The Pope and Islam

Five or six days have passed since  Pope Benedict XXVI quoted the Byzantine emperor Manuel II: “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things that were only evil and inhuman, such as the command to spread by the sword the faith he preached”  

Muslims throughout the world were outraged, and to some extent one can see why. Here was on of the most respected and powerful men in the in the western world continuing to perpetuate the myth that the Islam is spread by the sword and that it is Islam itself that encourages outrages of the kind we saw in 9/11. 

There have been some who have defended the Pope by saying that he really did not mean what he said. Indeed the Pope himself has apologised on those grounds. He said: I am deeply for reactions in some countries to a few passages from my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibilities of Muslims. These were in fact quotations from a medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought” It seems to me a weak defence. He quoted them either because he thought they expressed his thought very well, or because he wanted to distance himself from that kind of attitude the did express, in which case he should have said so clearly.

They are those who say that what he is doing is trying to get more reciprocal arrangements with the Muslims than his predecessor managed to get. He wants Christians to be able to worship openly in Muslim countries in the very same way that Muslims are allowed to worship in Christian countries. If that is what he really wanted, then he has chosen a rather odd way of going about it.  

Whatever may have his intention, he can’t escape the fact that his use of that particular quotation makes him sound awfully like a fully-signed up member of  some Islamophobic  society or other.

Karen Armstrong, the religious affairs correspondent and author of, among other things, Islam: A Short History, writes very intelligently in today’s The  Guardian about why we  cannot afford to maintain these ancient prejudices Islam and about why the Pope should be the last person on earth to encourage us in our maintaining them.


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