(24/9: This post has been updated with yet another blog response.)
The Pope has offered an apology for his original comments. The MCB did demand a further retraction by Ratzinger in person, although the Islamic Society of Britain (ISB) had said Muslims should gracefully accept the earlier explanation. Muslim organisations, politicians and parliaments around the world also asked for an apology (the Ikhwan in Egypt have accepted his apology as "sufficient"). Various Arab, Turkish, Iranian and Pakistani newspapers have also responded.
What is plainly obvious is this. Benedict XVI has made some factual mistakes in quite a dry speech (pdf) aimed at academics. Somewhat ironically the speech contains much else that many Muslims would probably agree with (for example, his views on religion, faith and secularism). But whilst talking about religion and violence, he has ignored the violence his own organisation has been involved or given its blessings to. What's more the quote about 'evil and inhuman things', taken from the Byzantine emperor Manuell II, dates back to 1391; the very year massacres of Jews took place across Catholic Spain. Something about casting stones comes to mind.
Some would point out that Ratzinger has form on fostering anti-Muslim sentiment, including his rejection of Turkish membership for the EU based on Turkey's lack of 'Europeaness'. Others, will say that his statements must be seen in light of the demonisation of Muslims, especially of those in Europe. And indeed, on this point, the Supreme Pontiff should be wary that his language does not resemble that of European bigots on the far-right, some of whom seek harm to Muslims. Shaykh Abd al-Hakim Murad, however, sees these comments on Islam in Europe by the Pope in a different light, one which is less about Muslims but more about Christianity and secular Europe. Although his piece was written before the Pope's speech, I think it is safe to say that, without any further comment from him, the sentiments Murad expresses would extend to the recent controversy involving Ratzinger. Indeed, he gives Europe's Muslims a piece of wisdom worth taking on board:
"Many Muslims have been uncomfortable with Ratzinger because of his public statements about Islam. Yet we should be wary of emotional responses; and act in our interests, which are also those of a well-integrated, tolerant and successful Europe."
I'm with the ISB, and Aisha E, on this one. We can and should rise above this. Use this an opportunity for something good. The Pope was talking about religion, reason and violence and made some comments on Islamic theology, Surat al-Baqarah and jihad, in amongst some points that Muslims would probably agree with. Where then was the response from leading Muslim intellectuals and religious authorities clarifying the ethic of jihad (and so rescuing it from the slur that some Muslim extremists and anti-Muslim bigots place on it), the place of reason in Islamic theology (whether we take a Ghazalian, Maturidian or Taymiyyan approach, or look to Ibn Rushd), and the verse mentioned by the Pope? He wants to talk reason within faith, why not give him such a discussion and take up his challenge? But no; that would be too easy and we'd rather be quick to take offence and wallow in our emotions.
Secondly, even if the Pope had no intention of slurring the Prophet (upon whom be peace), and was making only a philosophical point, as a Catholic he will never share the same sensitivities towards the Prophet (upon whom be peace) that we do. Unless the Pope had called for a wholesale extermination of Muslims (which he was far from doing), then Muslims should grow thicker skins. Some of us don't hold back on our views on Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and secular belief structures, so why then must we expect someone else to tip-toe around our beliefs? By trying to muzzle others we merely end up muzzling ourselves and make any criticism by Muslims look empty and downright hypocritical.
And if Ratzinger's point was to say there is something inherently violent about Islam, then the response by some must surely confirm his own beliefs. How does attacking churches prove that Muslims are not violent? Even worse, an Italian nun has been murdered in Somalia (it isn't clear that this murder is linked to the recent furore, but I wouldn't be surprised). I'd agree that the political climate (and a general lack of law and order) helps foster anger towards something alien and foreign, away from the tyrants who rule in some Muslim countries (since not all Muslim countries are autocracies; this is something the Middle East suffers from). Others add that these events must be seen within the context of wider political situation (e.g. the Iraq War). But Pakistan has the freest press in the Muslim world, and, in some cases, Pakistan's press is even free of the political servitude that we see in some liberal democracies (it would be hard to find outright fawning of any Pakistani leader that you see in the US, for example). In Palestine, where churches came under attack, both Christians and Muslims suffer from Israel's aggression. And the fact is some of the major churches were the loudest opponents to the invasion of Iraq. So I am not prepared to reduce other Muslims to robots who simply react without a will or desire of their own (for even a slave has a choice: to live the life of a slave or to choose death).
Thirdly, we see a skewed principle of priorities. As Aisha says where are the demands and protests that people who kill Muslim children and impoverish Muslim nations be punished? In a week when Darfur comes under the media glare again, we have some Muslims vexing themselves over something they have not read, nor will ever read (Rushdie taught us that). And what can be a bigger slur on Islam than the Kafkaesque Hudood Ordinance of Pakistan? Yet, I don't see too many of these chaps protesting against that (quite the opposite in some cases).
And now for what other bloggers think (not exclusively Muslim):
Marqas: "In a conversation today with a friend I said that I felt that if perhaps Muslims had a better sense of self-esteem, and didn't value or seek the approval of traditions which reside outside of their own, then the few words that the Pope said would have carried very little weight at all. They certainly should not have warranted the violent physical responses that we've seen."
