A Litter to Pope

His Excellency Rajab Tayyeb Ordugan
Prime Minister of Turkey

25 November

Your Excellency,

I am pleased you have invited His Holiness Pope Ratzinger, Benedict XVI, to visit Turkey. You are a Muslim and Muslims have many things in common with Christians. Islam respects Christianity, Jesus Christ and shares with them some basic principles; Quran has a chapter by the name of Mary, praising her and her son, Jesus Christ. Faith in One God is not the property of any religious community. According to Islamic belief, all the true prophets preached the same truth to different peoples at different times. The laws and practical means may be different, but the truth is unchanging. Quran says, Naught is said to thee (Muhammad), but what already was said to the Messengers before thee (41:43). I also admire you for respecting the Pope who is not only the head of Catholic Church but also a head of state; he is a politician and more important he is an intellectual. His visit is very important in the today atmosphere of global tension between west and Muslims to which the Pope is a part. You showed by this invitation that Muslims are tolerant, open minded and are the people of dialogue even towards those who hate Muslims and disgrace their prophet. This is your duty and Islam instructs you to respect others and enter with them into a meaningful dialogue, including the Pope whose stand against Islam is clear to all of us.

The Qur'an instructs Muslims to show respect to the Holy men of previous traditions and says "amongst these are men devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant" (Quran: Chapter 5, verse 82). The Qur'an promises Jews and Christians that "If only they had stood fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that was sent to them from their Lord, they would have enjoyed happiness from every side....". (Quran: Chapter 5, verse 66). Qur'an confirms the truth of the previous scriptures and says, "To thee we sent the Scripture in truth, confirming the scripture that came before it, and guarding it in safety...." (5:48). The Qur'an instructs Muslims to clearly declare that "We believe in Allah, and in what has been revealed to us and what was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and in (the Books) given to Moses, Jesus, and the prophets, from their Lord: We make no distinction between one and another among them, and to Allah do we bow our will" (3:84). God has commanded the Prophet of Islam to inform "the people of the Book" that "O People of the Book! Come to common terms between us and you: That we worship none but Allah; that we associate no partners with him; that we erect not, from among ourselves, Lords and patrons other than Allah." (3:64). In many verses, the Qur'an commands Muslims to join in fellowship with the followers of other traditions by refraining from discussing subjects that cause division and instead put the emphasis on common themes.

Qur'an commands Muslims that, "They should not argue with the followers of earlier revelation except in a most kindly manner...." (29:46), that we believe in the same God, that we believe in all Prophets and scriptures, that we are required to treat others with fairness; furthermore, that we believe that the only Lord and absolute authority that humans must surrender to is the eternal God to whom we all will return and it is HIM that will judge our actions in this world.

Since Christians and Muslims together makes up more nearly 60 percent of the world’s total population, therefore, relationship between these two important communities is vital for the world peace and stability. The Pope as the leader of over a billion Catholics and moral example for many others around the world is the most influential voice in shaping this relationship. The Pope’s visit to Turkey will give chance to diplomacy and restore relationship between the two communities though got a setback by the Pope’s recent anti-Islamic remarks in Germany.

A successful diplomacy to which dialogue is a tool requires respect to the other party of negotiation or dialogue. Unfortunately, the Pope, in his recent lecture at the University of Regensburg, Germany, pretending to invite Muslims to a meaningful dialog violated this basic principle. While, Muslims highly respect Jesus Christ and considers him as the brother of their own Prophet, Mohammad - peace by upon him, in mission and unity the Pope offered disrespect. This hostile attitude of the Pope Benedict not only made the dialogue between Muslims and the Christian West difficult but also destroyed what his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, achieved. Pope John Paul II visited a mosque and apologized for the crimes of the Christian Church, including those committed during the crusaders’ war against Muslims during the Middle-ages. John Paul II neither agreed with George Bush that the attack on Afghanistan was a crusade nor he indorsed Bush’s claim ‘be with us or with terrorists‘. He opposed the invasion of Iraq. John Paul II also did not indorse Tony Blair’s philosophy of ‘clash of civilizations (between the Christian West and Islam)’ nor Silvior Burlesconi’s claim that ‘Western civilization is better than Islam’. Pope John Paul II once said “we Christians joyfully recognize the religious values we have in common with Islam. Today, I would like to repeat what I said to young Muslims some years ago in Casablanca: “We believe in the same God, the One God, the Living God, the God who created the world and brings his creatures to their perfection.” (Insegnamenti, VIII/2, [1985], p. 497, quoted during a general audience on May 5, 1999). Unfortunately, Pope Benedict XVI tries to destroy the confidence created by his predecessor.

