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Religious rifts

Pope Benedict XVI set off a firestorm of controversy last week when he gave a speech in Germany, quoting Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus as saying that many of the Prophet Mohammed’s teachings were “evil and inhuman.” D’oh! Definitely not the wisest quotation, as the pope soon learned. His likeness was burnt in effigy in ...

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Pope Benedict XVI set off a firestorm of controversy last week when he gave a speech in Germany, quoting Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus as saying that many of the Prophet Mohammed’s teachings were “evil and inhuman.”

D’oh! Definitely not the wisest quotation, as the pope soon learned. His likeness was burnt in effigy in Iraq, clerics around the world called for an apology, and an al Qaeda group in Egypt called for the pope to be punished by sharia law. An Italian nun was killed in Somalia, and churches in the West Bank were firebombed.

The pope said that he was “deeply sorry” about the reaction in parts of the Muslim world, and that he didn’t mean the 14th century emperor’s remarks as his own. He’s proclaimed a deep respect for Islam. But his statements thus far may not be enough. Critics say the pope needs to give an unequivocal apology for his words, not merely say he’s sorry that people are reacting negatively.

Why did he do it? A professor from the University of Notre Dame gave an interesting analysis on the radio the other day, saying that because Benedict is an academic, and perhaps less of a people-person than John Paul II, he tends to speak too subtly and assumes his audience likes to split hairs, too. Even Sandro Magister, a columnist for the Italian magazine L’espresso, who has said that the fallout has been too extreme, admits the pope’s comments were impolitic. (Earlier this year, FP published an article about Magister, the premier vaticanisti, who always has interesting insights on the goings-on in Rome.)

So, FP interviewed Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf to get his take. Imam Feisal is a leading figure in the world of interfaith dialogue. He’s a member and leader of about a zillion different organizations, all dedicated to bridging the gap between Islam and the West. In this week’s Seven Questions, the imam weighs in on the pope’s controversial comments and suggests what the U.S. can do to understand the role of religion in the world.

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