In a much misunderstood speech in Regensburg, Germany, Pope Benedict XVI attacked those who misuse religion to promote violence and to justify inhuman acts. Benedict noted that religious violence was contrary to the laws of God.
As written by Ian Fisher in The New York Times under the title Pope criticizes Islam’s jihad:
[Benedict] began his speech by quoting a 14th-century Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Paleologus [also written Palaiologos or Palaeologus], in a conversation with a “learned Persian” on Christianity and Islam -“and the truth of both.” “Show me just what Muhammad 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 Pope quoted the emperor”.
The Wikipedia has a more extensive explanation at Manuel II Palaiologos:
“In his controversial speech of September 12, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI quoted from a dispute around 1391 between Manuel II and a Persian scholar (Dialogue 7 of Twenty-six Dialogues with a Persian), in which the Emperor stated: “Show me just what Muhammad 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.” He then continues, saying, “God is not pleased by blood – and not acting reasonably (syn logo) is contrary to God’s nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats… To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death…””
The Pope’s citation of the over 600-year old quotation from Manuel II has brought a lot of unrest in the Muslim world, but for the wrong reasons. The Pope’s citation is seen as an insult to Islam, but then, it seems that any criticism of Islam is seen as an insult by many of its believers. Islam does not seem to have the ability, readiness or willingness to criticize and correct itself, a virtue which we find in Christianity.
In reality, in his controversial speech, the Pope is quoting Manuel II Palaiologos for the legitimate point that too many people erroneously see their religion as a justification to do evil and inhuman things which are contrary to the will of God. This applies not only to the extremist fundamentalists of Islam today but also applies historically to many of the terrible things done by Christians in the course of the development of Christianity, which were contrary to the laws of God.
Clearly the point that Benedict wanted to make is that a good religion is one which reduces violence and spreads the love of God and the love of humanity among mankind. A religion which preaches violence and inhumanity has nothing to do with the true nature of God and is outside the realm of the real God, because it is contrary to reason. In a true religion, on the other hand, faith and reason blend with one another. Goodness and not evil prevails.
When Christianity surfaced as a world religion, arising out of Judaism, it preached human virtues which included obeying the Ten Commandments and other laws of the Bible among the solemn duties of religious men and women. In addition, Christianity represented a significant step forward toward civilized monotheism and a step away from the primitive polytheistic religions of idolatry which marked man’s early development. Moreover, Christianity demanded from its believers that they live a good life and be good to their fellow humans, whether these were Christians or not.
Islam is a later religion than Christianity and also arose out of Judaism (i.e. out of the teachings of Abraham and his followers). When Manuel II Palaiologos asks in the year 1391 A.D. what Islam has positively brought to humanity beyond the teachings of Christianity, it was a serious question then and remains a serious question today.
Many Christians would agree with Manuel II that there is not much positive apparent in good works attributable to the Muslim religion. To many, Islam appears mostly to exist to propagate itself through the preaching of religious violence and inhumanity by fanatics.
Hence, many in the Western world see Islam being misused as an excuse to commit violence and to disobey the general laws of reason and of humanity. Those are the issues which Muslims should be addressing and which Pope Benedict raised.
This is not to say that Islam may not have its positive aspects for its believers, the vast majority of whom are Arabs or members of third-world countries, much in the same way that Christianity is the major religion of Western Civilization.
As compared to Christianity, Islam is also monotheistic and thus replaces the primitive religions of polytheism, just as Christianity already did before it. But this is not new to Islam and that is the point that Manuel II was making more than 600 years ago. In essence, the good aspects of Islam are the same as those of Christianity.
What troubled Manuel II, what troubles Pope Benedict XVI and what troubles the rest of the world is that not the good aspects, but rather the bad aspects of Islam are those which many of its believers seem to have selected to follow – and it is these bad aspects of Islam which are contrary to the actual will and nature of God.