Saturday 16 September 2006

A new Jihad for the streets of Islam

New opiates for religious fanatics

The people are agog like the mob let loose to lynch a criminal, as the pictures fill our screens with people burning effigies, protesting with interesting placards in the cities of India, Pakistan, Turkey, Egypt and Palestine.

There is no doubt that this would gain some global following before it quells down, if it ever does. I suspect there is some organisation somewhere that searches the world over for any mention of the words Islam, Mohammed, Muslim, Qur’an or Allah, then counts so many words forth and aft then forklifts that as staple to project a grievance.

In February 2006, during the Mohammedan Cartoon rows, I wrote a whole set of opinions, I think 8 in all about how certain adherences to a religion to the exclusion of reason and understanding allows for mobs to be mobilised to a cause that ends up portraying that religion in the worst light.

There is no doubt that those cartoons were offensive in general, but the reaction to those cartoons did little to win converts to the faith, however, it did unite established adherents in holy anger and violent rage.

Read that speech first

So, this morning, I printed out the whole seven pages of the Pope’s speech to a scientific community in a university where he was once a professor got out my highlighter and pored over the whole text to see what the fuss was all about.

On the whole, what I could read was a discourse about how it requires reason to appreciate the whole concept of religion, reason itself, requires elements of scholarship and within that, reason gains both creativity and self-communication when it includes and is concerned about religion and ethics.

At the beginning of his speech, in what should become the focal point of all intelligent and scholarly minds who have the power to address their people and followers, this where they may be failing in understanding the whole discourse, we should be “sharing responsibility for the right use of reason”.

Read the whole speech

This also means we should be questioning not just our motivations in reaction to issues but the consequences of those reactions when viewed in the clear light of day.

The quote that the Pope used in reference to Mohammed, the Qur’an and holy wars cannot be read out of context, it appears on the second page of a seven-page document.

It follows on from a point about scepticism and probably atheism within the university to a need to apply reason to the atheistic concept of how God cannot exist and yet the university had two faculties of theology.

The historical context

Then he related the story of a conversation between Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos and an educated Persian which occurred during the siege of Constantinople; this should be taken in the context of the fact that Ottoman Sultan Bayezid I had besieged the Byzantine capital such that the emperor travelled to Western Europe, twice in his lifetime, to seek help, this lead to the last great Crusade called the Battle of Nicopolis which was defeated.

It was also at a time when Islam was at an ascendancy moving West towards Europe and Catholicism was in decline – the import however was to highlight that fact that people should not be coerced into adopting a religion, much as wars in those times either Christian or Muslim sometimes included the spoils of forcibly converting the vanquished to the religion of the victors.

Jihads and Crusades – 21st Century

This then lead to the gem of the exchange itself – “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 today’s context there might be talk of Crusades and Jihads but both have to climb out of the primitive use of the sword to the expression of ideas, reasoning and communication – this is where the street demonstrations though dramatic and sensational to say the least never really convey with persuasion and understanding of grievance, rather, people are repelled by the fear of an expression that exhibits destruction, hate and abuse.

If we must raise a Jihad, let us go back to the Jihad that Muslim scholars of old, who during the Dark Ages in Europe, kept knowledge and light glowing in the development of mankind – there more to Jihad than the sword – it is time for a change of heart, the searching of the soul, where the tongue sues for peace the world over, where people reason as knowledgeable citizens of our current civilisation and a sense of community prevails over selfish ends.

In that sense, Christianity and Islam have a reasonable purpose, the betterment of mankind, in fact, it is religion based on strong reason, just as God did say in the Bible in the Book of Isaiah (Isa to the Muslims) – “Come now, let us reason together”, the Pope’s speech was an exhortation to all to be reasonable in pursuit of religion or in the community of mankind.

I am no papist and I do not see any reason why a well written discourse on religion, reason and science should attract such unwarranted opprobrium.

The reaction of many simply shows that they never read that speech past the second page and if they did, they did not grasp the context and the world is poorer for it.


Fresh criticism of Pope's remarks

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