My brother tells me that called influential Qatari Muslim scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi has called for a “Day of Anger” on Friday, to protest the Pope’s comments about Islam made during a meeting with the representatives of science.

Reading the comments out of context, which is the only way the main stream media have seen fit to reproduce them, one might wonder that the Pope quoted something so disrespectful to one of the world’s major religions. Hoo ha. Thank God for the Internet, so one can look up what is really going on without relying on the press.

Here is the quote, in context, of what His Holiness said:

… Recently, 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 Paleologus 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.

In the seventh conversation (διάλεξις – controversy) edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 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 which leaves us astounded, 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 (σὺν λόγω) 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 Hazm 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 practise idolatry.

At this point, as far as understanding of God and thus the concrete practice of religion is concerned, we are faced with an unavoidable dilemma. Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God’s nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true?”

The Pope goes on to discuss the relation of metaphyscs to physics, and the role of faith and reason in science and in teaching. The basic point is that , in traditional, ancient greco-Roman Christianity, “not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature.” God and Reason were and are seen as unitive. In sects and faiths more mystical, more euthusiastic, more personal, Reason gets short changed.

In reaction to this, the Organization of the Islamic Conference responded that the pope’s statement “shows deep ignorance of Islam.”
In the West Bank, Palestinians demonstrated that they would rise above such ignorance and stereotypes of violence by using guns, firebombs, and lighter fluid to attack four churches, two of which were not Catholic.

I am deeply, deeply ashamed that the Pope voiced any apology to these murdering paynims. He should have declared a crusade, promising abolition of debt to any who sew the Cross on their surcoat. Where is Godfrey of Bouillon when you need him? Where is Richard the Cour-de-Lyon? Where is Richard, I say?