Muslims all around the world were upset and outraged at the recent incident involving Pope Benedict XVI. The controversy began on 12 September 2006, when he presented a lecture entitled “Faith, Reason and the University — Memories and Reflections” at the University of Regensburg in Germany, where he was previously a professor of theology. Without refuting or repudiating it, he had quoted from the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Pleologus who was reported to have said thus:
- 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.
Certainly there is no reason why a Muslim who knows his religion would not be outraged at the words cited from a medievel emperor, and it is justifiably so. What we would like to know is, how could Pope Benedict XVI have quoted from a power-crazy emperor whose hostility towards Islam was well-known? As the person considered as the “Vicar of Christ” leading a majority of the world’s Christian population who ascribe to the Catholic faith, the Pope should be promoting peace and harmony between the two faiths.
The Pope should know better than to ascribe Islam to the stereotypical image of violence and the sword. It was the historical scholar De Lacy O’Leary who refuted this imagery by stating that:
“History makes it clear however, that the legend of fanatical Muslims sweeping through the world and forcing Islam at the point of the sword upon conquered races is one of the most fantastically absurd myth that historians have ever repeated.” 1
In the eleventh century, the Western Christians thought the time had come to turn the tables of history. The Crusades were launched with disastrous consequences to Christian-Muslim and Muslim-Christian relations.His predecessor, Pope Urban II, was the person who first coined the term “holy war” (which, it should be noted, is alien to Muslim thought) and who first issued the edict inciting the Christian governments of Europe to wage war against the Muslims in the Middle East.
In his speech, Pope Urban II called for colonization of the Muslim world:
For you must hasten to carry aid to your brethren dwelling in the East, who need your help, which they have often asked. For the Turks, a Persian people, have attacked them I exhort you with earnest prayer – not I, but God – that, as heralds of Christ, you urge men by frequent exhortation, men of all ranks, knights as well as foot soldiers, rich as well as poor, to hasten to exterminate this vile race from the lands of your brethren Christ commands it. And if those who set out thither should lose their lives on the way by land, or in crossing the sea, or in fighting the pagans, their sins shall be remitted. Oh what a disgrace, if a race so despised, base, and the instrument of demons, should so overcome a people endowed with faith in the all-powerful God, and resplendent with the name of Christ. Let those who have been accustomed to make private war against the faithful carry on to a successful issue a war against the infidels. Let those who for a long time have been robbers now become soldiers of Christ. Let those who fought against brothers and relatives now fight against these barbarians. Let them zealously undertake the journey under the guidance of the Lord.2
Professor of History, Joel T. Rosenthal, who contributed an article at Encarta Encyclopaedia states that:
They knew little about the Byzantine Empire or its religion, Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Few Crusaders understood or had much sympathy for the Eastern Orthodox religion, which did not recognize the pope, used the Greek language rather than Latin, and had very different forms of art and architecture. They knew even less about Islam or Muslim life. For some the First Crusade became an excuse to unleash savage attacks in the name of Christianity on Jewish communities along the Rhine.3
It should be noted that all Jews, Muslims and non-Catholic Christians were massacred during the Crusades, especially during the conquest of Jerusalam in the First Crusades War. When these “righteous” Crusaders arrived at Jerusalem, they had no mercy on the inhabitants, whether Muslims, Jews or their Christian brethren. Philip Schaff writes:
The scenes of carnage which followed belong to the many dark pages of Jerusalem’s history and showed how, in the quality of mercy, the crusading knight was far below the ideal of Christian perfection. The streets were choked with the bodies of the slain. The Jews were burnt with their synagogues…. As if to enhance the spectacle of pitiless barbarity, Saracen (i.e. Muslims) prisoners were forced to clear the streets of the dead bodies and blood to save the city from pestilence. “They wept and transported the dead bodies out of Jerusalem,” is the heartless statement of Robert the Monk. … “They cut down with the sword,” said William [archbishop] of Tyre, “every one whom they found in Jerusalem, and spared no one. The victors were covered with blood from head to foot.” In the next breath, speaking of the devotion of the Crusaders, the archbishop adds, “It was a most affecting sight which filled the heart with holy joy to see the people tread the holy places in the fervor of an excellent devotion.”4
Thus we should ask ourselves, by what criteria must this act be judged apart from calling it “evil and inhuman”, as the Pope did for Islam?
The Pope should also look at the history of the Spanish Inquisition which was issued (yet again!) by another predecessor of the current Pope, Pope Lucius III. This papal bull was carried out to the letter under the rule of the Catholic King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, who drove thousands of Muslims and Jews out of the Iberian Peninsula at the fall of Granada in 1492, either by expelling them or forcibly converting them to Christianity. P. de Gayangos writes regarding Ximenes:
As a result of his endeavours, it is reported that on 8th December 1499 about three thousand Moors were baptized by him and a leading mosque in Granada was converted into a church. ‘Converts’ were encouraged to surrender their Islamic books, several thousands of which were destroyed by Ximenes in a public bonfire. A few rare books on medicine were kept aside for the University of Alcala.5
For eight centuries, Islam had been the faith not only of immigrant Arabs and Berbers but of native Spaniards who were always the majority. The “Inquisition” made no differentiation; and it brought to an end one of the most glorious chapters in the history of inter-religious living and co-operation.
