Anatomy of a Papal Snub
by Linda Keay
April 19, 2008
Pope Benedict XVI is in the U.S. with a focus on his flock, those who consider him to be the Vicar of Christ. But as newspapers across the globe are reporting, such as the International Herald Tribune, he'll also be meeting with some 150 leaders of other faiths.
There will be a mass at Yankee Stadium, a visit with the president, an address to the United Nations, a youth rally and a visit to a New York City synagogue (where Rabbi Arthur Schneier of the Park Street Synagogue says they'll speak together in German). This will be the first time ever a pope has visited a synagogue in this country. Rabbi Schneier characterized Benedict's visit to The New York Times. "Basically, the message is: ‘I am continuing the outreach to the Jews.'"
On the other hand the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) is snubbing Pope Benedict XVI, with the reason stated at MPAC's website as, "…it can be expected that the meeting will lack the necessary depth to rebuild bridges between the Muslim and Catholic communities."
Muslim anger at Benedict began in earnest with the Papal Address at the University of Regensburg in 2006. Speaking at the university where he had taught theology, the Pope's speech entitled "Faith, Reason and the University Memories and Reflections" discussed issues of rationality and violence in religion. He quoted a reference from a text (not written by Benedict) on the theme of holy war. Within that text is a quote from Byzantine Emperor Manual II Paleologus. "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."
Benedict goes on to say that what was probably an early Quranic surah (2, 256) reads, "There is no compulsion in religion." The Pope then said, "But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur'an, concerning holy war…The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul."
The Pope also angered Muslims concerning a response he gave to a reporter who asked him if Islam is a religion of peace. The Pope said, "It certainly contains elements that can favor peace, it also has other elements: We must always seek the best elements."
Are the best elements being put forward to Pope Benedict in his visit when American Muslims who will be greeting the Pope include those with Muslim Brotherhood roots and reported sympathies to Hamas and/or Hizballah, not to mention Islamic supremacy stances by Muzammil Siddiqi (Chairman, Fiqh Council of North America), Sayyid Syeed (National Director, Islamic Society of North America) and Imam Hassan Al-Qazwini (Islamic Center of America)?
During a "Live Dialogue" on IslamOnline.net on May 31, 2001, Muzammil Siddiqi said, "Once more people accept Islam, insha'allah, this will lead to the implementation of Sharia in all areas." When Siddiqi was Chairman of the Islamic Society of North America in 2000 he made this statement at an ISNA conference, "And then also you give the message of Islam in this land…It is the last religion. It is the final religion of Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala. And Allah does not accept any other religion from the humanity except this religion."
Islam's dominance in America was hardly a new theme for Siddiqi. And at a 1993 Kansas City ISNA conference, he said "Islam is the religion for all people…So it is our Islamic concern that we must be concerned for America. And we must truly, sincerely, we must say that America must be a better America because of us, because we are here…Allah has given us the best message. Allah has given us the best and the most comprehensive guidance."
At ISNA's 44th Annual Convention in 2007, ISNA National Director of Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances, Sayyid Syeed, spoke about the need for Islam in America to cure it of its ills, calling the Prohibition movement "a wonderful movement in America." He said, "In 1919 they were instrumental in making a Constitutional amendment. And that continued – the banning of alcohol in America continued from 1919 to 1930s. So that was pro-Islamic, a law that we would have loved to see was already constitutionally implemented in America. Unfortunately, we were not here to practice it and to provide an example that this is something that America needs. Today we are here in America ready to provide the vision of Islam which will strengthen America and make it a better America."
At ISNA's 38th Annual Convention in 2001 Sayyid Syeed described a vision for the Islamization of America. "One after the other, we will be creating, we will be developing new experiments in developing Medina after Medina after Medina after Medina from coast to coast – from California to New York island – this is our business in this country – to give this country communities that will be based, founded on faith, on religion, on trust in each other – communities which will be free from drugs, communities which will be free from violence, communities which will be dedicated to remove human suffering, pain and conflict. We dedicated this whole convention to one theme – that is diversity. The idea is that Islam is the first religion that recognizes differences as given by Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala." Sayyid added, "Where is our next year convention going to be? Where? In the Capitol? In the White House? Takbir…We have developed an ISNA culture in North America."
After the Pope's Regensburg talk, Muslim leaders prepared their Open Letter to the Pope, in October of 2006 which was followed a year later by A Common Word Between Us and You. It was prepared to instruct the Pope "about the true teachings of Islam." The Common Word document attempts at interfaith "cooperation and worldwide co-ordination, but it does so on the most solid theological ground possible: the teachings of the Qu'ran and the Prophet and the commandments described by Jesus Christ in the Bible."
The Washington Times reported on April 13, "The Regensburg affair ended up producing some unexpected fruit. In October 2007, a group of 138 Muslim scholars wrote the pope, asking for a theological dialogue. A planning group met at the Vatican last month and announced a Nov. 4-6 seminar in Rome, with 24 scholars from each side taking part, to discuss common spiritual and theological principles."
Ibrahim Kalin, a professor of Islam at the College of the Holy Cross, and a participant in "A Common Word," consulted in Rome with Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran and his staff about engaging in the sort of dialogue that the text recommends. This is the closest "A Common Word" has been able to get to the Pope. Last month, Roanoke College religion professor Caner Dagli , who helped write the first draft of the Open Letter to the Pope and who also has served as an advisor to the Royal Hashemite Court of Jordan for Interfaith Affairs, told an audience at an international forum at Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at the Office of the President of Georgetown University March 13 they were disappointed by the Pope's non-responsiveness.
"Muslims were similarly disappointed by the cool response of Cardinal Tauran and others to the Common Word document. I'd like to mention a response of his to a question regarding the possibility of interfaith dialogue," Dagli said. "So he was asked about the possibility of interfaith dialogue, whether it can take place, and he says, quote, ‘With some religions – yes, but with Islam – no. Not at this time. Muslims do not accept the possibility of discussing the Quran in depth, because it is written, they say, as dictated by God. With such a strict interpretation it is difficult to discuss the content of faith.'"
Common Word participant Ibrahim Kalin called Benedict "a pope who takes his theology quite seriously, and he does this with a German attitude." And Kalin, who supposedly seeks interfaith dialogue with this Pope, added, "Some in the Muslim world think that the current pope is more European than Christian."
The endless theme of Muslim anger continues with the Pope's baptism of an Italian editor, former Muslim and critic of Islamic violence Magdi Allam. "That was something Muslim leaders were not happy about," Imam Hassan Al-Qazwini told The Washington Times. But Al-Qazwini also told the International Herald Tribune, "I believe the pope is heading toward the right direction. He is trying to build bridges with Muslims."
The frustration of American Islamists about Pope Benedict XVI and his visit is palpable. Those who are hell bent on creating Islamic supremacy in the U.S. need to recognize that their beliefs are not superior to believers of America's other religions.