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From New Nation Online Edition

Editorial Page

Pope Benedict XVI also not infallible
By Mostafa Kamal Majumder
Sun, 17 Sep 2006, 10:15:00

Pope Benedict XVI has possibly brought the Papacy that he represents to the lowest ever level in the esteem of the conscious section of people, especially the Muslims, all over the world by his latest remarks about Islam and its Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

Benedict cited an obscure Medieval text that characterises some of the teachings of Islam's founder as "evil and inhuman"-comments some experts took as a signal that the Vatican was staking a more demanding stance for its dealings with the Muslim world.

Possibly there is little to be surprised by the fact that Muslim leaders from around the world demanded a personal apology from the spiritual leader of the Catholic Church.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has defended the German-born pope, saying his message had been misunderstood. "It is an invitation to dialogue between religions and the Pope has explicitly urged this dialogue, which I also endorse and see as urgently necessary," she said on Friday.

According to agency reports, the Rev. Robert Taft, a specialist in Islamic affairs at Rome's Pontifical Oriental Institute, said it was unlikely Benedict miscalculated how some Muslims would receive his speech.

"The message he is sending is very, very clear," Taft said. "Violence in the name of faith is never acceptable in any religion and that (the Pope) considers it his duty to challenge Islam and anyone else on this." The pope spoke this during his visit to his native Germany.

If one looks at the pope's observation, two things become distinctly clear. Benedict has used an obscure mediaeval Christian emperor to term the Prophet of Islam bad. That was the time of Crusades when Europe was in the words of historians in the 'Dark Age' and things temporal were subordinated to things eternal to the extent the priests even had developed the practice of selling certificates for the dead to go to heaven.

In sharp contrast the religion of Islam proclaimed a balance between earthly and heavenly lives one thousand years before the renaissance and the reformation in Europe.

The second thing is a serious lack of understanding of Islam which stands for peace, equality and tolerance. Those who resort to violence cannot necessarily be categorised as belonging to the faith of Islam. The Iraq war which is now being rejected as military adventurism based on lies was not started by people belonging to the Islamic faith.

Another related but very significant matter is the inability of Muslims to defame Jesus Christ the same way Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was treated in some western newspapers through the publication of derogatory cartoons, because they also accept Jesus as Prophet who preceded the Prophet of Islam.

Muslims, like Catholics and other Christians, believe that Virgin Mary was Jesus' mother, but assert that Jesus, like Prophet Muhammad, was a man not the son of God. While the last point reflects a difference of opinion as to whether Jesus was God or a Messiah, there is no room to blame Islam for not accepting Christianity as one of the religions that Muslims believe are based on holy books coming from Almighty Allah (GOD). It would thus not require quotes from former US President Richard M Nixon to assert that Muslims represent a superior civilisation that has the spirit of tolerating and accommodating other faiths.

If one accepts the Rev. Robert Taft's interpretation of Pope Benedict's statement as correct then, Muslim leaders from around the world who have reacted sharply have probably committed no wrong. The Pope is a human being and human beings are not infallible.

Pope Benedict XVI knows better why he has quoted from a book to use the reported words of 14th-century Christian Emperor Manuel Paleologos II, that do not convey nice messages about Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) who has a following of more than 1.5 billion Muslims around the world. The Pope has an elaborate set-up to prepare his speeches. The latest one thus cannot be called an accident or a lapse.

The Vatican on Saturday announced that the Pope was "deeply sorry" about the angry reaction to his recent remarks about Islam. This does nor mean he retracted from the statement that he made at a time when proponents of the clash of civilisations theory look crazy to ignite violence in succession.

"At this time I wish also to add that I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims," the Pope said Sunday.

Muslim leaders in the Middle East have given mixed reactions to the Pope's response. Mahmoud Ashour, the former deputy of Cairo's Al-Azhar Mosque reportedly told Al-Arabiya TV immediately after the Pope's speech that, "It is not enough. He should apologise because he insulted the beliefs of Islam. He must apologise in a frank way and say he made a mistake."

Mohammed al-Nujeimi, a professor at the Institute of Judicial and Islamic Studies in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, also criticised the Pope's statement. "The Pope does not want to apologise. He is evading apology and what he said today is a repetition of his previous statement," he told Al-Arabiya TV.

However, the leader of Egypt's largest Islamic political group, the Muslim Brotherhood, has said that "while anger over the Pope's remarks is necessary, it shouldn't last for long. While he is the head of the Catholic Church in the world, many Europeans are not following (the Church) so what he said won't influence them. Our relations with Christians should remain good, civilised and cooperative," Mohammed Mahdi Akef has been quoted as telling the news media. Mohammed Mahdi Akef's reported views probably best represent those of the Muslims from around the globe.

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