On 12 September 2006, Pope Benedict XVI delivered a lecture on "Faith and Reasoning” at the University of Regensburg, Germany. In a well-prepared paper and purposely chosen words Pope Benedict accused Prophet Mohammad for his alleged violent policies. The Pope quoted the 14th century Christian Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Paleologus, who was speaking to a Muslim scholar on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both. Benedict said "In the seventh conversation edited by Professor Theodore 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 Quran, concerning holy war. The emperor asked: '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.'"

The essence of this passage is about forced conversion. It begins by pointing out that Mohammed spoke of faith without compulsion when he lacked political power, but that when he became strong, his perspective changed. Benedict goes on to make the argument that violent conversion -- from the standpoint of a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, and therefore shaped by the priority of reason -- is unacceptable. For someone who believes that God is absolutely transcendent and beyond reason, the argument goes, it is acceptable.

It was not a short passage in the Pope’s speech. It was about 1/5th of the full text and was the entry point to the rest of the lecture. Thus, this was a deliberate choice, not a slip of the tongue. Clearly, the pope intended to make the point that Islam is always engaged in violence on behalf of religion. If the Pope’s primary purpose was to address the issue of the relationship between faith and compulsion on the one hand and faith and reason on the other, he could give other examples. Christian history offers ample examples (the Inquisition, Galileo, and other issues he mentions, violence and extremism, holy wars) without having recourse to passages drawn from mutual polemics. Benedict ignored the fact that Christians practiced for centuries forced conversion.

The Pope’s hostile lecture was the follow up of putting copies of the Holy Q├║ran in toilets by the US soldiers in US prisons in Afghanistan and Guantanamo and the anti-Islamic cartoons printed in Danish and other European papers. The Quran and cartoon incidents along with the pope’s lecture posed the dangers of xenophobia and Islamophobia and depths of anger and outrage. However, the Pope is a careful man, delivered a calculated lecture and might have anticipated the angry response of the Muslim world and thus planned his partial retreat by saying it was not his words but of the emperor.

Inaccuracy in quoting:

The Pope’s stated that the Quranic passage, “There is no compulsion in religion” (Quran 2:256) was revealed in the early years of Muhammad’s prophet-hood in Mecca, a period “when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat but was overtaken later when he ruled Medina by instructions, developed later and recorded in the Koran [Quran], concerning holy war.” Both these statements of the Pope are incorrect. The verse 2:256 is not an early Meccan but is from the later Medinan period when Mohammad was in the peak of his power.

