Pope's Islamic stumble baffles the experts


Pope's Islamic stumble baffles the expertsPope Benedict is learning the hard way that interreligious dialogue these days is a complex and delicate business. Though he has now affirmed his respect for Muslims, in a long quotation from the official policy enunciated forty years ago by Vatican II, his decision to quote a polemical medieval text against Muhammad and the Qur’an during a lecture last week remains puzzling.

The quoted words were not really germane to his theme, and the lecture would have lost nothing had they been omitted. Ironically perhaps, one of the main aims of the speech was to warn the West that not taking faith seriously and the exclusion of God from the realm of rationality was perceived by the world’s religious cultures as an “attack on their most profound convictions”. The Holy Father’s apologies have failed to convince his critics, as he expressed sorrow not for the offence he caused, but rather for the reactions to that offence. The days to come may shed further light on the puzzle and perhaps bring a measure of reconciliation, but some Christians in vulnerable situations are already paying the price.

Pope's Islamic stumble baffles the expertsThere were two related issues in the Christian emperor’s attack on Islam which the Pope took as starting points for his reflection: the rationality of God and the irrationality of violence. Neither in Muslim nor in Christian history have these principles always seemed self-evident. In both traditions, contrary to what the Emperor may have thought, it is recognised that any real act of faith must be free and that forced conversion is therefore meaningless. There are several Qur’anic verses to this effect: for example, 2:256; 10:99; 16:125; 26:3-4. The Pope quoted the first of these—“There is no coercion in matters of religion”—though he asserted, against the consensus of both Muslim and non-Muslim scholarship, that that chapter of the Qur’an came from the early period of Muhammad’s career when he had no political power and so could not have coerced anyone even if he had wanted to.

In spite of the shared conviction that faith is a gift of God and that forced conversion is therefore irrational, both our traditions have been ready to use coercion and violence to root out schism and heresy, to prevent the practice of other religions, and to enforce at least outward conformity to religion. War and violence still find support among religious people of both traditions, and Benedict seems poised to go even further than John Paul II in his opposition to it.

Pope's Islamic stumble baffles the expertsOn the question of the rationality of God, the New Testament itself puts us on our guard against presuming that God conforms to our notions of what is rational. We have to learn God’s kind of rationality—what Paul calls the wisdom of the God—through the Cross, which to many who consider themselves wise and rational is simply scandal and folly (1 Cor 1:17-25). Indeed the Pope’s speech, whilst extolling rationality, has a very particular kind of rationality in mind—one that has been “purified” by the encounter with Biblical faith. A rationality of love.

The Islamic tradition, too, has been wary of presuming that God is somehow subject to our preconceived notions of rationality and justice. Taken to its extreme for the sake of philosophical argument, this has led some thinkers to assert, for example, that a God who is absolutely sovereign is therefore not obliged to tell us the truth, or to command us only to do good things. However, this kind of speculation hardly touches the mainstream of the Islamic tradition, which remains convinced that God is Truth and reveals the Truth. The whole thrust of the Qur’anic preaching is to encourage people to use their reason to reflect on what can been known about God from the “signs” of God’s activity in creation and history. In this the Qur’an’s thought is very close to what Paul says in Romans 1, quoted by the Pope in his lecture.

Vatican observers often predict that this Pope will engage much more than his predecessors in substantive dialogue with Muslims about the issues between us. That may be true, and such a dialogue is surely urgent. However, it cannot be done without allowing Muslims to speak for themselves. We cannot presume first to tell them what they believe, and then to criticise them for it. In Regensburg the Pope engaged not with Muslims, but with a version of Islam enunciated by a Christian locked in battle with them. Is it so surprising that conflict resulted?



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PAUL | 19 September 2006

As an Iranian living under Islamic terror for 26 years, i am mad at Pope.
Not because quoting that emperor, but because of apologizing to islamic terrorists.
There was no reason for him to apologize, and now islamists feel stronger than before because once again they won an apology by firebombing a few places. Their methods are working flawlessly and civilized world is shooting itself in the foot once again.
and by the way, that emperor was right. Violence was the way islam was forced to Persia, India, Balkan, North Africa and Spain.
Ardeshir | 19 September 2006

"We cannot presume first to tell them what they believe, and then to criticise them for it. In Regensburg the Pope engaged not with Muslims, but with a version of Islam enunciated by a Christian locked in battle with them. Is it so surprising that conflict resulted?"

