Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Regensburg Lecture- the Holy See's definitive version

As I noted and linked to in my first post yesterday, on 9 October 2006, the Holy See released, via its website, the definitive version of Pope Benedict XVI's controversial Regensburg lecture. The text itself contains no changes and just a few additions. The first addition is the addition of footnotes. Footnotes were not part of the first version, which was also posted on the Vatican’s website immediately after the Holy Father delivered it, as well as released publicly through the news media. At the time of the first release, a corrected version, with footnotes, was promised. So, this definitive version has been in the works since before the hubbub began.

In footnote [3], which is given at the end of the offensive part of the quote from the emperor, about Mohammed bringing nothing new, except what is "evil and inhuman," the Holy Father writes, "In the Muslim world, this quotation has unfortunately been taken as an expression of my personal position, thus arousing understandable indignation. I hope that the reader of my text can see immediately that this sentence does not express my personal view of the Qur'an, for which I have the respect due to the holy book of a great religion. In quoting the text of the Emperor Manuel II, I intended solely to draw out the essential relationship between faith and reason. On this point I am in agreement with Manuel II, but without endorsing his polemic. The other footnote of note is [5], in reference to the emperor's observation that "Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul," the Pope writes, "It was purely for the sake of this statement that I quoted the dialogue between Manuel and his Persian interlocuter. In this statement the theme of my subsequent reflections emerges."

Apart from the addition of footnotes (the rest of which you will have to go to the Vatican link to read) the first addition to the text comes in the sentence immediately following the sentence in which the Pope quotes the Qur’an, sura 2, verse 256, which reads: "There is no compulsion in religion." The addition is made at the beginning of the very next sentence. The sentence reads as follows, with additions in emboldened italics, as all additions will be. "According to some experts." this is probably one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat." In this same paragraph the Holy Father adds words that further make clear that the words written by Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus regarding the fruits of Mohammed's revelation, in his dialogues with the learned Persian, are not his words and do not reflect his views about Islam. This sentence reads: "Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the 'Book' and the 'infidels,' he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness that we find unacceptable, on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: 'Show me just what Mohammed 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.'"

Continuing on to the next paragraph, in the second sentence we read another few words that make clear Manuel II does not speak for Joseph Ratzinger, even in matters of Christian faith: "Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. 'God,' he says, 'is not pleased by blood – and not acting reasonably ('sun logo') is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body.'" It should go without saying that the Holy Father certainly agrees that violence is incompatible with the nature of God and of the soul and that God is not "pleased by blood." My supposition is that, in this passage, the Holy Father takes issue with the dualistic idea, expressed by the emperor, that "faith is born of the soul, not of the body." Judging from the overreaction to his previous use of the quote from Manuel II regarding Islam, even making clear in the original text the views of the emperor are not his views, it seems he feels the need to distance himself from the emperor on any matter on which he quotes him.

So, on the whole, the definitive text gives a needed clarification about the origin of sura 2 (i.e., whether it was from Mohammed’s early Mecca period,when he was powerless, or from his later Medina period, when a community had formed around him), as well as pointing out more forcefully that he finds Manuel II Paleologus' statement that Mohammed brought only what is "evil and inhuman" and that Islam was spread exclusively "by the sword" unacceptably brusque and not reflective of his own views on Islam. He also distances himself from the dualism implicit in another quote of Manuel II's he uses to make his point that violence is contrary human beings rightly formed and informed by faith and reason.

It also bears pointing out, lest we give into the temptation to be smug, that Christianity has certainly had its historical moments during which attempts were made to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ by the sword, as Aref Ali Nayed, an Arab Islamic philosopher and theologian points out in a recent, very critical, response to Pope Benedict's decision to begin his Regensburg lecture by quoting Manuel II Paleologus.

A note on the first picture on this post

The painting of Mohammed on this post is from an Islamic source and is a reverent, artistic depiction of the Prophet on his prayer rug. It is Persian and dates from late medieval times, the exact date being uncertain. Depictions of Mohammad are not forbidden in the Qur'an and are matter of interpretation as the matter is addressed in the hadiths, which are the traditions relating to the words and deeds of the Prophet. Hadith collections are regarded as important tools for determining the way Muslims should live. Hadiths are accepted, but interpreted differently, by all traditional schools of Islamic jurisprudence, both Sunni and Shi'a.

Artistic depictions of the Prophet, according to the U.K.'s Times of London, "were common during the Ottoman Empire, when the taboo on portraying him was less strong, although often his face was left blank. The Boston Museum of Fine Arts has a 16th-century picture of Muhammad in a mosque, wearing long sleeves to hide his arms and hands. A 14th-century Persian miniature shows the angel Gabriel speaking to Muhammad, whose face is shown.

"Medieval Islamic pictures often echo Christian iconography. The University of California has a 14th-century Turkish painting of Muhammad in his mother’s arms, just as there are pictures of the Virgin Mary holding the infant Christ.

"The taboo is stronger in Sunni Islam than Shia and even today in Iran, which is mainly Shia, pictures of Muhammad can been bought illegally in markets.

"Even in the holiest Muslim city of Mecca, Muhammad has been depicted. Edinburgh University has a 14th-century miniature of him rededicating the black stone at Kaaba holy place in Mecca to illustrate a History of the World by Rashid al-Din."

Just as Christian Tradition is deeper and more diverse and, hence, richer than many Christians care to admit, the same is true of the richness of Islam. This does not mean anything goes, far from it! My point is that the richness of Islam provides it with internal resources by means of which Muslims can reclaim their religion from narrow-minded fanatics, who distort Islam for ideological purposes at odds with the message of the Prophet.

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