An extraordinary thing happened a week ago. Thirty-eight Muslim scholars and chief muftis, from across the Muslim world, jointly replied to the Pope's speech at Regensburg (and more have associated their names with this document, since). It was presented to the Vatican's envoy at Amman...
One of the points the Pope has made, about the difficulty of engaging in dialogue with Islam, is to know who speaks authoritatively for it -- as, for instance, the Pope can speak for Catholic Christians. The document answers that question. In effect, the signatories reply, "Here we are." Here, for Muslims as well as Christians to read, is an authoritative contemporary statement by men who DO speak for Islam. Not for "moderate Islam", whatever that could mean, but for the living religion itself. And they speak in forthright contradiction of the welter of idiotic fatwas issuing from Afghan caves, the Sunni Triangle, and the North London Central Mosque...
The signatories renounced and condemned violence against Christians in the name of Islam. They accepted without qualification the Pope's post-Regensburg clarifications, and both accepted and applauded his call for dialogue. They unambiguously denounced and rejected all terrorist interpretations of the word "jihad"; they insisted on the priority of Surah 2:256 of the Koran ("There is no compulsion in religion"), stating explicitly that it is not obviated by later Koranic passages or Hadiths. They went so far as to aver that the declaration of Jesus in Mark 12:29-31 expresses the essence of all Abrahamic religion -- Muslim, Christian, Jewish.
That is Mark's version of the Gospel message that there are "two great commandments". The first is to love God with all thy heart and soul and mind; and the second, to love thy neighbour as thyself. (And please, secular humanists, note the order in which those commandments are always given: first God, then man.)
The signatories agree with the Pope that the dialogue between Christianity and Islam must be founded in reason. They admit, just as Christians admit, there are limitations to human reason, for what is divine goes beyond what humans can know. But what is divine is not incompatible with reason, and within the sphere of human relations, between peoples who do not confess the same faith, reason is the only sound guide.
It is an interesting read. A couple of points jump out at me.
The signers insist that a jihad is a sacred struggle, which may or may not be a 'holy war.' Of course the same can be said of crusades and it would have been nice for them to have acknowledged that fact.
It may be true that the Islamic conquests were political rather than religious in nature. However, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of little ways in which political control leads to religious conversion.
On that last point, one humanist has a provocative idea about how Islam spread so quickly among its conquered peoples:
As with other areas under Islamic conquest sex was used not only to satisfy the carnal appetites of the conquerors but also as some sort of population policy. Ghosh writes: "The Arabs not only imposed their ruthless rule and totalitarian creed on the countries they conquered; they also populated these countries with a prolific progeny which they procreated on native women. Every Arab worth his race 'married' scores, sometimes hundreds of these helpless women after their menfolk had all been killed. Divorce of a wedded wife had been made very easy by the 'law' of Islam. A man could go on marrying and divorcing at the rate of several women during the span of a single day and night. What was more convenient, there was no restriction on the number of concubines a man could keep. The Arab conquerors used these male privileges in full measure." Ghosh sees this as the main cause why the population of territories conquered rapidly became within decades Moslem.
Back to my main point, if something can be built on this, Pope Benedict XVI's short tenure might end up as historically significant as John Paul II's was.
UPDATE: Access is fine from a PC bang so I guess it is a problem with my computer.
ORIGINAL POST: (I would normally have posted this over at the Marmot's Hole but I cannot get access to it normally and I cannot sign in through the proxy I used to access it.)
I don't know if this has anything to do with Ban Ki-moon's bitching about a blog criticizing him, but I have had problems accessing several blogs over the past couple of days, including the Marmot's Hole.
I cannot get to through my normal link but I can get to it through a proxy, which is suspiciously similar to what happened to a lot of blogs back in 2004 when the fascists at the Ministry of Information and Communications decided to ban several blogs and other web pages.
I will check it out on another computer before drawing a final conclusion.