Guest commentary / The Universe

POPE BENEDICT’S QUOTATION from a medieval text referring to a conversation between Emperor Manuel II Paleologus and a Persian about the subject of Christianity and Islam has stirred fury among some Muslims.

The pope quotes the emperor saying: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

This one sentence has to be placed in the context of a deep theological lecture which covered questions such as how religion must not be used for violent ends and the importance of reason in matters of faith.

The reaction of the Muslim world has been totally unwarranted. Many have become the victims of selective quoting of one sentence taken out of the context. It would be interesting to know how many of the enraged Muslim groups around the world actually read the full text. Undoubtedly it is very few, otherwise there would not have been the sometimes violent reaction witnessed.

In the multimedia world of today, it is naive to believe that any such comment made by as prominent a world leader as the pope will not be seized upon by those seeking to create division between the faiths. And that is what seems to have happened in this instance. Some among the Islamic community worldwide need to adopt a rather more mature attitude to these matters.

What the majority of Muslims and Christians preach is the creed of peace and tolerance. Islam has been under pressure over recent years as a result of a number of extremists who have claimed themselves to be Muslim and committed violent terrorist acts in the name of that religion.

Catholics have supported the peaceful Muslim majority in their bids to be allowed to pursue their religion peacefully. The over-reaction to the pope’s quotation threatens to turn this understanding and peaceful perception on its head.

Attacks on churches and on Christians around the world play to the stereotype of Islam as a violent faith and threaten to alienate the very people who have shown sympathy to peaceful Muslims around the world.

The pope has fulsomely apologized for any offence caused. That should be enough, and it is time to move on.