformed journalist can't help their readers make sense of the news if they don't have the education to make sense of it themselves.

But then, reading a speech by one former German academic to other German academics can be an exercise in tedium (though this particular one isn't, even if it's got some technical language.)

Source: Globe and Mail


Anonymous said...

Excellent title made me LOL.

AlbertanFromBC said...

Good one..

I think he can expect a fatwa to follow soon..