Pope Benedict Shutterstock copy

Many Catholics are coming to grips with the startling news of the impending resignation of Pope Benedict XVI.

Already, we are seeing many speculations on whether the next Pope will come from the non-white (Latin America, Africa, Asia), places which are clearly the future of the Church.

Others are approaching this with apprehension or excitement, over what might be the future direction the Church will take with respect to ordination of women, treatment of gays/lesbians, relationships with Jews and Muslims, and the broad context of Vatican II reforms.

Muslims have had, by and large, a very tense relationship with Pope Benedict.     Or to put it more properly, Pope Benedict has had a very tense relationship with Muslims.

The majority of Muslim pundits have responded to today’s news by recalling pope benedict sultanahmet 2  Pope Benedict’s controversial and perhaps unwise statements in 2006, when in the context of a speech at Germany’s University of Regensburg, he offered a lecture called:  “Faith, Reason and the University—Memories and Reflections”.   In this speech, he quoted a Byzantine emperor who stated:

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.

Pope Benedict had also made some startling statements seeing the essence of European civilians as being connected to Christianity, and spoke about how Turkey should not seek to be a member of the European Union and instead should join a Muslim Union.  Benedict had identified Turkey as being “in permanent contrast to Europe and that linking it to Europe would be a mistake.”

Pope’s comments seemed to gloss over the 700 years of Muslim presence in Spain/Portugal, the 500 years of Muslim presence in SE Europe, and the 1000 years of Muslim presence in Russia. It also raises the question of whether he sees European Muslims today as being properly European, or if he subscribes to the theory of them being tolerated guests—as opposed to citizens.

However, here is where I would like to urge my Muslim friends to keep in mind a few points. Yes, as people of faith, we are always called to speak truth to power, no matter for whom and against whom, so long as it is for truth.  So there are a few truths about Benedict’s

Pope King hussein mosqueresignation that bear to be kept in mind.   But we are also called to make sure that the truth is always mediated through mercy and compassion.  After all, as one Muslim mystic has said, “A truth that hits like a hammer is no truth at all.”

Yes, it is true that Benedict spoke deeply offensive words about Islam.  Yes, it’s also true that he’s a methodical and careful theologian, and those words were not chosen at random and were in fact reinforced on a number of other occasions.   But it is also worth keeping in mind that the Pope realized the error of his speech, and sought to make amends by undertaking visits to Muslim countries, in particular praying inside the famed Sultanahmet Mosque (So-called “Blue Mosque”) in Istanbul, and also in the King Hussein Mosque in Amman, Jordan.

Pope Benedict Sultanahmet

In the famed Sultanahmet Mosque, the Pope told the Turkish head of Religious Affairs:

“With the help of God, we must find the way of peace together, for the good of humanity.”

Secondly, and this is perhaps an even more important point, both the Christian and the Islamic faith are religious traditions built on mercy and forgiveness. In the Islamic tradition we are told that, the one who does not show mercy to God’s creation will not be shown mercy by God. This process of transition is a difficult one for many Christians, and in particular for Catholics. Yes, there is a great deal of excitement over the possibility of having the first African or Latin American or Asian Pope, but there is probably also nostalgia and sadness for many Catholics, alongside the mere fact that no pope has resigned for over 500 years.

I would hope that we as Muslims can practice the divine qualities of mercy and forgiveness at this time, and stand next to our Catholic friends as they journey through this turbulent time of transition. May there be an enlightened leader waiting for them on the other side, who can help us all get to the lofty promised land of respectful co-existence and love.

To echo Pope Benedict’s comments:  “we must find the way of peace together, for the good of humanity.”  Amin, Amen.

17 Comments

  1. Queen of the Reich

    Interesting viewpoint you have. When Muslims are in a foriegn country, it’s called a “Muslim presence”. So when non-Muslims are in Muslim country, it’s called “occupation”? What exactly is the difference between contemporary Islamic thought and classical Islam – they are in fact one in the same. If there were such a thing as “contemporary Islamic thought” then Islam would have progressed. It clearly has not because it can not.