It is also a historical fact that the Catholic Church in Germany and Italy had a mutual agreement with Hitler and Mussolini, and they were never condemned in their respective countries even though the “official” position of the Church was that Nazism is explicitly condemned. It is also a fact that there are photographs of Catholic priests, Lutheran ministers, and Catholic bishops and cardinals with Hitler and even giving the Hitler salute. Both men were responsible for heinious war crimes and genocides in their own nations as well as in the Second World War.
It seems that Christians are fixated with the image of the Crusades and the idea of a “holy war”. It was after all George Bush, a born-again Christian, in the aftermath of the horrendous September 11 attacks on New York who first used the word “crusade” in response to the 9/11 attack. “This crusade,” he said, “this war on terrorism.” Yet again it was twenty million Red Indians who were killed by Christians in the early history of the United States. Africans were also kidnapped by these so-call Christians to work in the cotton fields of the South and it was only after the American Civil War which only then ended slavery. Even so, discrimination of the Afro-Americans in North America persist until today.
Despite all the evidence above showing the ugliness of Christian history, the Pope still chooses to attack and demean Islam. On the contrary, there were non-Muslims who said good things about Islam. The philospher George Bernard Shaw said that:
“I have always held the religion of Muhammad in high estimation because of its wonderful vitality. It is the only religion which appears to me to possess that assimilating capacity to the changing phase of existence which can make itself appeal to every age. I have studied him – the wonderful man and in my opinion far from being an anti-Christ, he must be called the Savior of Humanity.
I believe that if a man like him were to assume the dictatorship of the modern world he would succeed in solving its problems in a way that would bring it the much needed peace and happiness: I have prophesied about the faith of Muhammad that it would be acceptable to the Europe of tomorrow as it is beginning to be acceptable to the Europe of today.”6
Mohandas K. Gandhi, the spiritual icon of India’s resistance movement, said in Young India:
“I wanted to know the best of one who holds today’s undisputed sway over the hearts of millions of mankind….I became more than convinced that it was not the sword that won a place for Islam in those days in the scheme of life. It was the rigid simplicity, the utter self-effacement of the Prophet, the scrupulous regard for his pledges, his intense devotion to this friends and followers, his intrepidity, his fearlessness, his absolute trust in God and in his own mission. These and not the sword carried everything before them and surmounted every obstacle. When I closed the 2nd volume (of the Prophet’s biography), I was sorry there was not more for me to read of the great life.”
Michael H. Hart commented on the following on why he chose the Prophet Muhammad at the top of his list:
“My choice of Muhammad to lead the list of the world’s most influential persons may surprise some readers and may be questioned by others, but he was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both the religious and secular level.” 7
Lamartine best sums it up by saying:
“Philosopher, orator, apostle, legislator, warrior, conqueror of ideas, restorer of rational dogmas, of a cult without images; the founder of twenty terrestrial empires and of one spiritual empire, that is Muhammad. As regards all standards by which human greatness may be measured, we may well ask, is there any man greater than he?” 8
With all these comments by these eminent figures of the 20th century, what reason does the Pope have to quote from an ignorant, barbaric Byzantine emperor?
The damage that the Pope had done, whether consciously or unconsciously, have certainly reversed the peace-making efforts and bridging of relations by his predecessor, who was also the first Pope to step foot into a mosque when he visited the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus and paid a visit to the grave of the Prophet Yahya (John the Baptist). The current Pope is nowhere as magnamious as his predecessor and clearly he is trying to undo the efforts of the previous Pope.
However he should not be ignorant of facts. Freedom of expression should not include lies. The Pope should verify his facts, as the Qur’an tells us Muslims in Surah Hujurat, 49:6 as follows:
“O People who Believe! If any miscreant brings you some tidings, verify it, lest you unknowingly cause suffering to some people, and then remain repenting for what you did.”
And only God knows best!
- De Lacy O’Leary, Islam at the Crossroads, p. 8 [⤺]
- August C. Krey, The First Crusade: The Accounts of Eye Witnesses and Participants (Gloucester, Massachusetts: Peter Smith, 1958) [⤺]
- Joel T. Rosenthal, Encarta [⤺]
- Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume V, Chapter 7 [⤺]
- P de Gayangos, “Muhammadan Dynasties in Spain”, Vol. II. [⤺]
- The Genuine Islam, Vol. 1, No. 8, 1936 [⤺]
- Michael H. Hart, The 100: A Ranking of The Most Influential Persons in History, New York: Hart Publishing Company, Inc., 1978, p. 33 [⤺]
- Histoire De La Turquie, Paris, 1854, Vol. II, pp. 276-277 [⤺]