the days when Roman Emperors threw Christians to the lions, the relations
between the emperors and the heads of the church have undergone many changes.
the Great, who became Emperor in the year 306—exactly 1700 years
ago—encouraged the practice of Christianity in the empire, which included
struggle between the Emperors and the Popes played a central role in European
history and divided the peoples. It knew ups and downs. Some Emperors dismissed
or expelled a Pope; some Popes dismissed or excommunicated an Emperor. One of
the Emperors, Henry IV, “walked to
there were times when Emperors and Popes lived in peace with each other. We are
witnessing such a period today. Between the present Pope, Benedict XVI, and the
present Emperor, George Bush II, there exists a wonderful harmony. Last week’s
speech by the Pope, which aroused a world-wide storm, went well with Bush’s
crusade against “Islamofascism,” in the context of the “Clash of
lecture at a German university, the 265th Pope described what he sees
as a huge difference between Christianity and Islam: while Christianity is based
on reason, Islam denies it. While Christians see the logic of God’s actions,
Muslims deny that there is any such logic in the actions of Allah.
Jewish atheist, I do not intend to enter the fray of this debate. It is much
beyond my humble abilities to understand the logic of the Pope. But I cannot
overlook one passage, which concerns me too, as an Israeli living near the
fault-line of this “war of civilizations.”
order to prove the lack of reason in Islam, the Pope asserts that the prophet
Muhammad ordered his followers to spread their religion by the sword. According
to the Pope, that is unreasonable, because faith is born of the soul, not of the
body. How can the sword influence the soul?
support his case, the Pope quoted—of all people—a Byzantine Emperor, who
belonged, of course, to the competing Eastern Church. At the end of the 14th
Century, the Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus told of a debate he had—or so he
said (its occurrence is in doubt)—with an unnamed Persian Muslim scholar. In
the heat of the argument, the Emperor (according to himself) flung the following
words at his adversary:
me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only
evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he
words give rise to three questions: (a) Why did the Emperor say them? (b) Are
they true? (c) Why did the present Pope quote them?
Manuel II wrote his treatise, he was the head of a dying empire. He assumed
power in 1391, when only a few provinces of the once illustrious empire
remained. These, too, were already under Turkish threat.
that point in time, the Ottoman Turks had reached the banks of the
his reign, Manuel made the rounds of the capitals of
this sense, the quote serves exactly the requirements of the present Emperor,
George Bush II. He, too, wants to unite the Christian world against the mainly
Muslim “Axis of Evil.” Moreover, the Turks are again knocking on the doors
there any truth in Manuel’s argument?
pope himself threw in a word of caution. As a serious and renowned theologian,
he could not afford to falsify written texts. Therefore, he admitted that the
Qur’ān specifically forbade the spreading of the faith by force. He
quoted the second Sūra, verse 256 (strangely fallible, for a pope, he meant
verse 257) which says: “There must be no coercion in matters of faith.”
can one ignore such an unequivocal statement? The Pope simply argues that this
commandment was laid down by the prophet when he was at the beginning of his
career, still weak and powerless, but that later on he ordered the use of the
sword in the service of the faith. Such an order does not exist in the Qur’ān.
True, Muhammad called for the use of the sword in his war against opposing
tribes—Christian, Jewish and others—in
said: “You will recognize them by their fruits.” The treatment of other
religions by Islam must be judged by a simple test: How did the Muslim rulers
behave for more than a thousand years, when they had the power to “spread the
faith by the sword”?
they just did not.
many centuries, the Muslims ruled
the Albanians did convert to Islam, and so did the Bosnians. But nobody argues
that they did this under duress. They adopted Islam in order to become favorites
of the government and enjoy the fruits.
1099, the Crusaders conquered
is no evidence whatsoever of any attempt to impose Islam on the Jews. As is well
known, under Muslim rule the Jews of Spain enjoyed a bloom the like of which the
Jews did not enjoy anywhere else until almost our time. Poets like Yehuda Halevy
wrote in Arabic, as did the great Maimonides. In Muslim Spain, Jews were
ministers, poets, scientists. In Muslim Toledo, Christian, Jewish and Muslim
scholars worked together and translated the ancient Greek philosophical and
scientific texts. That was, indeed, the Golden Age. How would this have been
possible, had the Prophet decreed the “spreading of the faith by the sword”?
happened afterwards is even more telling. When the Catholics re-conquered
Because Islam expressly prohibited any persecution of the “peoples of the
book.” In Islamic society, a special place was reserved for Jews and
Christians. They did not enjoy completely equal rights, but almost. They had to
pay a special poll-tax, but were exempted from military service—a trade-off
that was quite welcome to many Jews. It has been said that Muslim rulers frowned
upon any attempt to convert Jews to Islam even by gentle persuasion—because it
entailed the loss of taxes.
honest Jew who knows the history of his people cannot but feel a deep sense of
gratitude to Islam, which has protected the Jews for 50 generations, while the
Christian world persecuted the Jews and tried many times “by the sword” to
get them to abandon their faith.
story about “spreading the faith by the sword” is an evil legend, one of the
myths that grew up in Europe during the great wars against the Muslims—the reconquista
did he utter these words in public? And why now?
is no escape from viewing them against the background of the new Crusade of Bush
and his evangelist supporters, with his slogans of “Islamofascism” and the
“Global War on Terrorism”—when “terrorism” has become a synonym for
Muslims. For Bush’s handlers, this is a cynical attempt to justify the
domination of the world’s oil resources. Not for the first time in history, a
religious robe is spread to cover the nakedness of economic interests; not for
the first time, a robbers’ expedition becomes a Crusade.
speech of the Pope blends into this effort. Who can foretell the dire