    • Rebecca Olesen

      If by muslim countries you mean lands that were once Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Hebrew, Zoroastrian, Jainian, buddhist, etc., – but were taken over through force, violence & genocide, why then you have your answer as to why they call other people’s existence in their own homelands ‘occupation’. They consider whatever they touch to belong to them. Your existence means nothing, what is yours is theirs, exactly what mohammed taught them to believe.

      The Turkish government recently stole land from a monastery that has existed in place since before islam even existed, the year 492 AD, calling the Assyrians who owned the land and ran the monastery ‘occupiers’. Even though Turkey is the ancestral homeland of Assyrians, Armenians & hellenic greeks, stolen by muslims, who in the end killed almost every last Assyrian living in what is now called Turkey, there remains only an estimated 4 to 5 thousand Assyrians there, suffering a constant oppression, persecution & threat of death. That’s how they ‘roll’ !!! What is ours is theirs, we deserve nothing, it is their right to kill us, take our women, pillage our possessions, and take our lands. That is by law of their God.

      Iraq? Christian Assyrian land, they have been in the process of slaughtering the remaining Christians for a very long time & have recently stepped up the process. Egypt? Indigenous Coptic Christians, now less than 9% of the population, murdered, brutalized, homes burned, churches attacked, children killed. New Prez Morsi has stated he intends to bring the ‘second islamic wave’ upon Egypt against the Christians, IRAN – CHRISTIAN, ZOROASTRIAN, jewish lands. Pakistan, Sikh, Hindu & Christian land. SYRIA, Assyrian Christian homelands.

      The list goes on and on, none of the land they claim belongs to arabs or to muslims, except by death and force, so the fact that they call anyone else an occupier is disgusting in every sense of the word.

  2. Everyone who does not lay over and play dead will have a difficult relationship with Islam, and this includes popes, the Dalai Lama, Hindus, Buddhists, Bahai and non-believers. Islam’s history is that of conqueror since the 7th, and it continues. Would anyone care if they just had their religious rites without trying to conquer and persecute everyone else–absolutely not.

  3. John McIntosh

    Any honest student of history will understand that Islam is a religion that has consistently utilized violence to promote its growth and the elimination of its rivals. The only way Islam could leave behind violence would be to leave behind large sections of the Koran.

  4. John and Leo,

    What kind of metaphysical baggage fills you with such hatred towards others? How do your hatred speech contribute to the article? Such a dense ignorance and hatred would be possible only with successful brainwashing. You must have been exposed too much and uncritically to Western media and indoctrination anyway. What you need is love and a critical mind: a brand new heart and a used brain :-)

  5. Islam’s “presence” in Iberia was conquest from Africa, in Southeast Europe by conquest from the Turks. How stupid do you think we are? Islam has been the enemy of Christendom/the West since the first Arab invasions. Nothing Benedict said was untrue. Check the Koran for its insults against Christ and Christians. Your pretense is insulting.

    • Have you done extensive research why and how Islam came to Iberia? And have you researched why and how Islam was ousted from Iberia? And for the rest of the world for that matter. You would be surprised to learn that the ‘enemy’ you thought was reciprocated truly unjustly for the favor Christendom/the West was initially asking for. You will learn a lot from history if you care to research from different sources.
      Read and understand the Quran. That’s what Muslims do. In fact, the first word revealed itself is ‘Read (to seek knowledge)’. Don’t just check on it. You won’t learn that way. Looking at your questions seems like you haven’t even read and learn from the Bible because you would be surprised that you will have to eat your own words.

  6. Oh please. You muslims just don’t get it, do you? You invaded Iberia, you invaded SW Europe, and now you are claiming your “Muslims presence”? Please. Foreigners in the Persian Gulf are just at, foreigners or guest workers. They will never have citizenship, even Muslim guest workers. They are needed so the countries can function. They were invited and do their job and then are left to rot like last weeks garbage. Persian Gulf arabs are so lazy that they can’t even do their own work. In Jan 2011 the Pope had the wisdom to speak out about the Christian minorities and demand protection for them and then the muslims cut off dialogue with him. Sure…Muslims want dialogue, as long as they can rape and murder Christian minorities with impunity.

