Pope's remarks invite study of Quran
RATHER than protesting Pope Benedict's reference to Emperor Manuel's remark, "Show me just what Muhammad 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 preached," Muslims must acknowledge there is enough in the Quran and Muslim history to have triggered this remark.
Here are two Quranic passages: "Do not take Jews and Christians as your friends and protectors," Chapter 5, Verse 51; and, "Fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them," Chapter 9, Verse 5.
The first was revealed around 615, when Muhammad faced enemies everywhere. The second was revealed in 631, when Muhammad discovered that the pagans of Medina had caused anarchy during his long absence on the Tabuk expedition. Apparently, Muhammad forgave all by following the guidance of Chapter 9, Verse 6: "But if any among the pagans asks you for asylum, grant it."
But the Quran also declares: "The Jews and Christians are People of the Book. You can eat and intermarry with them," Chapter 5, Verse 5. Since this was the last guidance Muhammad received shortly before his death, shouldn't this now replace the earlier violence-inciting guidance?
Here are two examples of violence in Muslim history:
In 627, anticipating enemy attack, Medina's community dug a trench around the city's three sides. Their allies, the Jewish tribe of Bani Quraiza, promised to defend the fourth. But the later reneged, leaving Medina vulnerable during the ensuing Battle of the Trench. The 10,000-strong Meccan army besieged Medina for 20 days.
With supplies dwindling, casualties rising and strong cold winds blowing away their tents, they finally returned home empty-handed. Muhammad subsequently overran Bani Quraiza forts. On the advice of the leader of a rival Jewish tribe, Muhammad beheaded 600 to 900 Jewish soldiers, confiscated their property and enslaved their women and children.
About 15 years later, when the Muslim army under Caliph Omar conquered Persia, a majority of the prevailing religion there, the Zoroastrians, accepted Islam. But some fled to India, where they have risen to become leaders of India's business community.
Here are two examples of peaceful conversion: Although the pagan Genghis Khan and his Golden Hordes conquered the Muslim heartland in 1206, within a few decades his descendants converted to Islam, the religion of the conquered people. Also, large Muslim populations exist in Southeast Asia, China and Russia where no Muslim army has ever ventured.
Thus, rather than protesting the pope's reference to a 12th-century Byzantine emperor's remarks, Muslims must explain the context and underscore peaceful verses, also.
Muslims must also speak up whenever other Muslims do questionable acts. For example, it would have been wonderful if Muslims worldwide had protested the 2001 destruction of Buddhism's historic statues in Afghanistan and against death threats made within the last year to an Afghan Muslim for converting to Christianity.
The unfortunate papal remarks could turn out to be a blessing in disguise if they motivate Muslims to read up on Muslim history and move forward proactively. We should not judge historic events by today's standards. Neither should we deny history.
Saleem Ahmed of Honolulu is the author of "Beyond Veil and Holy War: Islamic Teachings and Muslim Practices with Biblical Comparisons."