From my article on the Dalai Lama:
What is important is finding the common ground between religions and therefore cultures, identifying those common morals that can unite us all. Multiculturalism, then, is not so much about celebrating differences, but emphasising our similarities.
It is encouraging to see a high-profile example of this in an Open Letter to Pope Benedict XVI from a group of emminent Islamic scholars, in response to the speech the Pope gave at the University of Regensburg last month.
The press release from Islamica magazine, which has published the letter, states that:
All the eight schools of thought and jurisprudence in Islam are represented by the signatories, including a woman scholar … The letter tackles the main substantive issues raised in his treatment of a debate between the medieval Emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an “educated Persian”, including reason and faith; forced conversion; “jihad” vs. “holy war”; and the relationship between Christianity and Islam. They engage the Pope on an intellectual level concerning these crucial topics—which go well beyond the controversial quotation of the emperor—pointing out what they see as mistakes and oversimplifications in the Pope’s own remarks about Islamic belief and practice.
I think the main thrust of the Pope’s address was actually a defence of theology and faith, against the forces of brute science. This, he has surmised, constitutes a greater threat to Christianity than Islam. Muslims should be his ally in this defence. Reading the entire text of the Pope’s speech, I think it is clear that he did criticize Islam along the way… but it was a genuine and specific criticism, and not a bigoted attack that many observers interpreted. And to this criticism, the Islamic scholars have contributed a genuine response, highlighting his mistakes. This is how discourse between the faiths should be. If not, then we return to a mere spouting of dogma, so brilliantly satirized by “Even Stevphens” on the The Daily Show.
The scholars also condemn, without reservation, the shooting of a Catholic nun in Somalia. Andrew Sullivan is rather mealie-mouthed about this:
I presume they also condemn the bombings of mosques, rampant Muslim-on-Muslim violence in Iraq and the murderous violence of al Qaeda. But they do not use this occasion to do so.
Only, I think they do. The Islamic scholars also say (and Sullivan also quotes):
If some have disregarded a long and well-established tradition in favor of utopian dreams where the end justifies the means, they have done so of their own accord and without the sanction of God, His Prophet, or the learned tradition.
Condemning the Somalian murder is relevant, as it addresses the aftermath of the Pope’s speech, which is what they are engaged with. If they also condemn ‘means-to-an-end’ violence, then their failure to name and shame specific atrocities does not mean that they endorse them!
I am very taken by the ideas on Christianity in the political sphere, which Sullivan has been laying down on the Daily Dish, and, I understand, in his new book. He makes the distinction between the quiet faith of those who believe “while no-one else is watching”, and the political zealots who seek to impose their faith on others. The latter group he labels “Christianists”, and is at pains to distance himself from their intolerance. Often however (and the post I link to above is a good example), he does not extend the same courtesy to other faiths, instead hinting that everyone within Islam is of one mind.
Some strong words from The Lounsbury at ‘Aqoul:
[The veil debate] also serves to illustrate the disservice the Islamophobes do in their constant idiotic and ill-informed whinging on about “Shariah law” (based on some half-understood readings on Saudiyah and medieval practice) and inability to distinguish between the Islamic equivalents of country bumpkin snake-handling evangelical inbreds and your ordinary urbanite football watching mate. Their bigotted and hysterical whinging on gives a veneer of credence to the neo-Salafi Religious Offenderati Pimps spin and ostentatious pimpery of retrograde nonsense.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again – It seems to me as if everyone is on the wrong side at the moment. ‘Christianity vs Islam’ is the wrong fight, a red herring. Just as the Pope should find allies amongst Islamic scholars in his fight against Godless materialism, so the rest of us should be allying ourselves with moderates – be they Christian and Islamic – against the extremists, whose fundamentalism is a blaspheme against their God.