That is simply the most outrageous things I've read in a long time. Jihadis are nothing if not explicit about their goals, methods, and justifications. They have been so for a very long time.

It is THEY who are locked in battle with US, and have been since the early 7th century.

Godfrey | 19 September 2006

Two issues with your article.
First - Muslims should speak in this issue and should stop pretending violence is not endemic in Islam. I'm listening; the Pope is waiting.
Second - by their fruits you shall know them; beware of false prophets. How much clearer could our Lord have been? The fruits of Islam, around the world, are corpses and anger. Where is the love?
Catttt | 19 September 2006

Per your last statements, noone presumes to tell them what they believe for they have showed us all too graphically and all too murderously. How much more killing in the name of Allah? How much will it be before the swords are fully engaged? I believe that the hour is fast approaching.
Theresa | 19 September 2006

Good article. I too am puzzled as to why he would use this quote in these times and was this qoute ever beneficial even in the times that it was first spoken?
Sue Dickson | 19 September 2006

Contrary to some of the irrational and "spooky" responses below, I believe Madigan's last paragraph is the most commonsense I have heard on this topic in the past few days.

True dialogue and communication is two way. It does not involve one party quoting a schewed version from a third party to tell the second person what they are thinking.

The Pope ignored the basic philosophy of Communications Skills 101. Any relationship counsellor, mediator, negotiator, parent, husbane/wife, sibling etc would tell him that the key to it is to truly "listen".
Tom Davis | 19 September 2006

The problem is the totalising of any position. There is not ONE Christian or Muslim position. There are many positions and each needs to be understood and questioned - but by whom??? George Bush and Australia invaded Iraq in the name of the christian God. I suggest we christians begin there before throwing stones. Thanks Daniel for such a thoughtful perspective.
Peter Maher | 19 September 2006

As christians we must acknowlege our history where "Violence" has been used in promoting our "Religion" eg the "Crusades"
john ozanne | 19 September 2006

Great article Dan. I wish George had read it before his media release yesterday. That, like the public comments on your article, don't give me much hope for a mutually respectful, gentle resolution to this one!
Fr Ants Reilly | 19 September 2006

When are Catholics [especially those in religious orders founded to defend the Pope and the truth] going to cease criticising those who defend the Truth and cease pandering to those who peddle evil? Daniel, you need to talk to people who have suffered under Islamic tyranny before taking a cheap shot at the Pope.
Dominic | 19 September 2006

By their actions Muslims prove the Holy Father and the quote right. When will the time come when Jesuits will stand up defending truth and not continually striving to be “politically correct?” What happened to the Jesuits?

JMC | 19 September 2006

I agree with Pope Benedict. High time we stop pussyfooting with the muslim world which does not tolerate the existence of other religions. I lived in Malaysia for more than fifty years. My experiences there are one push factor I now live in Australia. However, I thank God for the muslims who do see Allah as compassionate and merciful. Not so the majority of muslim leaders who always declare they cannot be wrong. And they hide behind a cloud of denial and would usually threaten violence in response to any criticism (even if it is brought up as a quotation in a lecture or book by non muslims and muslims alike), instead of responding by substantiated rebuttal. All this goes to show that Islam has usually shown a violent front. Jesus Christ, Buddha, Confucius and prophets of all religions preached love and compassion for the downtrodden. And they gave themselves for others. But Prophet Mohammed is the only prophet who used the sword. Can he have come from God?
anthony loh | 19 September 2006

An excellent comment in the best traditions of seasoned and informed consideration of a complex issue to which emotional and fear-based responses do little more than obscure.
michael kelly | 19 September 2006

"Show me what Mahhomed brought that was NEW...." To me his initial teaching was consistent with that from God, what was NEW was contained in the later additions to the Qur'an which are surely opposed to Christ's teaching to turn the other cheek and love your enemy.
Dr Hugh Ivens | 19 September 2006

