Pope Calls for Unity to Oppose Violence – NYTimes.com
Pope Benedict XVI, in Australia for World Youth Day, called on religious leaders of all faiths Friday to find common ground and to unite against those who resort to violence to achieve their ends.
“In a world threatened by sinister and indiscriminate forms of violence, the unified voice of religious people urges nations and communities to resolve conflicts through peaceful means and with full regard for human dignity,” he said at a meeting with Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists.
“The universality of human experience, which transcends all geographical boundaries and cultural limitations, makes it possible for followers of religions to engage in dialogue so as to grapple with the mysteries of life’s joys and sufferings,” he said. “At their core, human relations cannot be defined in terms of power, domination and self-interest. Rather, they reflect and perfect man’s natural inclination to live in communion and accord with others.”
The message of reconciliation came from a pope who angered many Muslims when, in a 2006 lecture in Regensburg, Germany, he used a quotation from a 14th-century Byzantine emperor that appeared to vilify Muslims. The pope subsequently said that he did not subscribe to the views expressed in the quotation and, although the furor subsided, some strained feelings have remained.
Sheikh Mohamadu Saleem, of the Australian National Imams Council, told the pope at the meeting that, while Muslims should become more understanding of other religions, “significant segments of the Christian and the other religious communities should overcome their misconceptions and prejudices of Islam and Muslims.”
Mr. Saleem is right, but the key thing is that I think that prejudice stems more from lack of information than anything else. While it’s the onus of the media to present the world as it is, instead of sitting around waiting for ABC to run a feature story on the non-shocking truth about Islam we could be engaging people with the faith and teaching them what what Muhammad actually said, whether or not they are inclined to follow him. (I think his teachings are worthy of great respect, in any case.) That vacuum allows stereotypes and misinformation to slip in and quickly become the basis for even (or perhaps especially) the most enlightened liberal’s view on Islam. When I read Karen Armstrong’s Muhammad: Prophet for our Time (again, highly recommended), I was surprised to find out not just that there are many wrong stereotypes about Islam, but that they’re almost universally wrong and not grounded in even the most remote fact. With one billion Muslims in the world, you must look to the Koran for the common threads in a diverse practice, and the themes are overwhelmingly ones of discarding your petty arguments and tribal affiliations and surrendering yourself to God. The word islam means “surrender,” and Muhammad considered contemporary Christians and Jews to be fellow muslims, sincere in their surrender to God. Muhammad was a populist, an altruist, and a feminist, and within the context of the violent practices of tribal Arabia, he was progressive for his time on matters of war. In fact, the one war he waged was on behalf of his people, who had been driven out of their homeland; this put a massive lump in my stomach when I realized that Hamas must have a similar conviction. (Israel, of course, must have similar conviction, which is exactly why an equitable deal must be reached and the violence of neither side should be rationalized or romanticized.)
I’m positive I’m doing violence to Muhammad’s words and life as well simply by going from only one book and using my memories of it to summarize core beliefs of a vast portion of world cultures. It’s just remarkable that but one brief taste, one scratch of the surface, has given me a vastly different impression of Islam, of Muslims, and Muhammad. Knowing the similarities between Muhammad and my personal savior–a man I like to call “Jaysy C.”–really warms my heart when considering the sizable Muslim population of my school, including women I really admire. (You can now add “Muslim friends” to the list.) So, it shouldn’t be hard for a public-relations campaign, long overdue in this day and age, to show the Christian world what I’ve been shown, shine a light in the darkness and drive out the prejudice and misinformation. Our choice is whether we want to replace stereotypes with a vague feeling of “well, I’m sure they’re sincere in their religion” (a convenient and well-meaning mantra), or with the actual poetry of the Koran and the scope and depth of Islamic thought. The question is whether we’re willing to let stock footage of angry men rioting over cartoons have a monopoly on the portrayal of Islam, or if we’re willing to compete with that on the news and in the public mind. The question is whether or not we’re willing to lay the foundation, in people’s minds, of a sound and informed impression of Islam. And, lest I lay responsibility unevenly, remember that it is not your Muslim friends’ responsibility to teach you about their religion, it is your responsibility to learn, and in a globalized world it is all part of being a good citizen. We should take that one step further and, whether or not you are Christian, whether or not you are religious, venture to tell your friends what you learned about Islam, what does and does not appeal to you, and help create a more solid ground for world religious dialogue than vague mistrust and stereotypes.