Irfan Yusuf: "Muslims offended by the Pope's comments about Islam and history are better off addressing these arguments than condemning the Pope. If Muslims become defensive or even hint at violence, they will merely be personifying (and thus confirming) of the Pope's claims."
Austrolabe: "[S]uffice to say, Muslims should not react with anger to the Pope’s remarks. Rather, we should welcome the questions that he has raised about our faith and its relationship with reason (logos); and we should welcome the opportunity to respond to his own assertions about the relationship of Christianity with reason. Addressing these sorts of challenges is the real interfaith dialogue, not sitting around sipping tea and eating scones with people that are too polite to engage in spirited religious debate." [The Austrolabers have also put up a response by Shaykh Jaafar Sheikh Idris.]
Abu Eesa: "In fact, it's amazing [Pope Benedict XVI] hasn't said so much more and worse considering our turbulent history, and in particular between the Muslim Empire and the Byzantine Empire back in the good 'ole days [...] I was more impressed with his speech which has valuable points and interesting observations although littered with sloppy factual mistakes."
Ibrahim N. Abusharif: "I'll answer the Pope's question [as to what did the Prophet (upon whom be peace) that was original], taking cue from the Quran itself. Prophet Muhammad was not sent to innovate, but to reinstate, to confirm, and to complete the Abrahamic message, unmolested by any political or pagan religious pressure, a message that bears the whole point and mission of the religion project: No god but God; He's the Creator and everything else is created, and only God is worthy of worship, unswerving devotion, and faith."
Farangi (posting at Chapati Mystery): "We should not be surprised—and I am constantly surprised that people take offense when others actually believe the exclusive tenets of their faiths—that an academic Pope, especially one who believes the stuff he says, would challenge Islam on theological terms, and begin with a salvo that questions the basic uniqueness of the Prophet’s claims. Clue, folks: Benedict XVI doesn’t think there’s anything special about Islam. He sees Mohammed as a false Prophet. Why get all jacked up when he says so?"
Baraka: "If the Pope truly thinks that his statement was an invitation to dialogue between Christians and Muslims as some Vatican watchers would have us believe, then, as strange a gesture as that may seem to us, let's encourage the Pope to continue the inter-faith dialogues his predecessor began, and let's tell our religous and community leaders that we expect them to take part in the same."
Aqoul: "I tend to think the Pope's recent Islam-related comments [...] constituted an intentional opening salvo, or a water-testing, in Benedict's un-John Paul II-like approach to non-Catholics, including Muslims. Though Benedict and his predecessor were bascially of one mind theologically, and also in terms of internal Church governance, when it came to relations to outsiders they had quite different outlooks. John Paul II was a city boy from a time and part of Poland that wasn't quite as narrow and bigoted about, say, Jews and others, as the rest of Poland. It was a relatively secular and cosmopolitan Poland JP II knew and favored. He had friends of all stripes, including Jews, some of whom or their families died in the death camps. Benedict's origins and approach are quite different, and the swipes he took in the yawn-inducing address were taken at more than just Islam as a target."
Christianity Today: ""Honestly, the thin-skinnedness of many Muslims is getting awfully tiresome," [says] Rod Dreher at Beliefnet's Crunchy Con. "How on earth are we ever supposed to be able to have a dialogue if the non-Muslim side has to walk on eggshells to avoid offending the wounded sensibilities of Muslim leaders, who seem very eager to take gross offense at anything critical?""
Aziz Poonawalla: "The riots and tragic murders that the Pope's remarks set off are tragic, foolish, and yet more evidence of the profound vacuum that exists at the center of the muslim world's discourse. But riots and murder in the name of insult to religion are hardly limited to Islam. My aim is not to engage in tu quoque but rather to illustrate that violence in the third world is worthless as a metric. Such violence is the product of professional thugs who exploit the lack of civil order in their societies, and seek any pretext upon which to wage chaos. Their efforts are barbaric, and they are transient, and they are ultimately futile." [Also see this post.]
Tariq Nelson: "I have been watching the (sadly typical) response from many Muslims on the Pope’s remarks and it has gone from being (typically) embarassing to downright insane."
Martin De Koning (translating an interview with Professor Théodore Khoury who translated and edited the conversation quoted by Benedict XVI): "[Q:] Can you say some more to us to the context of the quotation? The emperor and the Persian scholar met outside from Konstantinopel, in a Muslim military camp. There they discussed in a heated atmosphere and very polemic the religion of the other, both sides were critical about the other [...] The Pope did not use the quotation at all, in order to say something about Islam. That was not his topic at all. He needed it as an introduction to the next step of his thinking. The crucial sentence comes somewhat later: not acting reasonably is contrary to God’s nature. This relates to the question of the divine voluntarism. That is by the way also in Islamic theology a main discussion."