The Holy Father's comments on the state of religious beliefs in the world are truthful.
It is very telling that his quote, which is an observation of a religious situation centuries ago, has raised the ire of many Muslims today, and has made him another of the many already existent 'targets' of this 'peaceful' religion.
The Pope has brought into focus, (just as the original observer) that religion can be spread by evil means.
It is argued that he makes no mention of Christian evils, eg. the Crusades and the Inquisition. This is a silly diversion since if one checks the reasons for the Crusades ...which were comprised of Christian volunteers sent to protect Christian Holy Places - (sacred to all Christians 500 years before Muhammad's birth) and giving protection to hundreds of pilgrim travellers to the Holy Land, whilst the Inquisition was aimed to safeguard the security of a Nation,(especially Spain).
Therefore, these situations cannot be compared with the violent aggressive attacks upon others by Muhammad himself, and followed by the massive, murderous invasions into surrounding Arab lands, the non Christian and Christian Nations by those who followed Muhammad's teachings.The binding force of all these savage invaders was their religious belief, that God gave then a right to attack, kill and maim and enslave others and to 'confiscate' their property to 'defend the faith in Him', and to establish in these conquered countries their own strict Muslim religious political system. Not only were lands and properties regarded as spoils of war, but also the women and children.All Non Muslims were considered targets for invasion - even if these lived in far away lands.
Those in our world today who uphold terrorism call it 'a holy war' therefore connecting it directly to the philosophies and aims of their brethren through those centuries of 'expansion'.
This pilosophy was wicked then,as it is now, for this expansionist phase of Islam still inspires many of its believers into terrorism and complete desregard for others' lives, religion, rights and property.
JANINA | 19 September 2006

I agree totally with Fr Madigan's every statement. I wondered what on earth the Pontiff was doing going down that detour.
I wondered what on earth the Jesuit response was likely to be - though I didn't expect that I would ever know.
I also wonder what will be the response of Cardinal Pell. I hope he doesn't further fuel the conflict.
All of you ought to be aware of the over-sensitivity of many Moslems: as we should be very much aware of the over-sensitivity of many catholics. I don't like this over-sensitivity on anyone's part - but it does force us to be more intelligent and common-sensical when addressing these issues.
One can still be forceful and free in one's speech - it just needs an awareness of how the speech will be received.
Sorry - this is not really the usual uncompromising Jesuit way (I was brought up by the gentler Marists) so Fr. Madigan is to be particularly congratulated for his Marist-like view of this furore.
Joe McKay | 19 September 2006

Thank you for this article.It made things much clearer to my own mind.I hope there will more standing on common ground in future by all of us.
Mary Mutlow rsm | 19 September 2006

For Pope Benedict to be throwing petrol on an already burning fire as he did in Germany at the uni is very wrong and the raft of objective political leaders that have condemned his actions are well founded. "look not for the splinter in your brother's eye but the plank in your own" I do not deny that Islam today may seem a violent religion, after all is has successfully been hyjacked by its own extremists with a lot of help from a bias international press. this a phase that the Christian religion also went through during times of complete ingorance. The Islamic position today is no different, it's reactions to the Pope's comments and current violence is evidence of their phase of ignorance. I wonder if Benedict will agree with his great predessor that "Jews, Christians and Muslims actually pray to the same God? As a practising catholic I accept that my Church has its fair share of blood in its own hands for the actions of past leaders, but our Great John Paul II was magnanimous enough to admit this and seek pardon, the true message of Christ. I never thought I would say this but I really fear for where Benedict is taking us.
Salvatore Scevola | 19 September 2006

Am I missing something??? Benedict may have been ill advised to illustrate one point in a detailed and well reasoned speech with a few words that should perhaps have been left out. In response he his threatened with death, churches are burned and a nun murdered in Somalia. And what does this article seek to achieve in that context?? Seems to me to be implicitly assuming the 'blowback' ideology so popular with the left in this country. I don't think it is unreasonable for less erudite readers such as myself to assume that those types of behaviour is 'to be expected' if not an 'acceptable' reponse if not explicitly condemned in learned articles such as this. To ignore the 'whole event' while critiquing only one part is, I think, quite orwellian.
Dale Grounds | 19 September 2006

