“Argue not with the People of the Scripture unless it be in a way that is better.” [Qur’an, 29: 46]
Your Holiness, the Pope!!
We, Muslims, understand well why the West is hastening to antagonize Islam, which is ornamented by green - the symbol of environment ...
and why it is calling hastily to making Islam its next enemy immediately after it got through its struggle with communism, which was decorated by red, the symbol of blood.
The West has had a long history of struggle with Islam, first, since the start of its scientific and civilizational transcendence, which Muslims call “Foreigners’ War” while the West insists on giving it the quality of Crusade War; second, since its civilizational collapse, which was called Colonialist Wars, which aimed at dividing the inheritance of the Feeble Man into shares among them.
The West is antagonizing not only Islam, but also the environment. It has never cared about inflicting the most enormous damage to it in order to go on with its technological project pivoting on the profitable pragmatic principles unconcerned with the future of the human life on the Earth surface.
The West also has a mono view pivoting around the self and subjecting ‘the other’ if not canceling him. Such a view manifested itself in the massive destructive wars they fought, the production of weapons of mass destruction and insistence on monopolizing them and depriving all other human beings of them.
It also has a pragmatic view which gives preference to interest over values and leads to upsetting the balance that God created the whole cosmic and human existence on its basis as a result of discrepancy in interests.
Your Holiness, the Pope! We also understand that you feel worried concerning people turning away from religion in the West when they built their renaissance on rationalism and nominated Human Reason to the Throne in the place of God for their trust in its ability to render comprehensive conception of the human life which would be sufficient for having control over the whole universe. Such turning away from religion has deprived the church of its haunters to an extent that it has nearly become void, except for the very few of them who could escape the grip of atheism, which has necessitated the church to hasten to confine the turmoil of Western rationalization in its academic incubators.
What we do not understand, however, Your Holiness the Pope, is your speeding to engage yourself in the peevish campaign to antagonize Islam, which no sooner did Thatcher’s and Reagan’s declarations; Bush’s wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon, and the slanders of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib start than the rude pollution of the Qur’an (Islam’s Holy Book), media abuse of its Prophet and Messenger Muhammad and discredit of Islamic thought and compulsion to changing Islam’s terms and methodology continued.
Then came your speech in Regensburg to crown and ignite the blazing campaign!
What we also do not understand, Your Holiness, the Pope, your choice of a dubious historical text – as you yourself admit – when you indicated that it was a dialogue between the erudite Byzantine Emperor, Manuel II, Paleologus, and an educated Persian. You expected that it was the Emperor who wove the dialogue, and so you gave priority to his arguments in a broader detail than that of his interlocutor’s arguments. You are quite right in your interpretation, because the character of the interlocutor is entirely vague and represents no more than an educated Persian.
Your Holiness, the Pope! Why did you not go on investigating the text on the bases of the prerequisites of the scientific research – though you were giving your lecture in the university which undertook your growth – and thereupon you decided, first, that the Emperor must have known the Qur’anic Verse 256 of the second Chapter “No compulsion is there in religion” and that, according to the experts, this Chapter is considered one of the Chapters of the early period, when Muhammad was still weak and under threat and, second, that the Emperor should naturally have known the instruction which developed later on in the Qur’an concerning the Holy War?
The second Chapter of the Qur’an, Your Holiness, the Pope, entitled “The Cow”, is known with one consent to all scholars, Muslims and Western orientalists, to be entirely from the part of the Qur’an revealed in Medina after the Prophet’s Migration, when Muhammad and his Companions were realizing consecutive victories in response to the continuous aggressions of the polytheists who were determined to bury the newly born human Message and eradicate it while in cradle. This Chapter is not of the Meccan part of the Qur’an, which was being revealed at the beginning of the Call or at the stage of weakness! Moreover, it was – originally - of no use for this Chapter to be sent down at this stage, during which it was impossible for compulsion to be practiced by a weak party suffering from compulsion.
Your Highness, the Pope! The expert interpreters of the Holy Qur’an mention Ibn Abbas’s statement that this Verse was sent down concerning a man from the Ansar [residents of Medina], called Al-Hussein, who wanted to compel his two Christian sons to embrace Islam and they refused but to remain Christians. Subsequently, God sent down this Verse to confirm to Al-Hussein the freedom of belief and rejection of compulsion.
Your Highness, the Pope! According to the grammar of Arabic, the article initiating the Verse gives the sense of a negative statement. It is not an article of prevention. So it implies negation of compulsion in general, not prevention of it, and the whole sentence is predicative. It is not stylistic, and this means that it decides the fact that religion is a self-belief which originates in conscientious conviction settling in conscience which has nothing to do with external compulsion.
