Muslims Must Reach Out To Christians And Jews
by Imaad Malik
A comment by Pope Benedict XVI led to agitation among Muslims in the U.S. and in the Islamic world. Lecturing in Regensburg, the Pope quoted a 14th Century Byzantine Emperor, Manuel II Paleologus, who condemned the legacy of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as "evil and inhuman." However, the Pope and the Vatican then stated that the comment did not represent the Pope's view of Islam.
Some allegedly moderate Muslims in this country were anything but moderate in their response to the controversy that quickly flared up. The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) assailed the Pope's passing citation at an academic lecture before a small audience in an obscure place -- according to MPAC, the Pope had gone "terribly wrong" and intended a deliberate insult.
Muslim outrage in response to the Pope's comment also apparently led to the slaying of an Italian Catholic nun in Somalia. Two West Bank churches were set afire as Palestinian militants stirred up hatred against the Pope and the Catholic Church. The Vatican has since tried repeatedly to end the revived tensions between Muslims and the Christian communities.
Pope Benedict's "faux pas" was unfortunate if not untimely, considering that he was scheduled to visit Istanbul and meet with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomaeus I, in November. The Pope's journey to Turkey, a country that is overwhelmingly Muslim, might provoke some further anger. Nobody can say whether the prevailing climate of intolerance in the Muslim world will or will not lead to more attacks on Catholics.
Since the Iranian revolution and the collapse of Communism, the Islamic world appears increasingly hostile to Western society. Radicalized clerics purvey radical ideologies infused with anti-Western propaganda, and preach their poisonous rhetoric in numerous mosques in North America and Western Europe as well as in Muslim countries. Islamist hatred supports a climate of intolerance among people of other religions.
Here at home, Americans watch daily news broadcasts of Muslims burning the American flag with shouts of "death to America or "death to the unbelievers." Yet moderate Muslims in America and in the global community are portrayed as silent. Many do indeed turn a blind eye and deaf ear to violence by Muslims in the name of Islam.
The Catholic Church has, in recent times, reached out to Muslims. Pope Benedict's predecessor, the visionary John Paul II, was the first pontiff to kiss the Holy Qur'an in public. John Paul II visited the Umayyad mosque in Syria in 2001. When the tenure of John Paul II, began much of the world was oppressed by communism. Born in Poland, John Paul II personally witnessed the horrific effects of Soviet totalitarianism.
Pope Benedict's challenges are different from those faced by John Paul II. Benedict has inherited an immense responsibility, at a time when Christian society appears besieged by Islamic terrorism. Furthermore, too much of Western society has been undermined by moral relativism. The Catholic Church sees alienation and discord in its own ranks.
Moral relativism in the West and the excesses of materialism are seen by the Pope as threats to civilization no less menacing than the actions of terrorist groups like al-Qaida and Hezbollah. Violence by Muslims in reaction to Pope Benedict's allusive commentary reaffirms the need for greater spiritual and intellectual dynamism in Islam. No less than Christendom as addressed by the Pope, Islam needs a revival of classical philosophy.
This week Muslims began celebrating the holy month of Ramadan. Muslims will use this sacred time for fasting and reflection. During Ramadan, Muslims must consider what they must do to attain peace within the Muslim world. We must fight against extremism that is fostered in the name of our religion. It is particularly important that we hold each other accountable for the violence originating in our community.
Muslims must join with Christians and Jews to oppose the culture of moral relativism. During Ramadan we should think in a kindly and friendly way about our non-Muslim neighbors. Muslims here in North America and Europe should take time visit churches and synagogues and begin sincere dialogue with the believers who meet there to pray and meditate.
Muslims should not view Pope Benedict's words as a pretext for outrage. We Muslims should seize this opportunity for sincere dialogue with Christians and Jews and, God willing, to find common ground in facing the great moral and cultural challenges before us as religious believers living in a global society.