The reaction to the Pope's Speech , is more enlightening than the speech. Some points to ponder.
(1). In Australia when the decision was first taken to shift the emphasis of the immigration programme from English and European sources , it was decided that Turkish immigrants were a welcome possibility in the mix because they were of special importance to Australians for they had proved what wonderful people they were at Gallipoli !
When I first heard that about forty years ago, I thought it was a joke . I recall some marvellous stories of conveying them by Jumbo from Istanbul to Mascot from a Jumbo Pilot of my acquaintance .
(2) The possibility that no such thing as a holy war did, or can, or should, or will be moral , has only dawned in relatively modern times from the effect of the Bomb among other things. Hiroshima and Nagasaki, possibly the first Christian settlement of some importance in the east, have occurred with all their devastation, before this thought has impinged on human consciousness. Before that occurred , questions at issue were dealt with in the light of proportionality , as taught by Augustine , if they were thought of at all. Their prominence in Islamic culture could not be great on that basis .
(3) The general thrust of contemporary war morality in the west, is to ban it completely, mostly because the bomb can never be proportionated . The Islamic world apparently remains to be convinced of this situation and the political world in the west is obviously not convinced of it for it goes to war these days aggressively, always a position difficult to justify. However, some great saints have held it as being justified and preached great crusaades which Islamists abhor to this day .
(4) On the basis of the evidence one could hold that when bows and arrows are the weapons of destruction , war is licit , for it does very little damage, only a few are killed and they possibly have time to repent of their sins in the act , and so the overall effect is good if the war is undertaken for a good purpose . The spread of Islam by the sword seems to be justified by reasoning of this type . The Pope obviously does not agree .
(5) Modern mass murder by war and other means ( The possibility of intergalactic invasion can now not be ruled out and rationality maintained , for there is too much evidence to the contrary ) has to be confronted and a practical solution proposed which may or could deal with it . This is quite possibly what the Pope is aware of and what he is trying to deal with by engaging with the religion which formally believes in the correctness of war and force , as it has received it from the days of Mohamet. Perhaps the Pope is trying to point out that those days are passed as they are passed for the doctrine of just war as preached by Augustine.
(6) The foregoing indicates a number of imponderables and the assurance that Christ is love, has founded the religion of love , and the doctrine of recognising those who are against love, ( By their fruits you will know them ) brings a degree of urgency to the present situation which the Pope has quite possibly seen with a good deal more perspicacity than most others. Perhaps he understands that the world needs to be alerted to a time of special religious importance, and that the habit of most of the world which is hedonistic, needs alteration.and religions against the religion of Christ, are to be dealt with most urgently . The point is there are imponderables in the situation and the use of the fourteenth century quotation is not outlandish in this situation, but quite possibly, very necessary.
(7) Catholics all over the world should realise if they haven't already , that converting Islam to Christ is no ordinary task , but one fraught with difficulty and danger . The call to prayer in this situation and special support for the Pope is perhaps more imperative than on most other occasions .
Yours faithfully John Heesh .
John Heesh | 19 September 2006

An article worth reading. I am a Muslim, through and through. I cannot believe anything else, as I believe any other religion is as true, or correct. However, I will defend the Pope's right to say what he wants. That goes for Pell, Howard and other Christian leaders who may or may not have agendas. I can only hope that their motives are only to bring peace to this great country, and eventually to the world. The basic message is for Muslims around the world to reject violence. This is my philosophy also. I wish violence on no one. The Qu'ran states that people may have their own beliefs, and may do what they choose, and this I also live by. Critism can only bring about an Islam closer to the real meaning of the Qu'ran, and to the original teachings of Muhammad, peace be upon him. Anyone who has really read the Qu'ran, in context, and studied the history of the times, will understand the Muhammad himself would reject the extremists. Leaders around the world need to understand that they are causing great anxiety for peaceful Muslims by dog-whistling and putting entire innocent communities at fault. Let's all live together peacefully, it's 2006, not 1406. We've never had a better chance.
Ahmad Ali | 19 September 2006

