Sticks and Stones...On the Pontiff's Words
As if we don't have enough frustration and anger in the Muslim world for the wars, occupation, poverty, unemployment, humiliation, lack of freedoms, and so called terrorism that plague us, the highest authority of the Catholic faith decides that there is a pressing need to reiterate the ignorant and insulting message the Danish cartoons portrayed only a few months ago. And as if we don't have enough people saying we're crazy angry terrorists, a few Muslim lunatics had to go prove the Pope's statements by throwing fire bombs at churches in the West Bank town of Nablus. Do people not think anymore?! Is it really that hard to think twice before saying or doing something that might cause harm to many people around you and many people who listen to you?
The 'cartoon controversy' is still fresh in the memory of most people around the world, especially Muslims. The Prophet Muhammad was defamed in the satirical Danish cartoons with complete disregard for the feelings of 1.6 billion Muslims around the world who consider such drawings offensive at least and blasphemous at best. Millions of Muslims around the world peacefully protested the cartoons and some of course violently protested. It took much effort on the part of the Danish to retract and apologize for the actions of a few of their countrymen, and it took a lot more effort from the Muslim world to begin a dialogue about the important role the Prophet plays in the Islamic faith with the West. Discussions, conferences, and countless dialogues were held in order to bring both sides together to recognize the sanctity of different aspects of religion for followers of different faiths. This is the only positive result of the Danish cartoon controversy.
But just as people are beginning to calm down and realize that discussion and exchange of ideas is the only way to educate ourselves and each other about our beliefs, ideals, and customs, the Pope decides to spark yet another controversy by insulting the most revered figure in the Islamic faith, the Prophet Muhammad.
Muslims around the world have demanded an apology from the pontiff, and rightly so, for his insulting and inflammatory statements. Today, the Pope issued a statement, which most media outlets are still debating as to whether it constitutes an apology or not. The BBC says the Pope has apologized, while CNN says his statement comes short of an apology. [The full text of the statement is here.]
Thank you, Pope Benedict XVI, for "regretting" that your statement "could have sounded offensive" to Muslims around the world. Unfortunately, the damage has been done, yet again. And while most Muslims want an official and personal apology, that is not likely to change the reality of what happened. We all make mistakes, that is true. But we also know that a Pope is given such an important responsibility that he could not mistakenly make such a statement in a well-prepared for speech before a large audience.
And to those individuals who claim to represent me and my religion by attacking sacred churches and burning effigies and flags, please remember that the Prophet would not have, in a million years and in the face of thousands of insults, ever acted this way. His neighbor threw trash in front of his house every single day and the non-Muslims in Mecca insulted him verbally and even abused him physically. He turned the other cheek and prayed that God would forgive them and guide them. The Prophet said, "The strong is not the one who overcomes the people by his strength, but the strong is the one who controls himself in a moment of anger."
I conclude with a very well written editorial in the New York Times today which analyzes the situation very clearly and effectively:
[technorati tags: pope, catholic, vatican, Islam, Islam, Muhammad]
There is more than enough religious anger in the world. So it is particularly disturbing that Pope Benedict XVI has insulted Muslims, quoting a 14th-century description of Islam as “evil and inhuman.”
In the most provocative part of a speech this week on “faith and reason,” the pontiff recounted a conversation between an “erudite” Byzantine Christian emperor and a “learned” Muslim Persian circa 1391. The pope quoted the emperor saying, “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.”
Muslim leaders the world over have demanded apologies and threatened to recall their ambassadors from the Vatican, warning that the pope’s words dangerously reinforce a false and biased view of Islam. For many Muslims, holy war — jihad — is a spiritual struggle, and not a call to violence. And they denounce its perversion by extremists, who use jihad to justify murder and terrorism.
The Vatican issued a statement saying that Benedict meant no offense and in fact desired dialogue. But this is not the first time the pope has fomented discord between Christians and Muslims.
In 2004 when he was still the Vatican’s top theologian, he spoke out against Turkey’s joining the European Union, because Turkey, as a Muslim country was “in permanent contrast to Europe.”
A doctrinal conservative, his greatest fear appears to be the loss of a uniform Catholic identity, not exactly the best jumping-off point for tolerance or interfaith dialogue.
The world listens carefully to the words of any pope. And it is tragic and dangerous when one sows pain, either deliberately or carelessly. He needs to offer a deep and persuasive apology, demonstrating that words can also heal.