Age of Jahiliyah

A blog of wide and varied interest, including Islam, Muslims, Poetry, Art and much more.

Open Letter to Pope Benedict XVI

From Islamica Magazine

In an unprecedented move, an Open Letter signed by 38 leading Muslim religious scholars and leaders around the world will be sent to Pope Benedict XVI on Oct. 15, 2006. The letter, which is the first of its kind in several centuries, was a collaborative effort signed by such prominent figures as the Grand Muftis of Egypt, Russia, Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, Istanbul, Uzbekistan and Oman, as well as leading figures from the Shia community such as Ayatollah Muhammad Ali Taskhiri of Iran. The letter was also signed by HRH Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal, the Personal Envoy and Special Advisor to King Abdullah II of Jordan. Western scholars have signed the document, including California scholar, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf Hanson, Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr of George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and Professor Tim Winter of the University of Cambridge.

The letter is being sent, in the spirit of goodwill, to address some of the controversial remarks made by Pope Benedict XVI during his lecture at the University of Regensburg in Germany on Sept. 12, 2006. The letter tackles the main issues raised by the Pope in his discussion of a debate between the medieval Emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an ‘educated Persian’ such as compulsion in religion, reason and faith, forced conversion, the understanding of ‘Jihad’ or ‘Holy War,’ and the relationship between Christianity and Islam.

The Muslim signatories accept the Pope’s personal expression of sorrow and assurance that the controversial quote did not reflect his personal opinion. At the same time, the letter represents an attempt to engage with the Papacy on theological grounds in order to tackle wide ranging misconceptions about Islam in the Western world.

Christianity and Islam make up more than half of humankind in a rapidly interconnected world, the letter states, and it is imperative that both sides share a responsibility for peace to move the debate away from the anger of the streets toward a frank and sincere dialogue of hearts and minds that furthers mutual understanding and respect between the two religious traditions.

Full Version of 4-page Letter

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6 thoughts on “Open Letter to Pope Benedict XVI

  1. Jazzakum Allahkhair for your comments Galleb. Alhumdulililah, I was able to answer the question using help from noted scholars, may Allah bless them all.

    It is our duty as Muslims to carry on the message that our Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) brought over 1400 years ago. There is a lot of misconceptions about Islam, and inshallah we can use this blog to make dawa in our small way.

    “One more sentence, God bless you and provides you with the light and the good deeds to enlighten the ways and the thoughts of those who do not know.”

    I thank you for this beautiful prayer, and may Allah grant you the same.

    Wa Salaam

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  2. Galleb on said:

    Mshahin,

    I am really touched and very proud of Muslims like you. You have really expressed the subject from all sides. You have explained the jihad, its misunderstandings and the true meanings brilliantly.
    I am not able to add any word of the beautiful, peaceful and logically written answer (explanation) to those who claim to know, and practically and evidently they are ignorant of the true meaning of the Islam. And the true meaning of their lives.
    One more sentence, God bless you and provides you with the light and the good deeds to enlighten the ways and the thoughts of those who do not know.

    Allah ma3ak biltawfeeq wil Iman.

    Sincerely yours,

    Galleb Rabah

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  3. Thank you for your comments, Rowland. First of all, these “so-called scholars” are the biggest and most educated scholars in the Muslim world today. Unfortunately, you are not a scholar of Islam, so you must be careful about saying something is wrong in Islam, when you don’t have the credentials to state that.

    My question is: did you read the letter?

    What does seem to have happened though in your reading of the letter, is that you arrived with preconceived notions of Islam, and when you did not find the letter stating those notions, you decided it was wrong.

    I find it highly interesting for someone who is not a Muslim, to come and tell me what my beliefs truly are, and that I shouldn’t listen to scholars who not only practice Islam, but spend their lives studying Islam.

    As a Muslim, I know about Islam; I live and practice Islam everyday, so the popular meaning of the word jihad understood by Western society is often one-sided. Non-Muslims see jihad as only meaning war, when in fact it means many things.

    Unfortunately some deviant Muslims like Osama bin Laden believe jihad is only one thing.

    But as noted Islamic scholar Abdul Hakim Murad states: “A revealing example of this dysfunctional Islam is supplied by Osama bin Laden’s 1998 fatwa, where he urges Muslims to “kill the Americans and their allies, military and civilians, in any country where this is possible”. The fatwa lacks any reference to the classical methods of Islamic law, and simply takes its cue from a Quranic verse that runs “slay the idolators wherever you find them”. Classically this passage is taken to refer to Arab idol-worshippers, a category now extinct; but the Wahhabi method allows bin Laden to disregard the views of the classical schools, and impose his own meaning on the text. The sanctity of civilian life, affirmed by orthodox jurists, is not even mentioned. The fatwa stands in flagrant violation of the orthodox consensus (ijma). But from his drastically reformed perspective, his followers alone are the true believers, and the consensus may simply be disregarded.”