The Pope’s lecture gave impression that Islam has been forced on people with sword and the Prophet had encouraged its adherents to follow such tradition. This remark is also simply against the facts and scripts. The Quranic verse “There is no compulsion in religion” addresses those in a position of strength, not weakness as Pope claimed. The earliest commentaries on the Qur’an make it clear that some Muslims of Medina wanted to force their children to convert from Judaism or Christianity to Islam, and this verse was precisely an answer to them not to try to force their children to convert to Islam. In the conclusion of the Great Battle of Khyber (less than three years before the death of the Prophet Mohammad) where Jews got decisive defeat, Mohammad (PBUH) did not force the Jews to adopt Islam. He left them on their land with their belief untouched provided not to pick arms again against the Muslims. Here Quran says: The truth is from your Lord; so whosoever will, let him believe, and whosoever will, let him disbelieve.” (18:29). Also Quran says: O disbelievers! I worship not that which ye worship; Nor worship ye that which I worship. And I shall not worship that which ye worship. Nor will ye worship that which I worship. Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion (109:1-6). This mis-quotation is attributed either to the ignorance of the Pope about Islam, which is not relevant or he purposely twisted the facts in order to serve his aim. I wish the Pope had at least the courage of Voltaire, Goethe, Hugo, Flugel and Noldeke who were Christians but praised Mohammad when studied his life.

It is true that some of the Muslim rulers did engage in expansion through military means and used the ‘sword‘, but such actions stem from human ego and do not have any connection to the teachings of the Qur'an or the tradition of Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him). The behavior of the followers of any tradition does not necessarily reflect the teachings of that tradition. Nobody can deny the history of long wars between Catholics and Protestants and the immigration of some converts to the U.S.A, Canada and Australia. But they were not the teaching of Jesus Christ. More important, the Muslims have never condemned Jesus or Moses for the many worldwide wars or racial wars that have been fought under the banner of Christianity. Even though, these wars have had devastating effects on humans, the environment and have left behind utter destruction. Then, why Islam and the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) should be blamed by the action of some Muslim rulers? Muslims never ever condemn Moses for the atrocities the Israel is committing against the Palestinians nor accuse the Jesus Christ for what the Americans are doing in Afghanistan and Iraq. Why Pope should blame the whole system of Islam and its prophet for the alleged wrong deed of a Muslim ruler?

Quoting Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Palaiologos, on his references to Muhammad and the issue of holy war, was totally out of place, out of time and most importantly out of context with the spirit of love and reconciliation that is expected to be the basis of true Christianity. Quoting a 14th century criticism of Islam by a Christian warlord, Palaiologos, shows how the Pope is desperate for finding a pretext against Islam. He resembles the kind of pretext used by Mr Bush and Blair to attack Iraq and Afghanistan.

Inaccuracy in methodology:

The Pope quoted the Christian Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Paleologus, who was speaking to a Muslim scholar on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both. But he did not say what the Muslim scholar told to the emperor? Usually scholars are more knowledgeable than emperors/warlords and certainly the Muslim scholar might give him proper answer. The question is why and how the Pope dared to delivered such an unbalanced lecture? Whether he thought his audiences were all fanatic Christians accepting every accusation against Islam though misquoted, unbalanced and misled. In addition, the emperors and political leaders of countries talk in a language that serves the vested interest of their respective rule and paraphrasing their statements (especially those of an emperor who lived in the 14th century during a sharp rift between Muslims and Christians) cannot solve any of today's world problems.

Inaccuracy of interpretation:

The Pope also said “for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent,” a simplification that can be misleading. The Qur’an states, there is nothing like unto Him. He is one in number (Ahad) and one in unity (Wahid) (42:11). Quran also states, “Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth (24:35); and, We are closer to him than his jugular vein” (50:16); and, He is the First, the Last, the Inward, and the Outward (57:3); and, He is with you wherever you are (57:4); and, Wheresoever you turn, there is the Face of God (2:115). The Pope claimed the emperor was “shaped by Greek philosophy” the idea that “God is not pleased by blood” is “self-evident” to him, to which Pope put the Muslim teaching on God’s Transcendence as a counterexample. To say that for Muslims “God’s Will is not bound up in any of our categories” is also a simplification which may lead to a misunderstanding. God has many Names in Islam, including the Merciful, the Just, Peace, Compassionate, Beneficent, the Seeing, the Hearing, the Knowing, the Loving and the Gentle. Their utter conviction in God’s Oneness and that There is none like unto Him (112:4) has not led Muslims to deny God’s attribution of these qualities to Himself. As this concerns His Will, to conclude that Muslims believe in a capricious God who might or might not command us to evil is to forget that God says in the Qur’an, Lo! God enjoins justice and kindness, and giving to kinsfolk, and forbids lewdness and abomination and wickedness. Equally, it is to forget that God says in the Qur’an that He has prescribed for Himself mercy (6:12; 6:54), and that God says in the Qur’an, “my Mercy encompasses everything” (7:156). Indeed, the Arabic word for mercy - Rahmah - can also be translated as love, kindness and compassion. From the word ‘Rahmah’ comes the sacred formula Muslims use daily, In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. Is it not self-evident that spilling innocent blood goes against mercy and compassion? God says, we shall show them Our signs in the horizons and in themselves until it is clear to them that it is the truth (41:53). Reason itself is one among the many signs within us that God invites us to contemplate - and to contemplate with - as a way of knowing the truth.

