Sunday, September 17, 2006

Rabbis Criticize Pope's Comments; West Bank Churches Attacked

Chief Rabbi Shlomo 'Amar

In an interesting development, one of Israel's two chief rabbis, R' Shlomo 'Amar has written a letter to Qatari Sunni legal scholar Sheikh Yusef Qardawi, criticizing the recent remarks of the Pope. Here is an excerpt from the letter, which R' 'Amar wrote in Arabic:
Our way is to honor every religion and every nation according to their paths, as it is written in the book of prophets: 'because every nation will go in the name of its lord.'"
...
Even when there is a struggle between nations ... it cannot be turned into a war of religions.
Israel has a Sephardi and an Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi. R' 'Amar was born in Casablanca, Morocco in 1948. He came to Israel at the age of 14.

The letter was preceded by an introduction written by R' Menahem Froman, the head rabbi of Tekoa, a settlement in the West Bank. R' Froman has been involved in interfaith dialogue with Muslim leaders for years. In his introduction, he writes that
every Jew who learns the writings of the great sages - who, at the head of them all stands Maimonides - knows that our great thinkers wrote in the Arabic language, lived in Islamic states and participated with the great Muslim thinkers in the effort to explain the words of God, according to the paths of the sages and amidst the difficult bloody battles that we have had since the beginning of Zionism with the Muslims.
This is a rabbi identified with the national-religious camp, who studied at Yeshivat ha-Kotel and taught at Makhon Me'ir, two places not usually known for their affinities to such views.

In another twist, the letter was delivered to Sheikh Qardawi by the leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel, Sheikh Abdullah Naimar Darwish.

Just two days ago, the head of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement
Sheikh Ra'ad Salah, a known radical, announced that Jerusalem would soon become the capital of an Islamic nation. In front of a crowd of 50,000, he declared that Israel's "occupation" of the Temple Mount was approaching its end. Just to pour a little more oil on the fire, he accused the Israeli government of damaging the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem (Ha'aretz).

Meanwhile, churches across the West Bank were attacked on Saturday, and violence against Christians and Christian institutions was reported elsewhere in the region and beyond. The targets included Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Greek Catholic houses of worship.

I appreciate the efforts of R' Amar and R' Froman, and I think Pope Benedict would not disagree with their more general statements. Nevertheless, it would have been nice if they had added some condemnation of the threats against Christians and asked Sheikh Qardawi to speak out against those too.

I do not believe that Pope Benedict actually endorsed
Palaeologos's view that Mohammed's innovations were "only evil and inhuman" ones. He should have made his opposition to that part of the Byzantine Emperor's polemic clearer. I am also not sure how correct some of his characterizations juxtaposing Christianity and Islam were. But who can argue with his efforts to condemn the use of religion to promote violence?

The Catholic Church has made significant progress in the past half-century in confronting the injustices committed by Christians, in the clergy as well as well as the laity, which resulted in the persecution or marginalization of Muslims, Jews, "heteredox" Christians, as well as people of other faiths merely on account of their beliefs. I am certain that Pope Benedict does not want to turn the clock backward in this respect. Rather, he is challenging adherents of the world's religions to find peace rather than violence in their traditions.

In any case, it is unacceptable that the Pope's remarks, no matter how critical of Islam, should be turned into a pretext for violence against Christians. All those Muslim religious leaders who, instead of preaching moderation, are further inciting their followers represent precisely the kind of evil that the Pope was talking about. Ironically, they are also likely to further cement the impressions of some observers, who believe that Islam is indeed the "religion of the sword."

8 comments:

Albert Wu said...

I completely agree with you, Amos. I could understand better if the Pope said this in a more public setting, say at a World Youth gathering, but this was in an academic setting in Regensburg, out of all places...

(Thanks for your comment to my blog, btw)

Halla said...

I understand that the pope is concerned for Christians in the Middle East and as you can see by the attacks on the churches that they are justified but what was really the point of insulting the muslim religion? Everyone in the world saw the reactions to a cartoon last year, which was ridiculous! There is room for all religions in this world but their is no room for extremism!!!

Amos said...

Did the Pope really insult Islam? He was citing a historical figure's views, and he has since made it clear that he does not share them.

Halla said...

Whether he did or not, all you have to do is read the headlines and it said enough to incite any type of anger. You have allot of ignorant people out there that need any reason to attack, look at that poor nun in Somalia that was shot in the back, her life was dedicated to helping the poor and that was her payment for all that life's work!

Amos said...

There is no way the Pope should be blamed for those attacks. I re-read his speech again earlier today (see John's post for links to the original and the English translation). The Manuel II quotation is a tiny part of the speech, and it's clear that the whole lecture is NOT about Islam but about the relationship between reason and religion, with Benedict making the case that acting against reason is contradictory to the essence of God. He proposes that such an understanding of God be the basis of any intercultural dialogue.

One may agree or disagree with this argument about God and reason - I am pretty sure that there is a diversity of opinions on this in Islamic thought, as there is in the Christian and Jewish traditions. But it cannot be construed as an insult against Islam. Yes, Manuel II's original statement is insulting to Muslims. But this guy lived in the 14th century! In the speech, the Pope does not agree with the Byzantine emperor's position.

It seems to me intellectually and politically irresponsible to say that it doesn't matter what the Pope meant or said, and that the only thing that counts is how his comments will be misinterpreted. If we were to follow that kind of reasoning, we might as well say yes to everything preached by those who are now calling for jihad (hasn't that been going on for a long time already? do we really need another such exhortation?).

echo said...

"every Jew who learns the writings of the great sages - who, at the head of them all stands Maimonides - knows that our great thinkers wrote in the Arabic language, lived in Islamic states and participated with the great Muslim thinkers in the effort to explain the words of God, according to the paths of the sages and amidst the difficult bloody battles that we have had since the beginning of Zionism with the Muslims."

This is utterly bizarre. Maimonides was kicked out of Spain by violent Islamic fundamentalists.

The Pope's words may have been ill-chosen. But sucking up to these bums is shameful.

Amos said...

Echo,

Yes, he was kicked out by Muslim fundamentalists. But where did he end up going after that?

I am not sure who the "bums" are. If you mean those - and there are many - who have used this as an occasion to incite more violence against Christians, I must agree that there is no need to suck up to them. Granted, Qardawi wasn't terribly responsible in this whole affair. Nevertheless, I think the attempt by the Haham 'Amar and by Rav Froman is laudatory. I don't think they were sucking up to anyone.

echo said...

"Yes, he was kicked out by Muslim fundamentalists. But where did he end up going after that?"

North Africa, and Egypt, of course. But so what? Where was he gonna go in the 12th century, Miami? That's like saying that a German Jew of 1933 went to France. Which a lot of them did. (Analogy time.)

"I am not sure who the "bums" are."

Qardawi is a bum. Isn't he the one who extolls suicide bombers from Qatar? Or am I confusing him with someone else?

This is a very complicated issue and well beyond the scope of a blog comment, but some Israelis are horribly naive about Islam and end up favoring Muslims out of a misguided sense of opportunism. This happened with that business about the basilica in Nazareth, where the disgusting Barak gov't actually favored Muslim fundamentalists encroaching on the basilica! Even Arafat took the side (out of opportunism, of course) of the Christians.

This has nothing whatever to do with dialogue, it is sheer, rank opportunism, and stupidity besides. No good whatsoever can or will come of appeasing Islamic fundamentalists. They will tear you to shreds and enjoy themselves at it. These rabbis are stupid.