09/14/2006, 00.00
INDIA

Controversy about Pope and Islam useless, open to manipulation

Nirmala Carvalho
Benedict XVI's references to Islam in a lecture he gave at the University of Regensburg have generated protests and discussions in India, home to 120 million Muslims. Catholics defend the Pope and criticise the media for publishing remarks that are taken out of context and oly fuel the controversy.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – The Pope's speech to university students in Regensburg has caused a stir in India that is "useless" and open to manipulation. In a country of some 120 million Muslims, reports in the national media about Benedict XVI's comments as alleged attacks against Islam are "tendentious".

One of the most closely followed debate on the issue took place on national television and involved Kamal Farooqui, from the Muslim Personal Board; Fr Tony Charangat, director of the Media and Communications office of the archdiocese of Bombay and editor of the influential Catholic paper The Examiner; and Khalid Rashid, a Sunni leader from Lucknow.

Mr Farooqui, who spoke first, said he was "surprised that a scholar like Pope Benedict chose to use a quotation from the most volatile and tumultuous period (8th-14th centuries) between the two communities". He was referring to remarks made by the Pope who quoted Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus who debated a learned Persian over the respective truths of Christianity and Islam. "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new," the emperor said, "and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." For Farooqui, steps must be taken to correct the Pontiff's position.

Mr Rashid took the same view and accused the Pope of not saying that Islam means peace and of being silent on Israeli attacks in Palestine and other forms of Christian terrorism.

At this point Father Charangat spoke up. He said that the Pope was talking about the meaning of jihad, and its moral justification on the part of Muslims. The "wrong understanding of the Jihad as its interpreted today," he said, "can be traced to the debate between the Byzantine emperor Manuel II and the Persian scholar." It is this that explains that today's interpretation of holy war is wrong. "Today Islamic extremists invoke the wrong understanding [of jihad] and the Holy Father was trying to reconcile the original meaning of the term jihad with how it is misunderstood today."

Father Charangat went to say that what the Pope had in mind was "verse 190 of the second sura [And fight in the Way of Allah, those who fight you, but transgress not the limits. Truly, Allah likes not the transgressors], which explains that holy war is a spiritual struggle, it is defensive violence."

More importantly, the Pope said quite clearly that "violence is incompatible with the nature of God and it doesn't stand to reason that a person of Faith would threaten a person with death—God is life."

Last but not least, Father Charangat pointed out that the "Pope was giving a lecture and was trying to help university students understand a specific issue. It was not a statement to the whole world. The media should stop portraying him as conservative, and above all they should stop quoting him out of context."

John Dayal, head of the All India Catholic Union, member of India's National Minority Council and one of the panelist, told AsiaNews that "the media took a lecture on the relationship between faith and reason and turned into sound bites worthy of B-movie starlets. They seem to be looking for a scandal at any cost. There is no clash of civilisations. Rome has a long history of dialogue with Islam. Let us not forget the late John Paul II who kissed the Qur'an."

"His successor is seriously involved [in a plan] to have all of the world's major faiths engage in a constructive dialogue that leads to peace, but it is clear that you create misunderstandings if you take sentences out of context."
As for the clarification provided by the new director of the Vatican Press Office, Dayal said he was "happy that the Vatican move to set the record straight. This is an objective lesson also for Indian priests and bishops who must fully read the text before making any comment on sensitive issues."

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