Pope Benedict on Islam

Yesterday the New York Times reported on a speech given by Pope Benedict XVI at the University of Regensburg.

In the second paragraph of the speech (available here, in German), Benedict quoted the Bynzantine emperor Manuel II Palaeologus, who reportedly said,
"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 the sword by the faith he preached."
Whoa! Although he made clear that he was quoting someone else, Benedict was criticised for failing to distinguish between violent and non-violent forms of Islam.

Marco Politi, the Vatican expert for the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, said that "the text reveals his deep mistrust regarding the aggressive side of Islam."

"Certainly he closes the door to an idea which was very dear to John Paul II — the idea that Christians, Jews and Muslims have the same God and have to pray together to the same God," he said.

Actually, the notion that Muslims worship the same God as Christians was affirmed by Vatican II:
The Church regards with esteem also the Muslims. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.

Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom. (Nostra Aetate 3)
I've come across a few statements by Christians who have said that Muslims do not worship the same God as them. It's a curious statement. Does believing different things -- even incorrect things -- about God mean that one cannot worship that God? Surely one should not identify the reality that is God with the set of beliefs one holds about God.

I look at it this way: if two people have a mutual friend, and one of them believes this friend is a doctor, while the other believes she is a lawyer, surely one must be mistaken (and possibly both). But we can't say that they do not have the same friend.

As for the unoriginality of Muhammed, that's a more complicated topic that I'll have to return to in the future. Needless to say, I don't share the opinion of Manuel II Palaeologus on that one.


The speech is now available in English.


Blogger Talmida said...

I've actually heard Christians say that they and Jews do not worship the same God.

There is a stripe of Christian that believes that Jesus REPLACED the God of the Old Testament, and that worship of the One God amounts to turning one's back on Jesus.

I've actually been told "Jesus told us to stop worshipping the Jewish God and to become Christians."

In my opinion, this is one of the risks of the "personal relationship with Jesus" type of religious experience. If it remains outside the bigger picture of salvation history, it has the potential to become something a bit skewed.

I would think that to Christians of this variety, the God of Islam appears even more foreign.

10:13 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Talmida's right. Although for a lot of people, those of us who are Catholic are also worshipping the wrong God.

The speech is also available in English (and other languages) on the Vatican website. I only glanced at it, and it does seem to be more intelligent and subtle than the press makes it out to be, but at the same time in the end Benedict's argument -- which contrasts the rationality that Christianity inherited from Greek philosophy and which supposedly Islam does not have (even though the West got most of its Greek philosophy first in Arabic translation) still seems somewhat insulting to Islam. Not very timely, I believe.

5:51 p.m.  
Blogger PrickliestPear said...


I've never heard anyone say anything quite that extreme, but I'm not surprised to hear that such things are believed. It didn't occur to me at the time I wrote this post (3am, when I couldn't sleep), but I was supposing that such people can be reasoned with. Such crazy ideas we get at 3am!


Thank you for the update on the speech. It was only available in German and Italian at the time I checked. I wish I had known they would put up the English version so soon after, I wouldn't have bothered translating it for myself with my rather inadequate grasp of German.

Your point about Islam and Greek philosophy is a good one. Rationality played a very important part in Islam during the Middle Ages, arguably more than in Christianity.

Benedict himself has been quite unwilling to apply reason comprehensively to matters of Catholic faith, so I don't know what he thinks Muslims are going to take from his speech.

6:23 p.m.  

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