The Pope and the Prophet,
Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam!
Heaven and Earth
God in his heaven sent down the Prophet, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam. Right here on earth, the Church gave us the Pope. And now the Pope and the Prophet, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, some among the followers of both say, are on a collision course.
This should warm the cockles of Harvard Professor Sam Huntington, who, in his 1996 book titled The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, argued that the world was inexorably headed in the direction of a culture clash between Islam and the West.
But the outgoing United Nations Secretary General Kofi Anan, Prime Minister Jose Zapatero of Spain, the former Reformist President of Iran Mohammad Khatami and Prime Minister Recep Erdogan of Turkey seem to take a somewhat different view. They all argue that maybe it is time to work for the building of an alliance of civilizations rather than fan the fires of a clash of cultures. Mr. Anan is particularly concerned about reducing prejudice and misunderstandings between Islam and the West.
An Alliance of Civilizations (AoC)
at the United Nations
According to a UN press release dated July 14, 2005, here is some of what Mr. Anan’s spokesman said about the formation of the AoC:
“The Secretary-General is pleased to announce the launch of an initiative for an “Alliance of Civilizations”. The initiative is intended to respond to the need for a committed effort by the international community — both at the institutional and civil society levels — to bridge divides and overcome prejudice, misconceptions, misperceptions, and polarization which potentially threaten world peace. The Alliance will aim to address emerging threats emanating from hostile perceptions that foment violence, and to bring about cooperation among various efforts to heal such divisions.”
The UN press release went on to say:
“Events of recent years have heightened the sense of a widening gap and lack of mutual understanding between Islamic and Western societies — an environment that has been exploited and exacerbated by extremists in all societies. The Alliance of Civilizations is intended as a coalition against such forces, as a movement to advance mutual respect for religious beliefs and traditions, and as a reaffirmation of humankind’s increasing interdependence in all areas — from the environment to health, from economic and social development to peace and security.”
The Pope on the Prophet,
Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam!
All this was before the Pope is supposed to have made a reference to the Prophet, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, that the Muslims found offensive and unacceptable. They also said it was flat out false.
The Pope says he did not make the questionable comment himself, but he was only quoting a medieval source. The Muslims say if the Pope did not share the view of his source, why did he not correct it or distance himself from it.
And why quote such a derogatory and patently false statement by a clearly biased source now, say most Muslims and some others, when tensions between Muslims and the West are running so high and when Muslims are under so much pressure from so many sides, most if not all of them Christian.
The Pope says he is filled with sorrow. Muslims ask over what.
Let us see if we can sort out any of this.
News Accounts Are Not
Always Accurate or Complete
I don’t know what the exact story was. That is partly why I hesitate to comment on current events: it is hard to know what exactly happened and I don’t have the resources to keep up.
Yes, there were a slew of stories on the subject in the newspapers. But while newspaper stories may be a viable basis for invading and occupying countries and nations – of course I am being sarcastic but only in part – they are often a bit of a stretch when it comes to putting one’s own life and reputation on line.
In many cases, media stories are just that: stories pieced together from a number of accounts gathered from a number of sources, each with a fair likelihood of error and, quite frequently, each with a stake the story. So, woe to those, if I may borrow some Biblical language here, who base their faith fully and entirely on media accounts of what is going on in the world.
That is because news accounts are neither always accurate nor complete. Often, they are like snapshots of a fast-moving train. And often they change with breathtaking rapidity.
The Pope Quotes the Emperor
Fully aware of all these limitations and constraints, here is what I recall was in the newspapers: the Pope quoted a Medieval Emperor as asking what new things did Muhammad (Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam) bring into the world that was not evil and inhumane?
And how reasonable was it for him to ask his followers to spread his faith with the sword?
It was, I seem to recall, in the context of the role of reason in matters of faith that these comments were made. How fortunate were the Christians, the Pope and or the Emperor seemed to have felt, that they embraced reason from the teachings of the Greeks, while the Muslims did no such thing.
Therefore, one or the other or both argued, while the Christian faith had reason on its side, the Muslim faith did not.
And then the Pope and or the Emperor noted the absolute unreasonableness of the Prophet of Islam, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, asking his followers to spread his message with the sword, by force that is.
The Emperor’s Words Have a Background
Now, there was a certain background to the Emperor’s dark musings on Islam. The Emperor was engaged in an ongoing war with the Muslims and his armies were not faring too well. He was losing territory fast and he needed help.