Clarifying the Obvious: WHAT OTHERS?!
"I only want to clarify that, when I speak of war, I am really speaking of war. A war of interests, for money, resources, dominion of peoples."
"I am not speaking of a war of religions. Religions don't want war. The others want war."
Osservatore Romano/AFP/Getty Images Pope Francis in Poland on Wednesday.
I was reminded of all this recently, when I read the edition by Professor Theodore Khoury (Münster) of part of the dialogue carried on — perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara — by the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaeologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both. It was presumably 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 those of his Persian interlocutor. The dialogue ranges widely over the structures of faith contained in the Bible and in the Qur'an, and deals especially with the image of God and of man, while necessarily returning repeatedly to the relationship between — as they were called — three "Laws" or "rules of life": the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Qur'an. It is not my intention to discuss this question in the present lecture; here I would like to discuss only one point — itself rather marginal to the dialogue as a whole — 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.Pope Benedict's scholarly erudition in the annals of the Vatican's treasured bibliography in the Catholic Church's relations with Islam certainly elicited an emphatic, outraged response from Islam. And the good Pope was forced by obvious interests in maintaining calmly harmonious relations between the two religions to apologize abjectly for misinterpreting the intolerable insult to Islam. Pope Francis doubtless took that lesson in humility and caution seriously enough to convince him that direct criticism of Islam as a religion espousing other than peace is inadvisable.
In the seventh conversation edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that sura 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 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. 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.
12 September 2006 lecture by Pope Benedict XVI at the University of Regensburg in Germany
"He wanted to specify very clearly, he doesn't mean a war of religions", clarified Vatican spokesman the Reverend Federico Lombardi, of this veritable minefield best side-stepped. No doubt 85-year-old Reverend Jacques Hamel who was slaughtered in his church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, France, would sagaciously have nodded his head in assent, having no further use of his life at his advanced age, other than to further good relations between Islam and the Catholic Church.
"The terrorists held me with a revolver at my neck. He [Father Hamel] fell down looking upward, toward us", said 86-uear-old Jeanine, one of the four hostages taken by the two Islamists at the church while morning mass was led by Father Hamel. Her husband, Guy, had been handed a cellphone with instructions that he take photographs of the atrocity being served for their observation as the two attackers slit the elderly priest's throat on the floor of the chancel.
And when they finished with the priest they then turned on her husband, slashing him repeatedly. He remains in hospital suffering from serious injuries. The elderly couple and the priest were held along with two nuns. One nun at the morning mass that had gone so horribly awry, had managed to slip away to alert police who confronted the murderers outside the church, killing them. They were locals, two 19-year-old men who had aspired to fight with Islamic State in Syria.
Unable to leave France by alerted authorities, both were under watch, both understood to be ISIL sympathizers, both managing to fulfill their obligations to Islamic State, jihad and the responsibility of the faithful to Koranic injunctions which instruct that none should hesitate to commit to jihad as a major tenet of the faith. But shush! don't be too free in discussing this other than obliquely, euphemisms and circumlocution most highly recommended.
Headlines in sensitive news media should reflect the fact that two young Muslims lost their lives near a church in France, so sad.
"Show me just what Muhammad 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."