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Thanks to the Pope, Now We're Talking

By David Warren

An extraordinary thing happened a week ago. Thirty-eight Muslim scholars and chief muftis, from across the Muslim world, jointly replied to the Pope's speech at Regensburg (and more have associated their names with this document, since). It was presented to the Vatican's envoy at Amman; the full text in English is available through the Islamica magazine website, the Catholic website, Chiesa, and elsewhere. I look through the list of signatories, and they are a "who's who" of the learned leaders of a faith that has always aspired to be led by its most learned.

One of the points the Pope has made, about the difficulty of engaging in dialogue with Islam, is to know who speaks authoritatively for it -- as, for instance, the Pope can speak for Catholic Christians. The document answers that question. In effect, the signatories reply, "Here we are." Here, for Muslims as well as Christians to read, is an authoritative contemporary statement by men who DO speak for Islam. Not for "moderate Islam", whatever that could mean, but for the living religion itself. And they speak in forthright contradiction of the welter of idiotic fatwas issuing from Afghan caves, the Sunni Triangle, and the North London Central Mosque.

And the significance of what they said went beyond -- far beyond -- being a formal reply to the Pope's remarks at Regensburg. Truly with reason and restraint, they defend the honour of the Islamic faith as it has come down through 14 centuries of interpretation and experience -- that faith in its breadth, and not in the narrowness of postmodern psychopaths, trying to reconstruct the conditions of 7th-century Arabia.

The signatories renounced and condemned violence against Christians in the name of Islam. They accepted without qualification the Pope's post-Regensburg clarifications, and both accepted and applauded his call for dialogue. They unambiguously denounced and rejected all terrorist interpretations of the word "jihad"; they insisted on the priority of Surah 2:256 of the Koran ("There is no compulsion in religion"), stating explicitly that it is not obviated by later Koranic passages or Hadiths. They went so far as to aver that the declaration of Jesus in Mark 12:29-31 expresses the essence of all Abrahamic religion -- Muslim, Christian, Jewish.

That is Mark's version of the Gospel message that there are "two great commandments". The first is to love God with all thy heart and soul and mind; and the second, to love thy neighbour as thyself. (And please, secular humanists, note the order in which those commandments are always given: first God, then man.)

The signatories agree with the Pope that the dialogue between Christianity and Islam must be founded in reason. They admit, just as Christians admit, there are limitations to human reason, for what is divine goes beyond what humans can know. But what is divine is not incompatible with reason, and within the sphere of human relations, between peoples who do not confess the same faith, reason is the only sound guide.

This does not mean that violence is forsworn in all circumstances. As the Muslim signatories note, Jesus himself violently turned the moneychangers out of the Temple precincts. But reason itself determines when violence is the only appropriate defence against unreason.

Islam is thus, in the words of 38 of its most qualified living exponents, not merely "a religion of peace", but more essentially a religion of love -- of love, from and for the one God we all worship; the one true Lord we know by His works, and who is Love in all His actions. For what is done in hatred cannot be done in God's name, and will always be false religion.

Now take this in. In a moment of increasing worldwide violence and tension, Pope Benedict XVI issued a call, echoing his predecessor John-Paul II, for a real dialogue between religions at the highest level of reason. And authoritative spiritual leaders of the Islamic umma responded favourably to this, and declared, in a fine, noble, and open spirit: "Let the dialogue begin!" This is news of very great significance. It should have been the top headline in every newspaper in the world.

But our media -- West and East -- report this, when at all, as some kind of sidebar on the terror war; as if the Muslim leaders had merely accepted an "apology" from the Pope for having hurt some Muslims' feelings.

This is why we have religions. Because journalism cannot tell us what we need to know.

© Ottawa Citizen

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