Amid the controversy surrounding Pope Benedict XVI’s lecture on “Faith and Reason” delivered at the University of Regensburg in Germany, scant attention has been paid to the central theme of his thesis, namely – rejecting any religious justification for violence. In the lecture, the Pope cited the words of a medieval Byzantine emperor who referred to Muhammada’s command “to spread by the sword, the Faith” and who characterized the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as “evil and inhuman.”
But the offending quotation was only a small portion of a much larger theological dissertation that the Pope presented concerning the relationship between faith and reason. The Pope maintained that how one thinks about God affects one’s views of good and evil. Consequently, he argued that if there is to be any dialogue between Christian and Islamic cultures, it can only take place on the basis of a shared commitment to reason including a mutual rejection of violence in God’s name. In effect, he was inviting Islamic fascists to join the modern world instead of rejecting it. His message, however, seems to have been lost on those who are busily torching churches across the Middle East in actions reminiscent of the death fatwa against Salman Rushdie (for his “Satanic Verses”) and the cartoon jihad frenzy of several months ago.
It is true of course that all three monotheistic religions have, at various times throughout their histories, wielded the sword in furtherance of their faith. But in the 21st century, neither Christians nor Jews justify violence under any circumstances or for whatever reason as an acceptable means of proselytizing non-believers. The days of the Christian Crusade and Spanish Inquisition are over. Both religions have learned from long and bitter experience over the centuries that it is in the best interests of humanity to promote the more inclusive, tolerant and humanistic elements of their religion rather than to preach exclusivity. Wahhabis or Salafists (as they are known in Europe) however continue to justify the slaughter of infidels and apostates in the name of Allah unless these “non-believers” convert to Islam and submit to Islamic rule. So, it comes as no surprise that supporters of Salafi Islam would condemn the Pope for arguing that violence in support of Islam is irrational and morally wrong. For them, violence in the name of Islam is not only justified but divinely inspired (based upon their medieval interpretation of the Quran).
The unfortunate reality is that the desire for dialogue put forth by Pope Benedict XVI will remain elusive unless and until Islam undergoes a philosophical metamorphosis – an Islamic Enlightenment, but indications are that such a revolution in Islamic thought will be slow in coming. In the Islamic world of the 21st century, religious sensitivity, tolerance and intellectual discourse on the fundamental tenets of Islam have become a one-way street, and no where is that more evident than in the anti-Semitic, anti-Christian dawa being distributed on the wings of Saudi largess though the Islamic mosques, madrasses and libraries of America and throughout the world. Susan Katz Keating, writing in FrontPageMagazine reviewed the findings of an independent study conducted on Islamic textbooks offered by Saudi Arabia – textbooks provided to over 30,000 students in Saudi-funded American Islamic schools. The findings show that the gap between Western tolerance and proponents of medieval Islamic intolerance (as taught from these textbooks) is virtually unbridgeable without a sea-change at the Islamic educational/religious level.
In one instance, a textbook for 8th grade Islamic students explains why Jews and Christians have been cursed by Allah and turned into pigs and monkeys. Quoting Sura of Al-Maida, Verse 60, the lesson explains that Jews and Christians sinned by accepting faiths other than ‘true’ Islam and therefore incurred Allah’s wrath as punishment. A schoolbook for 5th grade students instructs them that: “The religions which people follow on this earth are many, but the only true religion is the religion of Islam”. As for the other religions, they are false (Sura of Aal ‘Umran Verse 85)…”and whoever follows a religion that is not Islam…their fate will be Hell (Sura of Al-Nihal Verse 125). A schoolbook for the 9th grade on Hadith introduces a famous narration known by the name, “The Promise of the Stone and the Tree.” It tells a story about Abu Hurayra, one of the Prophet’s companions who quoted the Prophet as saying: “The hour [the Day of Judgment] will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them. A Jew will [then] hide behind a rock or a tree, and the rock or tree will call upon the Muslim: ‘O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, so kill him…
In January 2005, Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom released its own Report on Islamic textbooks produced by the Saudis for world wide distribution. A high school textbook makes it absolutely clear where such teaching leads: “To be true Muslims, we must prepare and be ready for jihad in Allah’s way”. And then there is the assertion that “it is basic to Islam to believe that everyone who does not embrace Islam is an unbeliever, and that they are enemies to Allah, his prophet and believers”. The textbooks express absolute opposition to any believing Muslim working for an alien government or assisting an alien government in defending itself from its enemies. The Report’s authors believe that the aim of the disseminators of these textbooks is to intimidate American Muslims not to become involved in the local culture thereby ensuring loyalty to the Islamic approach represented in these texts.