The resulting violence proves the comment made by the pope to be a true analysis of the situation. Jesus denounced the Jewish leaders of his day, he did not stay quiet in the face of wrongdoing. It is only by bringing out into the light, errors can they be addressed, otherwise like an un cleaned wound they will fester, get worse and eventually lead to the patients death. God has blessed the world with a brave and insightful pope. No need for an apology.
Hugh G | 19 September 2006

Is it possible that the pope's vision of "dialogue" is different from that of Fr Dan or Fr Ants? Surely dialogue aiming at anything other than a consensus to what is true is a complete farce; that is, unless we have ceased to recognise the supremacy of truth. For the pope’s part, according to Catholic theology, he is the Vicar of Christ; not a namby-pamby, politically correct spin doctor. The truth hurts, but it’s his job to speak the truth.

Contrary to Fr Ants' comment about "George", His Eminence is to be congratulated for speaking - in typical fashion - a great deal of common sense. Judging by the comments posted here, most of the readers of Fr Dan's article would be more on the Pell side of speaking the truth without guile.

I look forward to reading Fr Dan's next articles where he asks those hard questions that Pell has asked, and many others with him: Is Islam essentially a peace loving religion or does it approve, tolerate or even advocate lying, stealing, mistreaing women or murdering “infidels”? Is dialogue at all possible with Islam? Is Islam as such capable of respecting human rights without being gutted (as opposed to Christianity, whose excesses isolated and personal rather than systematic). Where are the Muslim leaders outstandingly committed to the reform of Islam?

Are we to sweep these questions under the carpet in the name of dialogue? Some dialogue!

Time for Fr Dan and his Institute to wake up and smell the Turkish coffee.
Fr Brendan | 19 September 2006

How much more precious can we get? Where is freedom of speech in this world?
Do children still sing Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me?
I would have liked to have heard more reactions ridiculing the whole situation, not all this serious post mortem of a few foolish words.
Tona | 19 September 2006

This article shows a very superficial understanding of Pope Benedict's theological aims both with his Regensburg address and in general. You say in the last paragraph that the Pope did not engage directly with the Muslims and you are exactly right- he was delivering a thoroughly insightful academic paper to his fellows. It did not seek to tell the Muslims what they believe at all, but rather it sought to repudiate all forms of religious violence as irrational and therefore ultimately irreconcilable with the Loving God's nature. The Pope's work must be taken in its entirety and Catholics should be paying attention to the great thought of Benedict XVI, expressed in deep theological reflections on faith and reason, instead of reacting disproportionately to sound bites of the secular media and constantly comparing him to his predecessor. Benedict is just as committed to respectful inter-religious dialogue as John Paul the Great was, all he seeks is mutual respect and reciprocity in relations. Moreover the issue of the quoted excerpt should have been settled when people had read the whole text and realised the reason for the quotation in the light of the overall argument. (oh I forgot nobody bothered to read it or find out the context for the Pope’s speech) Even if it was not the most diplomatic quote to get across his point, the Pope was addressing academics and so rather trusted that his speech was going to be interpreted fairly by his intended audience.

That newspapers and other media outlets seized upon the quote and ran with it is unsurprising, however they are ultimately to blame for the stirring up of violence for they are the one’s who mercilessly slanted and took out of context the Pope’s comments. The response of the Pope to apologise for the reactions that have ensued rather than to directly admit fault is to be lauded as mature, reasonable and magnanimous.

Simone Smith | 19 September 2006

I found the Pope's speech an interesting one and far more engaging in its discussion of the Greek, rationalist origins of Christian theology than I had been given to expect considering the violence of the reactions to it. The very rationality of the speech itself, however, makes all the more puzzling his decision to cite the inflammatory "quotation" of the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus which implies that Islam is bent on nothing but violence.

Any utterance of the Pope is bound to be reported and "quotations" of this nature to be misquoted or taken out of context -- for someone allegedly politically astute it was a big false step. Dan Madigan hits the nail on the head: the polemic was surplus to requirement in the speech and it was either naive or provocative of the Pope to insert it in what is otherwise an engaging and thoughtful speech.

