Monday, November 20, 2006

Pope Benedict XVI in Regensburg revisited

Now that the dust has settled (i.e. mid-term elections are now past) it's time to revisit Pope Benedict's remarks to a group of scholars in Germany. John Burgess and Donald Sensing point to a remarkable letter published just after the event.

I linked at the time to a WSJ piece that more or less defended the Pope, but like everyone else I was led to believe that most of the "Muslim world," whatever that is, was offended by his remarks. Indeed, the piece I linked opened with this...

Although many Muslims have apparently found Pope Benedict XVI's recent oration at the University of Regensburg deeply offensive, it is a welcome change from the pabulum that passes for "interfaith" dialogue. Since 9/11, his lecture is one of the few by a major Western figure to highlight the spiritual and cultural troubles that beset the Muslim world.

From there he began what struck me as a reasonable defense. But by way of balance, I also linked to a gripping entry by Blake Hounshell telling about being uncomfortable as an outsider visiting a Cairo mosque during Ramadan.

It's very easy to be swept up in the passions of the moment. I find myself no less prone to that temptation than anyone else. Maybe that's why I often come across as too non-committal or too ready to seek reasoned calm when killing people seems to be the only way out of a problem. But as usual, I digress...

The point is this letter. If Sensing and Burgess say read it, then it's worth reading. Islamica Magazine, the link source, introduces the letter thus:

In an unprecedented move, an open letter signed by 38 leading Muslim religious scholars and leaders around the world was sent to Pope Benedict XVI on Oct. 12, 2006. The letter, which is the outcome of a joint effort, was signed by top religious authorities such as Shaykh Ali Jumu‘ah (the Grand Mufti of Egypt), Shakyh Abdullah bin Bayyah (former Vice President of Mauritania, and leading religious scholar), and Shaykh Sa‘id Ramadan Al-Buti (from Syria), in addition to the Grand Muftis of Russia, Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, Slovenia, Istanbul, Uzbekistan, and Oman, as well as leading figures from the Shi‘a community such as Ayatollah Muhammad Ali Taskhiri of Iran. The letter was also signed by HRH Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal of Jordan and by Muslim scholars in the West such as Shaykh Hamza Yusuf from California, Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr of George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and Professor Tim Winter of the University of Cambridge.

All the eight schools of thought and jurisprudence in Islam are represented by the signatories, including a woman scholar. In this respect the letter is unique in the history of interfaith relations.

The letter was sent, in a spirit of goodwill, to respond to some of the remarks made by the Pope during his lecture at the University of Regensburg on Sept. 12, 2006. The letter tackles the main substantive issues raised in his treatment of a debate between the medieval Emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an “educated Persian”, including reason and faith; forced conversion; “jihad” vs. “holy war”; and the relationship between Christianity and Islam. They engage the Pope on an intellectual level concerning these crucial topics—which go well beyond the controversial quotation of the emperor—pointing out what they see as mistakes and oversimplifications in the Pope’s own remarks about Islamic belief and practice.

The Muslim signatories appreciate the Pope's personal expression of sorrow at the Muslim reaction and his assurance that the words of the Byzantine emperor he quoted did not reflect his personal opinion. By following the Quranic precept of debating “in the fairest way”, they hope to reach out so as to increase mutual understanding, reestablish trust, calm the situation for the sake of peace, and preserve Muslim dignity.

Christianity and Islam make up more than half of humankind in an increasingly interconnected world, the letter states, and it is imperative that both sides share responsibility for peace and move the debate towards a frank and sincere dialogue of hearts and minds which furthers mutual understanding and respect between the two religious traditions. Indeed, the scholars point out, both religions teach what Christianity calls “the two greatest commandments”. The commandment that “the Lord our God is one Lord” and that we shall love Him with all we are is enshrined in the first testimony of faith in Islam, “There is no god but God.” The second commandment “to love thy neighbor as thyself” is also found in the words of the Prophet, “None of you believes until he desires for his neighbor (in another version, his brother) what he desires for himself.” The signatories also point out the positive contacts the Vatican has had with the Islamic world in the past, with a hope that they will continue and even grow in the future.

This introduction is as remarkable to me as the letter itself. Clearly the editors of this publication have serious intentions about building bridges, an impulse I find virtually non-existent in our own swaggering popular press.

Thanks and praise to Donald Sensing and John Burgess whose calm, clear heads are islands of reason in a sea of confusion. That's why they stay on my blogroll.


Cass said...

Hey Hoots! I note from bloglines that you found where the "real" Cass is spouting off these days. Thanks for subbing :)

Hoots said...

Yeah. I'm not sure how I noticed but I picked it up last week. I'm now convinced you are twins. No one individual can do and be as much as ya'll blog about.

Or maybe you are one of those people who only sleeps about two or threee hours out of twenty-four.

I had an employee once who said that's all she needed. She kept up with two jobs (one full-time and the other part-time) and four kids...for over twenty years. She finally retired from the full-time job but that only gave her more time to go clubbing at night. Go figure.

And thanks for visiting.

Cass said...

The good part about being twins is that one of me can do all the sleeping for both of us *wink*

Seriously, it's all just me, still chained to the pump about 4-5 hours a day, so I might as well type :)