Ihsan

Saturday, September 16, 2006

On Pompous Popes & Futile Protests

Recently an Australian Catholic Cardinal expressed the view that the Koran preaches violence. His view was based on a partial reading of an English translation of the Koran coloured by the views of an Israeli polemicist known for her extreme hatred of Muslims. When pressed, the Cardinal admitted he could not even remember which translation of the Koran he had relied upon.


How do I know this? Because I spoke to him myself. I approached him at a gathering and asked him politely about his views. I used a reasonable line of questioning, and was able to illustrate to those listening that the Cardinal’s views were based on his own ignorance combined with reliance on limited and hostile sources.

Of course, I could have taken the absurd and pointless route again being taken by Muslim crowds in some parts of the world. I could always gather a mob together and march in the streets, wasting my time and everyone else’s and achieving nothing except a sore throat and awful media coverage.

I would like to think that Muslim mobs had learnt from the PR disaster that accompanied protests against the Danish cartoons. On that occasion, corrupt and unelected Muslim leaders manipulated state-owned media and government-employed religious leaders to incite their masses into frenzies of violent futility.

As I type these lines, thousands of Muslims in the Darfur region of Sudan face certain death, whether by disease or starvation or bullets. Lebanese Muslims are struggling to rebuild their homes and their lives.

Muslims in Gaza are facing economic and social collapse. Muslims in Afghanistan face civil war as the Western-backed government struggles to defeat a Taliban militia we were led to believe was defeated years back.

Muslims in Pakistan are still suffering from the effects of the earthquake. Muslims across Asia continue to rebuild after the devastating tsunami. Muslims in Kashmir find themselves caught between fanatical militants and merciless Indian troops.

With all these difficulties facing Muslims, of what significance are a few throw-away lines from an ageing Pontiff? And why allow the sheer absurdity of his words be overshadowed by the greater absurdity of violent and hysterical response?

Muslims are beginning to behave in the same manner as European Catholics have until recently. At the height of their power, Muslims were quite happy to allow non-Muslims to criticise their faith.

Spain was home to a physician and religious scholar named Sheik Musa bin Maymoun. Sheik Musa spoke and wrote in Arabic. One of his many treatises was a work entitled (in English) “Guide to the Perplexed”. In this book, Sheik Musa sought to compare the three Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Sheik Musa’s conclusion was clear. Judaism was superior to its sister Abrahamic faiths, Islam and Christianity.

The Muslim response? Muslims who disagreed with Sheik Musa’s views did so by writing reasoned responses. Spanish Muslims still consulted Sheik Musa’s expertise in medicine. Sheik Musa himself wasn’t attacked, and copies of his book were not burnt until Catholic armies took back Muslim Spain. Burning books and effigies was too uncivilised for those polished and proud Muslims.

Sheik Musa was in fact the great Andalusian rabbi Maimonides. His critique of Islam, together with his skills as a physician, led the Kurdish general Saladin to appoint him as chief medical officer to the army that eventually conquered Jerusalem from the Frankish crusader kings. Maimonides went onto become one of Saladin’s closest and most trusted advisers.

Islam was robust and strong enough in those times to withstand criticism. Muslims were sensible and educated and civilised and confident enough to be able to accept criticism. They could debate their critics on an intellectual level without having to resort to violence or being highly strung and reactionary to even the mildest rebuke.

In an environment as free as Australia, a humble layman like myself can expose the relative ignorance of a Cardinal. I can do this using intellect and logic, far more powerful tools than behaving defensively or threatening violence.

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.

Muslims should challenge the Pope to name even one soldier or military commander who took Islam to Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country. He should be asked to show where a Muslim ruler has murdered 6 million Jews or where Muslims have conducted a Spanish-style Inquisition. He might also advise of which Japanese city Muslims dropped an atomic bomb onto.

The fact is that both Muslims and Christians have had blood on their hands at various points in their history. People have murdered, raped, terrorised, looted and burnt in the names of both Christ and Allah. We are all living in glass houses, and none of us is sinless enough to be able to cast the first stone.

It’s only to be expected that the leader of a missionary faith will criticise other missionary faiths. Just as we expect Don Brash to criticise Helen Clark or Kim Beazley to criticise John Howard or Hillary Clinton to criticise George W Bush. Thankfully, clerics tend to be more polite than politicians most of the time. But criticism (including self-critique) is part of the Abrahamic tradition.

Further, there are enough Christians (including Catholics) of goodwill who will be happy to criticise the Pontiff’s comments. Already, the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt has issued a strong response.

My advice to any Muslim genuinely perturbed by the Pope’s comments is simply this - if you can’t stand the missionary heat, you should think about getting out of Abraham’s spiritual kitchen. If you are unhappy with the reason and restraint your religious heritage insists upon, you should find yourself another religion.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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