Therefore, Your Highness, the Pope, as long as the Verse has such a quality, it does not accept the abrogation or the alteration, which you imagined that the Emperor was acquainted with. This is because facts are impossible to change or cancel.
As a confirmation of the principle of the freedom of belief - which the Verse of “No compulsion is there in religion” was sent down for deciding it and adopting it immediately in the case of the two Christian sons, whom Ibn Abbas stated that they were the cause of the descent of the Verse - God sent down the Verse 99 in Chapter 10 “If your Lord willed, all who are in the earth would have believed together. Would you (O Muhammad) compel men until they are believers?” to teach His Prophet that disagreement and plurality are two of God’s traditions, which none dares to disagree to or penetrate.
Your Highness, the Pope! Although the Qur’an narrates the story of the Companions of the Trench (or the owners of the ditch of the fuel fire), the Christians of Najran who persevered patiently and preferred getting burned in the fire to turning back from their faith “They had nothing against them except that they believed in God, the Mighty, the Owner of praise” [Qur’an 85: 8], God exempted those who were too weak to bear the mischief “Except him who is forced thereto and whose heart is still content with Faith” [Qur’an 16: 106] so as to certify the impossibility of compulsion in the matter of Faith which is an interior self-conviction, and to which exterior compulsion only adds to its depth and stability. It is the fact that both the early and recent history confirms, for the Faith that the Soviet Union was careful to uproot throughout seventy years returned much stronger than it had been before as soon as that state collapsed.
Your Excellency, the Pope! Here is the Qur’an going on with asserting the freedom of Faith by identifying the task of all Messengers in the form of a question of disapproval “Are the Messengers charged with anything except plain conveyance (of the message)?” [Qur’an 16: 35]. It also asserts this mission to His concluding Messenger, Muhammad “Remind them, for you are but a reminder, you are not at all a warder over them” [Qur’an 88: 21, 22] and “Yours is but conveyance (of the Message), Ours the reckoning” [Qur’an 13: 40] repeating this statement in ten Verses with miscellaneous forms and identifying the mission of Messenger Muhammad, and each Messenger, when it says “The duty of the Messenger is only to convey (the Message). God knows what you proclaim and what you hide” [Qur’an 5:99].
As regard the question of reason and rationalism, it is a problem of the church with the philosophers of Enlightenment, which necessitated them to lay the church aside off their way in order to realize their scientific renaissance. Islam has nothing to do with such a question, for Muslims never faced a religious problem during their scientific renaissance. Rather, the religion was the fuel which nourished the flame of their civilizational prosperity. Your Highness, the Pope! It is enough for Islam that its Book, the Qur’an, was its miracle, which put an end to the age of supernatural material miracles and that its Message was the concluding one by which the heavenly revelation got to an end declaring that humanity attained full rationality in order that the human reason go on with the Prophets’ Message and lead humanity to its creator so as to take great pains to realize the aim of creation.
Your Highness, the Pope! This is a small part of the abundance of new concepts that Muhammad brought, and which was absent from the memory of the Byzantine emperor so that he did not see in his Message “save evil and inhuman things” because of the covering which was on his eyes. I lay it before you as an introduction to a constructive dialogue with Islam, which may restore humanity to its rationality on the basis of the approach that its Creator laid for it.
A Muslim will not find it difficult at all to start such a dialogue, because the religion of Islam, which he believes in, assimilates a basket combining all religions. A Muslim’s belief in it will never be correct unless he believes in all God’s Prophets, Scriptures and Messengers “Say (O Muslims): We believe in God and that which is revealed to us and that which was revealed to Abraham, and Ishmael, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the Tribes, and that which Moses and Jesus received, and that which the Prophets received from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them.” [Qur’an 2: 136]
Islam, on the other hand, neither monopolizes Paradise nor locks its gates against the faces of those who believe in God no matter to which religion or cult he/she may belong “Lo! Those who believe (in that which has been revealed to you, O Muhammad), and those who are Jews, and Christians, and Sabaeans—whoever believes in God and the Last Day and does right—surely their reward is with their Lord, and there shall no fear come upon them neither shall they grieve.” [Qur’an 2:62]
It also stretches its hand for dialogue “Say: O People of the Scripture. Come to a word that is just between you and us: that we shall worship none but God, and that we shall ascribe no partners to Him, and that none of us shall take others for lords beside God.” [Qur’an 3: 64]
Accordingly, let’s meet at a word that is just by which we put an end to ages of conflict and antagonism, and by which we could make a better tomorrow for humanity!!
Muhammad Adnan Salem 4th October 2006