    Jihad has 2 meanings: the first being struggling in the way of God (and that can be any struggle and is not always related to war). Jihad can mean when you overcome your anger during a heated situation, jihad can mean forgiving someone who did you wrong, jihad can mean sacrificing for someone else.

    Jihad also means struggling when people have been oppressed. ‘Holy war’ can only be undertaken when people are being oppressed or when there is injustice. Also, Muslims can fight to defend themselves against aggression; the Qur’an states: 2:190 And fight in God’s cause against those who wage war against you, but do not commit aggression-for, verily, God does not love aggressors.

    But did you know that for a Muslim, this is not considered the greatest jihad? The greatest jihad for a Muslim, is the struggle within the inner self. It is the struggle to purify a heart of bad character traits like anger, greed, and envy.

    A famous hadith (sayings) from the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) is when they were returning back from a military expedition, the Prophet Muhammad said, ‘We have returned from the lesser jihad to the greater jihad’ The Prophet was asked, ‘O, Messenger of Allah, what is the greater jihad?’ He answered, ‘It is the jihad against one’s soul.’

    Shaykh Abdallah bin Bayyah states about jihad:

    “One of the problems that we have is that we have a misunderstanding of jihad. Our concept of jihad has to be rectified. If you look at the verses that came down about jihad, you’ll find the first one revealed, called Ayat-ul-jihad, granted permission for those who were oppressed. These were people who were being religiously persecuted. We could say in the parlance of the modern era that their freedom of religion was not being allowed and so they were given permission to defend themselves.

    The second verse that was revealed was a verse that called into question people’s lack of defense for other people that were being oppressed. It said, “What’s wrong with you that you don’t defend and struggle (fi sabil illah, fight; fi sabil illah, to defend) those who are oppressed amongst the men, women, and children, and asking Allah to give a guardian or a protector?” Finally, the verse was revealed to fight in the way of Allah against those who fight you, but do not be the aggressor. “Allah reminds us, even within these verses,” the Shaykh said. “If you look at them, you’ll find, for instance, that there is no blame on people who fight to defend themselves. But, the verses immediately following, about those who forgive and rectify, that Allah loves the people that do that, we find that that’s a good thing to do.

    Also the Prophet (s.a.w.s.), when given permission by Allah (s.w.t.) for parity in battle, was told, “Just as they oppose you, you may oppose them,” but immediately it’s followed up by saying, “but if you show patience, and if you overlook and forgive, that is better for those who do that.”…

    …The Shaykh said that jihad has a broader meaning than fighting, and it shouldn’t be limited to that meaning. Ibn Taymiyya’s definition for jihad was any good action, any action that was virtuous. That was actually his definition for jihad and it’s mentioned by the ‘ulema. When it talks about war, the Qu’ran says, specifically, “harb.” It says, “Until the war sets down all of its burdens.” That’s talking about an actual physical conflict. So the word in Arabic, when it’s
    used for the conflict of war, is qital, not jihad. Jihad has a broader meaning, and all of its full meanings should be incorporated when we say the word jihad instead of specifically meaning it to be some martial event because that’s not correct. For instance, somebody again in the meeting the other night asked the Shaykh if he thought it was a jihad
    to elect good officials. He said that yes, this would go under the category of the good actions (people that are doing good things, that are supporting the truth, that are supporting just causes).

    That’s mercy. The Prophet (s.a.w.s.) said that the Qur’an makes it clear he was only sent as a mercy to all the worlds. So people that are doing good things for others, those are people who are doing acts of mercy that encompass everybody. If you look at the Qur’an and the hadith, you will find that humanity is included in many of these hadith. For instance, the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) said the best and most beloved of you in the eyes of God are those who are most beneficial to the servants or dependents of God. The Qur’an says, “Speak beautifully to humanity,” to al-nas, which is the word for humanity.”

    Rowland, in Islam there is no compulsion in religion. This is stated directly in the Quran. If you want you can get a free copy of the Quran in various places on the Internet, and read this for yourself. In the Quran it says:

    There is no compulsion in religion, for the right way is clearly from the wrong way. Whoever therefore rejects the forces of evil and believes in God, he has taken hold of a support most unfailing, which shall never give way, for God is All Hearing and Knowing. (Quran 2:256)

    Also, did you know that many Christian communities are in existence today in Muslim countries? If it is true that Muslims forced everyone to convert at the sword, then how is it that these communities have survived and that there are still many churches in Muslim countries like Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan?

