Following a bit of personal reminiscence about his own university days, the pope embarked on the lecture with the following passage:
"I was reminded of all this recently, when I read the edition by Professor Theodore Khoury (Munster) of part of the dialogue carried on -- perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara -- by the erudite Byuzantiine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both....
[T]he emperor touches on the theme of the jihad (holy war). the emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: There is no compulsion in religion. It is one of the suras of the early
period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also know the instructions, devloped later and recorded in the Qur'an, concerning holy war. Without
descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", heturns to his interlocutor somewhat brusquely with the central
question on the relationship between religion and violence in general, in these words: "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." The emperor goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something
...It taxes the imagination in today's world to suppose that a reference -- by the pope! -- to the Prophet Mohammed's innovations as "evil and inhuman" would pass unnoticed. Nor is it likely that the particular quotation is accidental. Benedict is known for his meticulous ways, and also for his distinctly cooler (compared to John Paul II) approach toward Islam and interreligious dialogue. The pope is preparing for an important visit to Istanbul in November. His invocation of Manuel, an emperor whose life was defined in combat with the Ottomans who destroyed his empire a few decades later, must have been deliberate. So, too, the decision to quote the precise words of Manuel -- rather than a milder paraphrase -- is significant in a pope known for his belief that one must neither compromise with the truth, nor back down from defending the faith.
...Our view is that Benedict very likely chose his words carefully and was not averse to having them interpreted as a sign of his skepticism about Islam; his earlier actions, such as the transfer of Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald last spring, made this attitude clear enough. However, he surely did not intend for them to lead to violence or a worsening of tensions between Christians and Muslims.
The 28th of Iyar, Book Review
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