    And I’ve read the koran, for whatever it’s worth. “Kill them where you find them” “Do not take Jews or Christians as friends”

  7. Arnie,
    “Do not take them as friends:” The term is used in the Qur’an exclusively for God, not for Muslims or others. Do not leave God and and take anybody else as friend: ‘saint’ in Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Urdu etc. means literally “God’s friend.”
    “Kill them all:” We have a helpful term, called “exegesis”. A main principle of it is to distinguish general principles from specific historical cases. This verse was revealed when Muslims were killed and forced to fight, and cannot be used to justify any attack. (Only terrorists seek such justifications, and they do what you do: ignorantly throwing copy-paste verses.) Thankfully, all traditions have also similar complex interpretive strategies. Else, they would be stoning animals, victims of rape, and homosexuals.

    Abbasids, Islamic Iberia, Ottomans etc were the most pluralistic societies that we never have seen in other societies, even today. Jewish renaissance happened in Islamic Iberia, and ended in 1492 when they were massacred together with their Muslim neighbors.

    Most importantly, Arnie, EssEm, John, Leo: your violent language targeting 23 percent of the world by definition is disappointing. Look at the article, look at others who respond to you: they write kindly, they pray that a new pope will be elected smoothly, and invite you to reflection and humility. Your Crusader-view makes you bad representatives of your own cultures. Please be as God ordered to you: compassionate and merciful.

  1. […] Pope Benedict had also made some startling statements seeing the essence of European civilians as being connected to Christianity, and spoke about how Turkey should not seek to be a member of the European Union and instead should join a Muslim Union. Benedict had identified Turkey as being “in permanent contrast to Europe and that linking it to Europe would be a mistake.” Pope’s comments seemed to gloss over the 700 years of Muslim presence in Spain/Portugal, the 500 years of Muslim presence in SE Europe, and the 1000 years of Muslim presence in Russia. It also raises the question of whether he sees European Muslims today as being properly European, or if he subscribes to the theory of them being tolerated guests—as opposed to citizens. However, here is where I would like to urge my Muslim friends to keep in mind a few points. Yes, as people of faith, we are always called to speak truth to power, no matter for whom and against whom, so long as it is for truth. So there are a few truths about Benedict’s resignation that bear to be kept in mind. But we are also called to make sure that the truth is always mediated through mercy and compassion. After all, as one Muslim mystic has said, “A truth that hits like a hammer is no truth at all.” Yes, it is true that Benedict spoke deeply offensive words about Islam. Yes, it’s also true that he’s a methodical and careful theologian, and those words were not chosen at random and were in fact reinforced on a number of other occasions. But it is also worth keeping in mind that the Pope realized the error of his speech, and sought to make amends by undertaking visits to Muslim countries, in particular praying inside the famed Sultanahmet Mosque (So-called “Blue Mosque”) in Istanbul, and also in the King Hussein Mosque in Amman, Jordan. In the famed Sultanahmet Mosque, the Pope told the Turkish head of Religious Affairs: “With the help of God, we must find the way of peace together, for the good of humanity.” Secondly, and this is perhaps an even more important point, both the Christian and the Islamic faith are religious traditions built on mercy and forgiveness. In the Islamic tradition we are told that, the one who does not show mercy to God’s creation will not be shown mercy by God. This process of transition is a difficult one for many Christians, and in particular for Catholics. Yes, there is a great deal of excitement over the possibility of having the first African or Latin American or Asian Pope, but there is probably also nostalgia and sadness for many Catholics, alongside the mere fact that no pope has resigned for over 500 years. I would hope that we as Muslims can practice the divine qualities of mercy and forgiveness at this time, and stand next to our Catholic friends as they journey through this turbulent time of transition. May there be an enlightened leader waiting for them on the other side, who can help us all get to the lofty promised land of respectful co-existence and love. To echo Pope Benedict’s comments: “we must find the way of peace together, for the good of humanity.” Amin, Amen. (Courtesy: Religion News Service) […]

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