Burning churches and threatening to kill is not what Islam is about, but if the Pope was trying to call upon peace and religion, he certainly didn’t understand that insulting all Muslims would only cause problems.
Recently, Pope Benedict XVI gave a speech at the University of Regensburg in Germany and quoted a 14th-century Byzantine emperor describing the message given by the Prophet Muhammad to Muslims as “evil and inhumane.” He used this quote to prove certain points he was trying to make about spreading religion through violence. On Sunday, responding to worldwide protests, he apologized for offending Muslims with his speech.
“These, in fact, were quotations from a medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought,” he said during his sermon.
The Pope’s message about separating violence from religion was commendable. However, he was wrong to use a quote that insulted the Prophet of Islam.
The Pope may not agree with the religion of Islam. After all, he clearly isn’t Muslim. However, there are more tasteful ways to express this disagreement. Using a quote that insulted the Prophet of the second-largest, fastest-growing religion in the world, who is considered to be a holy figure by more than 1 billion people, is not a good way to spread a message.
While the Pope said he did not agree with the quote, he never explained that fact during his speech. In fact, he used the controversial quote to illustrate his point. The Pope should not have used such powerful words if he didn’t agree with them. Was it a hypothetical reference? If so, that wasn’t made clear during the speech.
The exact words of the emperor he quoted: “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.”
The emperor he quoted has no proof of this at all. While one religion will say something and another will say something completely different, it’s difficult to make the case that a 14th-century Byzantine emperor could possibly know how Muhammad spread his message anyway. The Quran discusses not forcing beliefs on people, and the Pope thankfully mentioned that, but the inclusion of the emperor’s quote is still questionable.
He quoted the Quran, chapter 2, verse 256, which states, “There is no compulsion in religion.”
This serves as evidence to show that Islam does not preach through violence. American Muslims acknowledge this verse and follow it.
“Islam was not primarily spread by the sword, and if Muslims did so, it was contrary to the Quran,” said Ahmad Bedier, president of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Florida.
Bedier added that some of the oldest churches in the world are still in Muslim lands. If the Prophet did, in fact, spread by the sword, those churches would not exist and Christian communities could not have survived in those areas.
It is important to note that the methods of some Muslim protestors do not in any way represent the views of Islam.
“As American Muslims, we are concerned about the Pope’s comments, but at the same time we are disturbed and upset at the violent reaction by some Muslims,” Bedier said.
In discussing his message, the Pope did not have to pinpoint it on Islam. Every religion has extremists. There were many notable events in history such as the Crusades that could have illustrated his point sufficiently.
Granted, Islamic extremism is a wide topic in the world today, but that is why the Pope should have been more sensitive – not to the extremists in the Islamic world who threaten violence, but to the majority of worldwide Muslims who worship peacefully. Unfortunately, like many others, the Pope did not differentiate between the two and ended up insulting the whole Muslim world because of the acts of a few non-representative protestors.
The Pope has the right to free speech, of course, as much as anyone does. However, it is a big deal when the most prominent and influential figure in the Christian world makes a speech. He has the power to impact the opinions of millions of people with his words. It is therefore expected he will be clear about his message. After all, the message of religious peace he is trying to spreading is a good one.
Haya Radwan is a senior majoring in mass communications.