The Pope's condemnation of the irrational violence which seems to infuse religious radicals of all persuasions would have had greater power had he first examined the sorry history of Christianity, the Crusaders being archetypes of those who sought to bring conversion by the sword, as well as the various combatants of the Thirty Years War in the not so Holy Roman Empire during the Reformation, rather than implying that religious violence was especially characteristic of Islam. A nun is dead in Somalia because he didn't think that through and his apologists like Simone Smith and George Pell don't seem to get that. If Islamic violence is to be condemned, let it be done by someone who is wearing sackcloth and ashes condemning (and where appropriate apologising for) all past sins of religious violence.
Hugh Dillon | 20 September 2006

JMC asks "....whatever happened to the Jesuits?" When gifted philosophers weigh the scales between faith and reason,there is always the danger of flying like moths into the brilliant flame of their own intellect.
Dr Hugh Ivens | 20 September 2006

Several commentators have applauded the Pope for "telling it like it is" with his quote from Manuel II Paleologos. They should not forget that he denied, first through the Secretary of State and then personally, that he in any way shared the Emperor's opinion. Here are Cardinal Bertone's words: "As for the opinion of the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus which he quoted during his Regensburg talk, the Holy Father did not mean, nor does he mean, to make that opinion his own in any way." One would have thought that, instead of attributing to the Pope negative opinions he says he does not hold, those who admire him would would rather want to make their own a phrase he repeated several times last year in Cologne: "Dear and esteemed Muslim friends."
Dan Madigan | 20 September 2006

Certainly we should all esteem Muslims as human beings but even more so as potential members of the Mystical Body of Christ. There is a major difference between that and having an esteem for Islam as such. I'm convinced that Benedict XVI is not being duplicitous when using such a salutation, but I'm less than convinced that he (or the previous pope, for that matter) is a friend of the Islamic creed. Is there another way than encouraging all Muslims towards the Truth which the Catholic Church professes to be the unique salvific way (cf. I am the Way, the Truth and the Life...) and towards the realisation of the error of Islam? That seems to me to be the only charity worthy of those who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ, whether pope, priest or lay.
Fr Brendan | 20 September 2006

Sound commentary Fr Dan, especially your last paragraph.

I was listening to the Bishop of Canberra the other day attempting to qualify the citation by BXVI in his speech. I was more astounded by what was said in defence than the citation itself.

Whilst I agree with anyone's right to articulate their thoughts one always expects that whatever is said, particularly by someone like the Pope, is balanced and appropriate given the prevailing environment to which it relates.

Remembering the journey travelled is the illumination needed for the journey ahead.

Ninja | 20 September 2006

What a pity that Dan Madigan was not asked to be Pope Benedict's speech writer on this topic at this sensitive time in our history.
Fostering dialogue requires more than genuine goodwill.
Margaret Claver | 20 September 2006

What is wrong with you people. Pick up a history book. Read how 700 years of muslim aggression resulted in the crusades to free former christian lands. Thats right the majority of the middle east was actually christian. What do you people want to live in muslim dictatorship ? God you make me sick with your politically correct bullshit.
james | 21 September 2006

My late husband of 9 years was Muslim, and I have attended meetings of earnest Muslims. It is no surprise when Muslims speak to Muslims about the superiority of Islam, or Christians speak to Christians about the superiority of Christianity. It is tragically ironic when Muslims threaten harm to Christians in response to the implied accusation that the difference is that Islam is more violent. Perhaps Benedict XVI should have anticipated that parts of his Regensburg speech might be taken out of context. I do not put it past him or the angel on his shoulder, however, to use a quote from a besieged 14th century emperor to effectively cast a gauntlet challenging Muslims to peaceful dialogue.

During my first marriage, I had ample opportunity to convert from Catholic Christianity to Islam, but like Manuel II Paleologus, I did not find anything Islam provided that was missing in my faith. Unlike that emperor, I do not believe that Islam has spread by the sword or cruelty any more than Christianity has. Many other factors, such as international commerce, played a role in how and where Islam spread. The history of the spread of Christianity to Africa and the Western Hemisphere is certainly fraught with economic, military, and human rights abuses.

