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Open Letter to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI by 38 Leading Muslim Scholars and Leaders

Islamica Magazine

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In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful,
And may Peace and Blessings be upon the Prophet Muhammad
OPEN LETTER TO HIS HOLINESS POPE BENEDICT XVI
In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful,
Do not contend with people of the Book except in the fairest way ....
(The Holy Qur'an, al-Ankabut, 29:46).

Your Holiness,

WITH REGARDS TO YOUR LECTURE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF REGENSBURG IN GERMANY ON September 12th 2006, we thought it appropriate, in the spirit of open exchange, to address your use of a debate between the Emperor Manuel II Paleologus and a "learned Persian" as the starting point for a discourse on the relationship between reason and faith. While we applaud your efforts to oppose the dominance of positivism and materialism in human life, we must point out some errors in the way you mentioned Islam as a counterpoint to the proper use of reason, as well as some mistakes in the assertions you put forward in support of your argument.

There is no Compulsion in Religion
You mention that "according to the experts" the verse which begins, There is no compulsion in religion (al-Baqarah 2:256) is from the early period when the Prophet "was still powerless and under threat," but this is incorrect. In fact this verse is acknowledged to belong to the period of Quranic revelation corresponding to the political and military ascendance of the young Muslim community. There is no compulsion in religion was not a command to Muslims to remain steadfast in the face of the desire of their oppressors to force them to renounce their faith, but was a reminder to Muslims themselves, once they had attained power, that they could not force another's heart to believe. There is no compulsion in religion addresses those in a position of strength, not weakness. The earliest commentaries on the Qur'an (such as that of Al-Tabari) make it clear that some Muslims of Medina wanted to force their children to con- vert from Judaism or Christianity to Islam, and this verse was precisely an answer to them not to try to force their children to convert to Islam. Moroever, Muslims are also guided by such verses as Say: The truth is from your Lord; so whosoever will, let him believe, and whosoever will, let him disbelieve. (al-Kahf 18:29); and Say: O disbelievers! I worship not that which ye worship; Nor worship ye that which I worship. And I shall not worship that which ye worship. Nor will ye worship that which I worship. Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion (al-Kafirun: 109:1-6).

God's Transcendence
You also say that "for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent," a simplification which can be misleading. The Quran states, There is no thing like unto Him (al-Shura 42:11), but it also states, He is the Light of the heavens and the earth (al-Nur 24:35); and, We are closer to him than his jugular vein (Qaf 50:16); and, He is the First, the Last, the Inward, and the Outward (al-Hadid 57:3); and, He is with you wherever you are (al-Hadid 57:4); and, Wheresoever you turn, there is the Face of God (al-Baqarah 2:115). Also, let us recall the saying of the Prophet, which states that God says, "When I love him (the worshipper), I am the hearing by which he hears, the sight by which he sees, the hand with which he grasps, and the foot with which he walks." (Sahih al-Bukhari no.6502, Kitab al-Riqaq) In the Islamic spiritual, theological, and philosophical tradition, the thinker you mention, Ibn Hazm (d.1069 CE), is a worthy but very marginal figure, who belonged to the Zahiri school of jurisprudence which is fol- lowed by no one in the Islamic world today. If one is looking for classical formulations of the doctrine of transcen- dence, much more important to Muslims are figures such as al-Ghazali (d.1111 CE) and many others who are far more influential and more representative of Islamic belief than Ibn Hazm. You quote an argument that because the emperor is "shaped by Greek philosophy" the idea that "God is not pleased by blood" is "self-evident" to him, to which the Muslim teaching on God's Transcendence is put forward as a counterexample. To say that for Muslims "God's Will is not bound up in any of our categories" is also a simplification which may lead to a misunderstanding. God has many Names in Islam, including the Merciful, the Just, the Seeing, the Hearing, the Knowing, the Loving, and the Gentle. Their utter conviction in God's Oneness and that There is none like unto Him (al-Ikhlas 112:4) has not led Muslims to deny God's attribution of these qualities to Him- self and to (some of) His creatures, (setting aside for now the notion of "categories", a term which requires much clar- ification in this context). As this concerns His Will, to conclude that Muslims believe in a capricious God who might or might not command us to evil is to forget that God says in the Quran, Lo! God enjoins justice and kindness, and giving to kinsfolk, and forbids lewdness and abomination and wickedness. He exhorts you in order that ye may take heed (al-Nahl, 16:90). Equally, it is to forget that God says in the Qur'an that He has prescribed for Himself mercy (al-An'am, 6:12; see also 6:54), and that God says in the Qur'an, My Mercy encompasses everything (al-A`raf 7:156). The word for mercy, rahmah, can also be translated as love, kindness, and compassion. From this word rahmah comes the sacred formula Muslims use daily, In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. Is it not self-evident that spilling in- nocent blood goes against mercy and compassion?

Read the entire article on the Islamica Magazine website (.pdf file) (new window will open).

Posted: 28-Oct-06



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