The concept of Jihad is one of the most important pillars of Islam. Jihad is to defend one’s own honour, blood and land. It is a secret of Islamic society for its defence against aggression. The Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) was engaged in many wars during his Prophethood with the combatants of his religion and land. However, none of these battles were for the purpose of expansion of Islamic territory or conversion. In all cases these wars were defensive in nature and were fought to stop an invading army (22:39). The Qur'an establishes that the relationship between Muslims and Non-Muslims should be based on peaceful principles. It clearly and unequivocally states: "Allah does not forbid you, with regard to those who do no fight you for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for Allah loves those who are just." (60:8).

The word of ’Holly War’ does not exist in Quran and Islamic literature. The ‘Holly War’ is a Christian term equivalent to ‘crusade’ the westerners has given to the arm struggle of Muslims against the western colonialism in 18 and 19 centuries. Literally, Jihad means struggle and specifically struggle in the way of Allah. This struggle may take many forms, including the use of force. Armed resistance in Islam is to defend your faith, honor and land. Though a jihad may be sacred in the sense of being directed toward a sacred ideal, it is not necessarily a ‘war.’ The greatest Jihad in Islam is to fight your own selfishness and ego.

The Pope quoted that Manuel II Paleologus told to the Muslim scholar “violence” goes against God’s nature. The emperor was ignorant that the Jesus Christ himself used violence against the money-changers in the temple and said “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34-36). Similarly, when Allah drowned the people of Noah and Pharaoh, was He going against His own Nature? It is also true that Jesus Christ neither engaged in any war nor was involved with the political establishment of his time but it is also true that he did not form a community either. Otherwise, he would have shown the same vigor in protecting his community as Mohammad (pbuh) did.

The Pope also misled the people by saying that “naturally, the emperor knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur’an, concerning holy war.” In matter of fact the emperor did not know the Islamic rules of war at all which:

  • Non-combatants are not permitted or legitimate targets. This was emphasized explicitly time and again by the Prophet, by his Companions and by the learned tradition since then.
  • Religious belief alone does not make anyone the object of attack.

Islam asks the Muslims to live peacefully with their neighbors. And if they incline to peace, do thou incline to it; and put thy trust in Allah (Al-Anfal 8:61). However, this does not exclude legitimate self-defence and maintenance of sovereignty. Karen Armstrong, the world renowned religious scholar has stated that the claim that Islam is expanded by sword is the biggest lie that has been fabricated by the enemies of Islam. The Pope neither retracted his statement nor apologized for what he said but insisted he was correct. He regretted only for any offence he might have caused.

The Pope stated in his lecture that the theological and philosophical concepts of piety in Islam are the main root cause of today's extremism and fundamentalism. Furthermore, in his analysis of the relationship between faith and reason, he criticized the principle of reasoning in Islamic thought and extrapolated how Islam justifies terrorism and violence in the name of religion. The pope does not know that the word ‘reason’ is mention 49 times in the Qur'an. Mohammad (pbuh) says, "God has not bestowed a more precious blessing upon humans than reason. God will not accept worship without reflection". The Qur'an commands Muslims never to follow something that they do not have knowledge of and that they must always utilize their faculties of seeing, hearing and reasoning to discern (17:36). The Qur'an refers to people who do not use their faculties to discern as "deaf and dumb" humans and regard them even lower than quadrupeds (8:22).

