In yesterday afternoon’s post, I began a commentary on the open letter sent to Pope Benedict XVI by 38 Muslim scholars in response to his comments about Islam at the University of Regensburg in September. Today's post completes my thoughts on that topic.
In a section of the letter titled “The Use of Reason,” the scholars write that Islamic tradition “is rich in its explorations of human intelligence and its relation to God’s nature and His Will.” Their arguments about God and reason are well-argued within the Islamic context, but I believe they miss the Pope’s point: that Islamic focus on absolute submission to God and literal interpretation of the Koran leads to a lack of human reason in the actions carried out in God's name in the here-and-now. Muslims’ absolute belief in the word of God as they believe it to be written in the Koran allows for no other interpretations, no other forms of belief in God, and no tolerance for those who do not practice Islam. All reasoned philosophical writings aside, the proof is in the events we see around us: among other examples, Imams who use the words of the Koran to justify and glorify murder by suicide bombings, and the harsh and intolerant Wahabi sect of Islam in Saudi Arabia, under which it is actually punishable by death to practice any religion other than Islam. The often-quoted Koranic verse that “there is no compulsion in religion” obviously does not apply in Saudi Arabia, not to mention in many parts of Afghanistan and much of the rest of the Muslim world.
The Muslim scholars end their open letter to the Pope with an appreciation that Benedict, in his damage control attempts after the peaceful and tolerant Muslim reaction to his speech at Regensburg, “…expressed ‘total and profound respect for all Muslims.’” Would it not be a wonderful and reasonable thing if all Muslims would express an equivalent total and profound respect for all Christians, Jews, Buddhists, and practitioners of other religions? It would certainly make this sorry, violent world a better place.
But don’t hold your breath.
Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.