Abu Aardvark: "The Islamist bandwagon over the Pope's remarks which I expected is moving much faster this time. The Danish cartoons crisis was a slow-brewing affair, really, which bubbled beneath the surface for quite a long time before reaching a tipping point, at which point everybody rushed to pile on. This time, nobody seems to be taking any chances about being left behind. It isn't just the radical voices loudly beating the drum against the Pope's remarks, like al-Quds al-Arabi (on the Arab nationalist side) or various Islamists (including Shaykh Mohammed Fadlallah and the Muslim Brotherhood, which said today that it did not consider the Pope's expression of regret adequate) or al-Jazeera (which, as predicted, is going to town with a story which has all the hallmarks of a ratings winner)."
Aisha E: "Let’s put a pin in this. If we want apologies, let’s demand them from the people responsible for the deaths of Muslim children and the impoverishment of Muslim nations. Not from old men clearly looking to pick fights that we can’t win. To quote Yousef al Khoei, "Why do we need a Christian emperor to tell us what Islam is?" We don’t. Let’s be the bigger people for a change, and live to fight another day."
Daniel Varisco: "The irony here is that Pope Benedict is appealing to reason as a necessary balance to faith by using Islam as a foil and ignoring the appalling violent history of the church he leads. All religions are spread by the sword at some point, some more than others. Throughout its long history Christianity has been coerced on people by the sword perhaps more than any other religion. Read Bartholomé de las Casas on the Christian conquistadores who enslaved and butchered hundreds of thousands of native peoples of the Americas. Read the bloody history of Europe itself, where the cross was often used to bludgeon anyone branded a heretic. There have been many violent Muslim rulers as well, so there is little point in weighing which faith has caused the least number of deaths."
Umar Lee: "A few days later, after Muslims have caused a fuss, the Pope is now apologizing [for his initial comments]. Now the initial comments were troubling to me, because they were not based in fact, I am even more angered by this false apology. There may be noting that irks me more than this phony apologized made for the sake of political correctness and this is what Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson have done in the past. If you mean something then stick by your words and I will respect you; but if you say something and then cannot take the heat I lose my respect."
DA: "[L]ately [Muslims have] had a tendency to act like superficial babies. We won't lift a finger when people are actually being tortured and murdered, but a few tasteless cartoon sure get our blood roaring! Muslim tyrants can torture, murder, oppress women, etc, but since they have a cresent moon or the shahadah on their flag, we'll go after the guys with the star on theirs instead. We'll honor hijabis who backbite and slander over non-hijabis who practice adab. Etc etc etc."
Yusuf Smith: "Reading what the Pope actually said, I can't find anything which is so defamatory as to actually cause riots, not that anything justifies riots; the words which have caused all the offence are words quoted from someone else, namely Emmanuel II Paleologus, a 14th-century Byzantine emperor. As Osama Saeed and others have pointed out, the words reflect a misconception that Islam was spread by the sword, which in terms of Islam as a set of beliefs rather than as a political system, it was not. It is worth noting that the eastern Orthodox churches, to one of which the emperor quoted belonged, have a rather less bloody record of spreading religion by the sword than does the Catholic church, whose violent exploits over the centuries in Spain, the Levant and South America are well-known. (In fact, there is a Greek proverb which goes "better the Turk's turban than the Cardinal's hat".)"
C L O S E R: "These kind of politics do not only concern the religious audience but also secular people since religious symbols and secular culture have become intertwined for example in pop culture and Hollywood films and certainly because Islam is a worldwide political topic. While the uproar and the burning of churches is therefore a means to challenge authority for one, for the other it prove for the ultimate truth: that Islam is violent. The real losers here might be those Muslims who, although they might feel offended, hate the use of violence and prefer the fellow Muslims to tackle other painful and pertitent cases such as Darfur or the Hudud laws or the Andijan massacre."
Rezwan: " What can be said about the Muslim outrage? Some burned down churches, issued a death sentence fatwa. Even the communists in India joined the protests. Morocco recalled its ambassador from the Vatican [...] The pope has apologized for his comments. But to some this apology is not enough [...] Some say that the Muslim backlash proved his point. You cannot win every fight or prove something wrong with violence."
Osama Saeed: "I have to confess that I've found it difficult to warm to the new Pope since he aired his opposition to Turkey's membership of the EU on the grounds that it was a Muslim country. The implication to Muslim communities already living in Europe is not good. The meeting with Oriana Fallaci, of "Muslims have been told to come here and breed like rats" fame also sent out all the wrong signals, to say the least."
Jim Tucker: "No one can read the papal address and conclude that Pope Benedict was slamming Islam or inciting hatred. The problem is that very few people are reading the address. And even fewer are discussing the fascinating themes that the Pope raised. Instead, they flick on their televisions or open the newspaper and read a sensationalized two-sentence excerpt of a talk than runs twelve pages of double-spaced type. The outraged need to calm down, read what was written, think, and stop allowing the media and ideologues to keep manipulating them. Then perhaps we could get around to the conversation of cultures that Pope Benedict keeps insisting that we urgently need to undertake."
Izzy Mo: "Alhmadulillah, Ramadan is right around the corner. Hopefully, the protesting Muslims will open the seerah, read about his life, and it will soften their hearts. I think everytime some famous politican or religious leader says something stupid, we should invite Muslims and non-Muslims to the mosque to talk about it. Oh wait, that would be dawah and that’s something we’re supposed to do anyway."