A booklet distributed to high-school students at a Houston mosque warned Muslim youth not to celebrate birthdays in an American style. Students are taught “it is better to shun and even to dislike Christians, Jews and Shiite Muslims” and it is permissible to hurt or steal from a non-Muslim. The texts state that Muslims must consider all infidels the enemy. One handout distributed at a San Diego mosque said: “[I]t is basic Islam to believe that everyone who does not embrace Islam is an unbeliever, and…enemies to Allah, his Prophet and believers”. Another document, found in the Great Mosque in Washington, D.C. explains to Muslims that they must keep their distance from non-believers: “To be disassociated from the infidels is to hate them for their religion, to leave them, never to rely on them for support, not to admire them, to be on one’s guard against them, never to imitate them (i.e.: imitating Western culture – which accounts for why the Saudis have banned teddy bears, Barbie Dolls and recently even the sale of pets), and to always oppose them in every way according to Islamic law.” A book was distributed in another mosque containing questions and answers on matters of religion. Regarding whether it is permitted to curse Christians and Jews, the author answers that it is not only permitted; it is obligatory.
In effect, these materials promote cultural isolation within infidel societies (which accounts, in part, for the reason why many observant European Muslims have never fully integrated into European society). This isolationist attitude appeared during the war in Bosnia when Wahhabi mosques in America refused to accept aid from local churches wanting to donate food for Bosnian Muslims even if the purpose of the assistance was to save other Muslims.
The theme of “divine retribution” also figures high in Islamic dawa. During the December 2004 tsunami disaster in South Asia, Americans were sequestered (for their own safety) in certain areas of Indonesia because their humanitarian relief efforts were seen by certain radical Islamists as interfering with “the will of Allah” (who had “ordained” the tsunami to punish South Asian Muslims for not being sufficiently “faithful” to the ways of Allah).
If texts promoting such attitudes are available in American Islamic madrasses, mosques and libraries, one can only imagine what is being studied in the Islamic madrasses, mosques and libraries of Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East…and into this boiling religious cauldron steps Pope Benedict XVI pleading for a constructive dialogue with those in the Islamic world who are interested only in the violent conversion of infidels to Islam, punishing apostates for their faithlessness, murdering those who challenge their interpretation of the Quran and seeking an Islamic Crusade to restore their lost Andalusian Empire.
It is unfortunate that the Pope has been pressured into apologizing, for his comments were not directed at the vast majority of Muslims who adhere to a gentler, more humble vision of God. Rather, his comments related only to those who see violence as inextricably intertwined with the Islamic divine mission and who apply a literal, medieval interpretation of the Quran as if the intervening centuries of reform and enlightenment never happened. If a commitment to reason and a mutual rejection of religiously-inspired violence is wrong in their eyes, then there is little basis for dialogue and even less hope for an Islamic Renaissance in our time.
Acknowledgements:
Sincerest appreciation to Susan Katz Keating, “Wahhabi Fifth Column,” FrontPageMagazine, December 30, 2002; Steven Stalinsky, “Saudi Arabia’s Educational System,” MEMRI.org., December 30, 2002; Nathan Guttman, “Don’t dare say hello to your infidel neighbor” Ha’aretz.com, February 15, 2005; “New Report on Saudi Government Publications in the U.S.,” Freedom House: Center for Religious Freedom, January 28, 2005; Steven Stalinsky, “Preliminary Overview. – Saudi Arabia’s Education System: Curriculum, Spreading Saudi Education to the World and the Official Saudi Position on Education Policy”, MEMRI, Special Report – No. 12, December 20, 2002; “Saudis spread hate through U.S. mosques,” WorldNetDaily.com, January 29, 2005; Joel Mowbray, “Missing Media Connection,” Washington Times, February 8, 2005; and Daniel Pipes, “Saudi Venom in U.S. Mosques,” New York Sun, February 1, 2005.