    As for the mutilation and killing of people who do not convert to Islam in Sudan, this is completely wrong, and there is no support for this anywhere in Islam. Muslims believe that if you kill one human being, then you have killed all of humanity. From Qur’an: 6:151 Say: “Come, let me convey unto you what God has [really] forbidden to you: “Do not ascribe divinity, in any way, to aught beside Him; and [do not offend against but, rather,] do good unto your parents; [146] and do not kill your children for fear of poverty – [for] it is We who shall provide sustenance for you as well as for them; [147] and do not commit any shameful deeds, be they open or secret; and do not take any human being’s life-[the life] which God has declared to be sacred -otherwise than in [the pursuit of] justice: this has He enjoined upon you so that you might use your reason; [148]

    Why is it that when a few Muslims do a heinous crime, this is labeled as Islam? There are over a billion Muslims in the world today. Most Muslims do not support killing and violence, but the only people non-Muslims listen to is these few hooligans instead of looking at the majority of Muslims who condemn such acts. Look at the majority and not the minority.

    Not every Muslim practices Islam. Not every Christian practices Christianity. Not every Jew practices Judaism. Not every atheist is like the mass murderers of the 20th century, (Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, Mao, etc., who were all atheists). Some Christians supported the killing of children when the conflict in Lebanon was occurring . Over 650,000 people are dead in Iraq, a war supported by Christians. Does this mean that this represents Christianity? Of course not. Because I know what the teachings of Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) is, a teaching of peace, forgiveness and compassion to all creation. I know that when I see some extreme view point coming from a Christian, that this Christian does not represent Christianity.

    It would be a different world if every Muslim, Christian, and Jew adhered to the true teachings of their faiths. Unforunately this is not the case.

    Indeed, ignorance does breed extremism, and there is a lot of ignorance about Islam, which breeds extreme and inaccurate ideas about Islam.

    Thank you for visiting.

    Peace.

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  4. Mikhail Rowland on said:

    Ignorance breeds extremism. These so-called scholars denied the existence of the phrase “holy war” in Islam. Anyone over the age of 12 knows the popular meaning of the word jihad. New words are added yearly to Webster’s because there is a mutual understanding of the word’s meaning.
    If you don’t believe jihad means holy war to a large segment of the Muslim population you are self delusional.
    Next these scholars went on to deny that Islam uses compulsion to convert “nonbelievers” to Islam. Again this simply isn’t true. Women and men in Sudan have been mutilated and killed for not excepting Islam and denouncing Christianity. Again, anyone who doesn’t believe that this is a widespread Islamic practice is diluting themselves.
    Have you even read the letter?

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  5. shaharazed on said:

    I agree with you Karin. That is more than likely one of the many reasons why the scholars had to come together and compose this letter. They address all of the inaccuracies in the Pope’s university address. After all, someone of the Pope’s stature cannot be ignored. When he speaks billions of people worldwide listen. That is why it couldn’t be ignored. Also, because of his stature, he definitely has to be more responsible when he speaks. Also, as one of main representatives for Christianity throughout the world, shouldn’t he be emphasizing Jesus’s, pbuh, message of love?

    As a Muslim, I am also saddened by other Muslims apparent ignorance of the teachings of Islam. A lot of this I understand is historic in nature; Muslim societies went through radical changes and alterings with colonization and modernization. The knowledge of the religion and its practice was de-emphasized (many in the Muslim world felt, and some still do, that religion was impeding the progress of the Muslims). Scholars and authorities in the religion were looked upon as being pre-modern; as a result their knowledge was no longer sought after and appreciated. Within the past 30 or 40 years there has been a steady increase of Muslims returning back to the practice of their religion, but without that connection to the knowledgeable scholars, so as a result we have a lot of defects in our understanding and knowledge of the religion. Many of the signatories are in the forefront of correcting the misconceptions of the religion, not just among non-Muslims, but Muslims also.

    Ignorance breeds extremism. Only by knowledge can we root out ignorance and by extension extremism. These scholars and others like them are very much needed in the world today. It is hoped that they along with other Muslims can help to bridge that gap between Christians and Muslims.

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  6. It is my firm conviction, Pope benedikt does not have sufficient knowledge about Islam and it’s Holy Book – the Qur’an. I can not understand that a man in his position, being the head of far over a billion Christians, does not put more weight on getting more and more knowledge of other religions … there is no way to bridge the gap any other way! It is not only a cultural gap … it is a deep religious one and a comment like the one he gave – even though it was NOT his opinion, which I really want to believe – is nothing less but pour gasolin in the already raging fire. I expect from a man like him to be more sensitive – and to have the ability to “think down the road”! We must BRIDGE the gap … and NOT widen it even further!!

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