Muslims want to know more on Pope's view of Islam

  • World
  • Friday, 22 Sep 2006

By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Following a wave of protests against Pope Benedict's remarks on Islam, Muslim intellectuals in Turkey are asking what he really thinks about their faith and what long-term consequences his views will have. 

Muslim thinkers in Turkey, where the German-born Pontiff is due on a sensitive visit in late November, suspect Benedict suffers from "Orientalist" delusions about Islam and wants to move the Roman Catholic Church away from dialogue with it. 

His argument that Christianity is rational could be an indirect way of saying Islam is unreasonable and has no place in Christian-rooted Europe, they say. 

At the same time, they set clear limits on the dialogue they want, boxing it into a series of polite exchanges where the tough issues Benedict wants to discuss risk remaining taboo. 

"He should explain a lot of things," said Bekir Karliaga, philosophy professor at Istanbul's Marmara University. "His apology was not enough for the feelings of the Muslim world." 

The Pope has invited ambassadors of Muslim countries at the Vatican, and Muslim religious leaders, to a meeting on Monday at his summer palace, a senior Vatican official said on Friday. 

The meeting is part of diplomatic efforts to explain that his speech in Germany has been misunderstood, the Vatican said. 

Benedict has said his much-criticised speech in Regensburg, in which he quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor as saying Islam was evil and violent, did not reflect his own thinking. 

But quoting an emperor under siege from Muslim armies suggests Benedict thinks Islam has not changed from the days when it was a military threat to Europe, Kerim Balci said. 

"This suggests that nations don't change," said Balci, editor of the Aksiyon news weekly published by an influential movement led by Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen. 

"That would mean Christian nations don't change either ... and so the Crusader soul is still alive," he said. "That would give power to those who are against conducting a dialogue." 


Much of Benedict's speech was devoted to the argument that Christianity is rational because it is based on faith in God bolstered by the insights of ancient Greek philosophy. 

Balci said this was a Western argument that made little sense in Islam because it would discount many Muslim practices that aim to gain favour with God in the afterlife. 

Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss-born Muslim intellectual now at Oxford University in Britain, recalled Benedict has spoken out in the past against Turkey's bid to join the European Union. 

"The Pope attempted to set out a European identity that would be Christian by faith and Greek by philosophical reason," he wrote in a syndicated column this week. 

"Islam, which has apparently had no such relationship with reason, would thus be foreign to the European identity that has been built atop this heritage." 

Balci also criticised the Pope for saying the Prophet Mohammad opposed forced conversions when he was politically weak but changed his views when he took power in Mecca. "That is an Orientalist view of Islam," he said. 

Cemal Usak, another Gulen movement activist long involved in inter-religious dialogue, was concerned about recent changes he saw in the Vatican's approach to other religions. 

He noted Benedict folded the Vatican department for inter-religious dialogue into its culture ministry in February. 

"From this I understand that the Vatican doesn't see other faiths as religions, but as just another culture," he said. 

"When Pope John Paul was pope, there was no problem for Muslims," he said, referring to Benedict's predecessor and his enthusiasm for a dialogue with Islam. "Pope Benedict may not like Islam but he has to respect Muslims." 


Gunduz Aktan, a columnist for the daily Radikal, accused the Pope of wanting a dialogue "based on the argument that Islam is open to violence but closed to reason and democracy." 

Karliaga and Usak did not want dialogue between Islam and the West to deal with issues such as they saw Benedict making between Muslim theology and violence. 

"You can't discuss on a theological level," Karliaga insisted. "You must base the dialogue on the non-theological part. Religion and violence are two different things." 

Usak rejected proposals for Muslims to read the Koran in a less literal way to bring their understanding of it more in line with the modern world. 

"It's impossible and against reality to ask a Muslim to reinterpret the Koran," Usak declared. 

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