Why the Pope gave such a lecture now?

In a world where military powers continue to suppress and oppress the poor and the destitute the Christian powers of the west justify their colonial, imperial and expansionist policies in the name of fighting terrorism and curbing Islamic fundamentalism. They use false propaganda to imprint an ugly and violent face of Islam on the world's collective conscience to justify their vicious ends.

The pope is watching the western crusade led by the US against the Muslim world. He can see it is going badly for the west in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The British Empire was defeated twice in 19th century in Afghanistan, the Communism got defeat from Afghans in 21 century and the signs are that the NATO may also get defeat there, which the Pope certainly cannot see. Afghanistan is far more dangerous than the west anticipated. Pope also witnessed the success of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas' political victory among the Palestinians through democratic means. The Iranian Mulas who call the US as big devil got the utmost from the ‘US war on terror‘ and emerged stronger, which is also a bitter gulp for a Christian leader to swallow.

It should be remembered that Benedict's predecessor, John Paul II, was clearly not happy about the U.S. decision to invade Iraq, but certainly Vatican cannot see the U.S. defeated in Afghanistan and Iraq. The lecture that Benedict gave in Germany was very important and constitutes an intellectual foundation for the position of President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair who leads this crusade. The Pope made Bush and Blair pleased who are trying to portray this crusade as a clash of civilizations, one that will last for generations and will determine the future of mankind. Benedict drew a sharp distinction between Islam and Christianity and then tied Christianity to rationality. He termed Islam as a violent religion and condemned it to ultimate defeat. The Pope recognizes that Bush is on the defensive, not only in the war but also in domestic American politics. Benedict very likely weighed the impact of his words on the scale of war and U.S. politics. However, the Benedict’s support did not help Bush in mid-term election and will farther loose in coming US presidential election. The fate of Mr. Blair is the same.

Pope is a key representative of Western Civilization, its culture and its values. From the Vatican's perspective, the ideal outcome of the war would be for the United States to succeed -- or at least not fail. Given the events of the past 6 months, Benedict may have felt the need for an intervention - in a way that warned the Muslim world that the church is prepared to support again the political leaders of the west as it did in the past, e.g., crusade and colonization eras. In addition, though the Pope knew his remarks would anger Muslims around the world but will move him closer to those who are new Fascists, not happy with immigration and the Europe's growing Muslim community and to those who are against the multi-cultural face of Europe. Pope may support globalization but not in the case of Muslims. The Popes lecture might have increased his political strength among fanatic groups and could cause them to rally around the Catholic Church. Pope may apparently tell to the Turkish leadership he is in support of the Turkey’s membership into European Union but when he joins his friends in Europe he may oppose as he did on 20 August 2005. The European countries are asking you to be more secular and not appreciating Turkey being a secular state for over 85 years. By opposing a secular Turkey they prove are not secular themselves but religious motivated.

However, terming or changing this neo-colonial war (war on terror) to the clash of civilization, clash of Islam and Christianity, clash between the Muslim world and the Christian west is a fake agenda and serious mistake with serious consequences. Moreover, giving to this imperial design a theological foundation is more dangerous than any other interpretation. In matter of fact it is neither clash of civilization nor a war between Christianity and Islam. Both religions have many things in common as I explained earlier and can live in peace if allowed. Once again I admire Your Excellency, the Prime Minister, for inviting the Pope Benedict XVI to visit Turkey.

Best wishes and yours sincerely,

Dr. Farouq Azam
Chairman, Afghanistan Studies Forum

Copy: His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Apostolic Palace
00120 Vatican City State