The Holy Father spoke in Regensburg of the “profound encounter of faith and reason… of genuine enlightenment and religion” when during the Hellenistic period of Jewish thought the best elements of Greek philosophy melded with a faith in a God who transcended the anthropomorphic soap operas of mythology. He spoke eloquently of the “truly divine God … who has revealed himself as logos and, as logos, has acted and continues to act lovingly on our behalf.” In his analysis of the history of movements in European philosophy and theology that have sought to dissociate faith from reason, Benedict XVI decried the “disturbing pathologies of religion and reason which necessarily erupt when reason is so reduced that questions of religion and ethics no longer concern it.” He warned, “A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures,” and concluded, “…It is to this great logos, to this breadth of reason, that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures. To rediscover it constantly is the great task of the university.”

Please help me here, you in this conversation who have more training in European history and philosophy. Wasn't I taught that the Renaissance, a rebirth in Europe of Hellenistic reason and sensibilities, resulted in great part from contact with Muslim philosophers, whose libraries and writings had kept Hellenistic thought alive through the Dark Ages?

In this age of instant worldwide communication, of universal university, Christians and Muslims should be able to fast-forward to a common rebirth! Don’t we share the belief, developed under Hellenistic influence, that God gave us reason to understand our Creator, Creation and each other? Likewise, isn’t the secularist “reason which is deaf to the divine” which the Holy Father warns against, the very *shirk* that Muslims are supposed to conduct *jihad* against? God grant that with so much religious and philosophical heritage in common, we might be able to use our God-given reason to pursue earnest and peaceful dialogue about faith and culture!

The tension caused by the speech at Regensburg should force Christians to acknowledge the Holy Spirit’s relevance in this age, remembering that Jesus said, “Everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.”(Luke 12:10) The Gospels are full of non-Jews who, encountering Christ in person, serve to challenge the “chosen people” to faith and Truth. In this day, we must ensure that Muslims encounter a Church that is truly the Body of Christ. That means offering the sacrificial love that made those whose hearts encountered Christ reject Satan and hunger for Truth. Let’s pray that our Pope, whose first encyclical is about that love, may lead us to truly loving encounters with our Muslim brothers and sisters. For the sake of our children, there is no way but sacrificial love to heal this broken world.

mamanruth | 21 September 2006

Did the Pope err in attributing sura 2:256 ("There is no coercion in matters of religion") to an "early period" when Mohammed had little or no political power? Yes, says Father Madigan (declaring that the Pope "is not au fait with the material")on the ground that most scholars agree that the sura came from Mohammed's years in Medina rather than his years in Mecca.

However, even assuming that the sura actually did come from Medina, that doesn't prove Father Madigan's point. Much of what Mohammed said in Medina was said at a time when he had dangerous enemies. In fact, the political tide didn't begin to turn in his favor until 624, two years after his arrival in Medina. Thus, it seems entirely reasonable to view sura 2:256 as something Mohammed found it useful to say in Medina before he acquired enough power to start subjecting infidels to coercion. Could it be that Father Madigan is not "au fait" with the material?
John D. Hartigan | 21 September 2006

Interfaith dialogue, in these days, is waste of time. I did mention that when I was a member of one of the Catholic-Muslims interfaith group.There are two reasons for the above statement.
1- The Catholic members know nothing or very little about the Islamic faith ( both Sunee & Shea'ats), they need to study Koran and prophet speach (Hadeeth).
2- The Muslims members know nothing or some words from the verses in Koran about Christianity
This sensitive dialogue issues need scholars from both sides to analyse the verses and the teaching books of Islam and christian to outline the similarities and differences between them, and may be a neutral people (non-religious or other faith groups) to be involved in this dialogue.
At the end of the study, a new direction of dialogue will rise up and should be used to establish a good relationships based on love and respect for each other and it should reach everyone all around the world.
Adeeb A. Girjes | 21 September 2006

Thank you for your article. It was helpful.
marianne hale | 21 September 2006

Could John D. Hartigan be quoting someone else? My article does not "declar[e] that the Pope 'is not au fait with the material'". Nor did it say he erred. It said he went against the consensus, something which is perfectly OK for someone who can justify his or her position.
Dan Madigan | 21 September 2006

Poor Father Madigan. He seems to be suffering from amnesia. Somehow he just can't remember what he said only a few days ago when a reporter asked him what he thought about the Pope's view that a Koranic passage opposing coercion in religion (sura 2:256) came from a time when Mohammed didn't have enough power to subject infidels to coercion.

