It looks like another storm is brewing in the Muslim world. This time, the spark seems to be a recent speech by Pope Benedict XVI delivered on September 12 at Germany's Regensburg University. The original German speech and an English translation are available on the Holy See's website. In the speech, the Pope argues that the "will of God" cannot be divorced from "Reason". He emphasizes the links between early Christian thought and Greek philosophy to make the point that Christian faith and reason are compatible. To establish that link, he refers to a theological discussion between the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologos (14th century) and a Persian Muslim, which was recently published in a volume edited by a Professor Theodor Khoury at the University of Münster (a German school with a well known Near Eastern Studies department and a lot of philologists). In the course of their conversation, the Emperor is to have told his Muslim interlocutor
"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 Pope seems to have cited this statement not because he was trying to make some point about Islam, but in order to prove that this Byzantine Emperor saw Christianity as based on reason. According to the pope,
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... "Yet, while the Pope’s and Khoury’s central argument seems to be related mainly to Christianity and Reason, rather than Islam, they make their point by contrasting "Muslim teaching" with the Byzantine Emperor’s Christianity, which they characterize as being rooted in Greek philosophy. According to Khoury, cited by the Pope in his speech,
For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement [denying that conversion must be achieved through argument, not violence] 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.I know too little about Islamic thought to comment about the accuracy of Khoury’s interpretations. What bothers me is the apparent failure of Muslims and heads of state of Muslim countries to engage the Pope more deeply. I hope I turn out to be wrong, but it seems to me as if we are in for another round of violent demonstrations. Palestinian Prime Minister Isma‘il Haniyye has already begun organizing protests to "express Palestinian anger toward the comments that offended Islam and the Muslims." Ha'aretz is already reporting that a Greek Orthodox (!) Church in Gaza suffered minor damage from a homemade explosive device planted next to its door. That would be a useful diversion for a government that is becoming increasingly unpopular.