The Pope, Arabic Islam and the West
The Islamic media’s criticism of
Benedict XVI is nothing in the face of the wealth of his proposal. Dialogue
with science is essential for the Arab world, at a standstill for centuries; it
is crucial that the West does not close itself into relativistic ideologies
that despise faith.
True brotherhood between Christians and Muslims in Jordan
In particular in
The pope sincerely praised efforts being made by
the Jordanian monarchy, the king, Prince Al-Ghazi, Queen Rania, who accompanied
him to the
This is the fruit of a politics that goes beyond
tolerance of Christianity. My experience in
This allowed small gestures of hospitality and
honour towards their guest the Pope. For example, for his visit to the
“al-Hussein bin-Talal” Mosque in
The atmosphere in
Religion and science: sharpening “critical skills”
But his discourse at the
The pope stressed the education offered by a university is the key to personal development; that peace is built on knowledge and study rather than ignorance; that an integral, economic and social, political and democratic development, is born of study and knowledge.
He develops this argument saying that the aim of a university is to transmit “love for truth” and promote students “adhesion to values”, strengthening their “personal freedom”.
It’s very important that in a Muslim (and Christian) world, often theocratic, the pope, before speaking of religion, speaks of culture and science. And the aim of science is to love and discover truth. He insists that this intellectual formation “will sharpen their critical skills, dispel ignorance and prejudice, and assist in breaking the spell cast by ideologies old and new”.
“Critical skills” are important in the Arab world: without criticism faith can become fanaticism, superstition or even manipulation. The pope touched on a point that is vital for the growth of the region: the absence of the critical eye, results in people following one or other political leader, without ever questioning the need for democracy, freedom, human rights, coexistence. People religiously follow, without ever questioning the principals of their own faith; holding onto traditions for fear of drowning in freedom of conscience. This is true of all religions not just Islam. Ignorance or prejudice, for the pope, threatens peace and dialogue.
And when he speaks of the “enchantment of ideologies” he alludes to the easy way people let themselves become consumed by fanaticism and violence.
He says: “Religion, of course, like science and technology, philosophy and all expressions of our search for truth, can be corrupted. Religion is disfigured when pressed into the service of ignorance or prejudice, contempt, violence and abuse”.
Benedict XVI puts all of these realities into the same boat because everything can be disfigured – even science. For him, what is important is that religion is not abused or disfigured.
Need for an “ethical knowledge”
Speaking in the Amman Mosque he also says that secular society often claims that religion is the root cause of violence. In reality that only happens when religion is “disfigured”, but this is the risk of all wisdom. This is why, quoting the Letter to the Philippians (4, 8), the pope exhorts everyone to bear witness to “all that is true, honourable, just, pure, worthy of praise”. He advises Christians and Muslims not to fear science, but to open their minds to it, even at the risk of their own faith. This is a courageous message to give in an Arabic society that risks seeing religion as a refuge.
But he also has a message for the scientific world, which often runs the risk of transforming itself into an ideology devoid of ethics and openness to God.
This element is also present in
This is why scientific knowledge must be guided by the light of “ethical wisdom”. “Such is the wisdom that inspired the Hippocratic Oath, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Geneva Convention and other laudable international codes of conduct”.
The pope illustrates this “ethical wisdom” by pointing to the oath of written by the pagan Hippocrates in the III century B.C; then he speaks of the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights; the Geneva Convention on conflict situations, it too secular. He does not refer to religious elements. Thus he suggests that ethical wisdom can exist independent of religion. This is important for a traditionally Muslim or Christian’s society: it means dialogue at 360 degrees with everyone, even non-believers. But to non-believers he says that it is impossible to act without an ethical code, or a religious foundation, because in doing so something essential is missing from human formation.
Religion has suffocated the Arab
The function of the Catholic university is to form “qualified men and women, Christian and Muslim and of other religions”. It is not just a message for Islam. This is a call to see that religion is not disfigured; to take up the challenge of science to have a critical eye; to search for a religious and secular ethical code to create a community of different religions and non believers; I believe this an important question in our Arab world.
The values cited by the Pope are those that many are in search of today and that we Arabs experienced in the past (in the period between 1860 and 1950, with the so-called ‘Renaissance’, Nahda), or in the medieval era (IX and XI centuries): at that time we witnessed a vibrant relationship between religion and science, with reciprocal discussion and critical dialogue, and challenges. But over the course of the past half century, this dialogue has disappeared, both at a scientific and religious level.
A few years ago Arab academics analysed the situation of scientific knowledge in the Arab world and wrote catastrophic report: from primary school to university the question of the Arab world’s contribution to universal knowledge was posed, and we discovered that it was inexistent. More recently on March 13th, the Algerian journalist Anwar Malek, speaking on Al-Jazeera TV, berated Arabs for having failed to contribute in anyway to progress in this century.
We really have regressed from the scientific point of view. And in the field of religion, we are being suffocated by a religion of form, increasingly controlled from the outside, careful to appearances (to wear the veil, beard, burqua, or Niqab), to the infinite rules that the Imam’s emit in their fatwa. It has come to the point that for even the smallest aspects of private and social life fatwa’s are necessary: it is forbidden to wear lipstick; pluck one’s eyebrows; eat with a Christian; for Shiites and Sunnis to live together…..Dozens and dozens of fatwa’s to regulate how we dress, how a husband and wife make love, how we spend money….All of this is suffocating freedom and it is seen in the absence of science, democracy and freedom.
Space for faith in western society
The pope’s simple, humble and courageous
discourse, welcomes science, the critical spirit, freedom. He asks
everyone to seek that which is good noble and just. At the same time, he
proclaims the right to practice faith, urging the world of non-believers to
find ethical foundations. In my opinion this message of Benedict XVI’s is
a continuation of the
To reduce this discourse to “something that is only for the Muslims” means being short-sighted. The pope spoke to the entire world, even to the west, which is still drowning in relativism, in lack of faith and in contempt for religions. In fact, in his discourse at the al-Hussein bin-Talal mosque the pope warned against the danger of secularism: “we cannot fail to be concerned that today, with increasing insistency, some maintain that religion fails in its claim to be, by nature, a builder of unity and harmony, an expression of communion between persons and with God. Indeed some assert that religion is necessarily a cause of division in our world; and so they argue that the less attention given to religion in the public sphere the better”.
This is a clear criticism of the relativism and atheism of the west. But he also corrects the Muslims by noting that there is some truth in this secular stance: “Certainly, the contradiction of tensions and divisions between the followers of different religious traditions, sadly, cannot be denied?”. But he also clarifies that it is not religion in itself that is the problem, rather “the manipulation of religion”.
“Muslims and Christians,- he concludes - precisely because of the burden of our common history so often marked by misunderstanding, must today strive to be known and recognized as worshippers of God faithful to prayer, eager to uphold and live by the Almighty’s decrees, merciful and compassionate, consistent in bearing witness to all that is true and good, and ever mindful of the common origin and dignity of all human persons, who remain at the apex of God’s creative design for the world and for history.”.
In this the affirmation that it our right to worship God in society. Just as there is a right not to practice religion, there is also the right to practise religion.
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