Here's Father Madigan's response as quoted in Malcolm Moore's article in the Daily Telegraph's September 19 internet edition:

"He [the Pope] is not really au fait with the material. He says the second Surah was handed to Mohammed when he did not have political power but almost every Muslim scholar believes it was handed to him later, in Medina, when he did have political power.

"The second mistake is one he makes continually. He spells Ibn Hazm with an N at the end. It is the kind of thing I see in students' writing."

So,what Father Madigan told the Telegraph went quite a bit further than what he said in his Eureka Street column (which seems to be all he can recall now). He didn't just say that the Pope was "going against the consensus". He said that the Pope was "not really au fait with the material" and that his assessment of sura 2:256 was flatly wrong (a "second mistake" being a misspelling of Ibn Hazm).

Let's all pray that Father Madigan recovers from his unfortunate memory lapse. And, while we're at it, let's add a prayer that he overcomes his even more unfortunate tendency to be condescending.

In the meanwhile, I'll stand on what I said before. Even assuming that Mohammed's sura opposing coercion in religion should be attributed to the period when he had moved from Mecca to Medina, that doesn't mean that it should be attributed to his later Medina years when he had finally gained enough power to subject infidels to coercion. It's much more likely that it was something that he found it useful to say during his earlier Medina years when he was still an underdog. Once he reigned supreme, he abruptly changed his tune to "[S]lay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captives and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush; then if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free to them" (sura 9:5).
John D. Hartigan | 22 September 2006

Not a bad article - what we would expect from a well-educated Jesuit - in that he would endeavour to present a fair argument and thus be applauded for a tolerance and understanding which would reflect favourably on the Catholic Church. Fundamentalist Protestantism is more honest in its 'us and them' beliefs.It does not even try to emulate Jesus' love of all people regardless of their religious practices.There was a time when Jews, Muslims and Christians all worshipped in the same building in Jerusalem - before the Crusades. Then, regardless of all middle-eastern religions believing in 'only one God' (logically the same God) animosity was whipped up by medieval spin-doctors for the pursuit of money, power and the seizing of other people's lands and resources. Sounds familiar? Let's forget about HOW we worship God and get back to looking at human rights issues. Would Jesus or Mohammad condone the slaughter of civillians, the destruction of homes and lives and the ensuing poverty? Poor people who defend their homes against weapon-rich nations are suffering because as a political cover-up they are seen only as a religious group not as being in the way of a huge land and oil grab in the Middle East.
carol paul | 23 September 2006

I have a friend in Pakistan, a Salesian priest, who is not exactly frightened, but certainly alert to the possible outcome of this statement from Benedict.
TheoDopheide | 26 September 2006

Great article from a man with a deep commitment to respect for Islam and those in search of Truth. Thanks for your irenic and informed article. I have shared it with several friemds. Your commitment to authentic dialogue is much appreciated, and a challenge to us all!
Maryanne Confoy | 26 September 2006

On the issue of the aim of the crusades and conversion by terror referred to by several commentators, perhaps they should study the history of the Second Crusades undertaken to Eastern Baltic Europe. There were no holy places or relics there to preserve and defend.
Eleonora | 06 October 2006

As an Anglican my thoughts go back to "The Gentle Hooker" (1554 - 1600) who has become one of the pioneers of main stream Anglicanism, who prescribed the foundations of belief as "Scripture, Faith and Reason"
John Ozanne | 01 November 2006

George Bush did not invade irag he liberated it have you not heard the stories seen the pictures the people want us there
Thomas | 24 August 2007

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