Thursday, October 19, 2006

Open Letter to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI by Leading Muslim Scholars and Leaders

In an unprecedented move, an open letter signed by 38 leading Muslim religious scholars and leaders around the world was sent to Pope Benedict XVI on Oct. 12, 2006. The letter, which is the outcome of a joint effort, was signed by top religious authorities, Muslim leaders, Muslim scholars in the West such as Shaykh Hamza Yusuf from California, Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr of George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and Professor Tim Winter of the University of Cambridge.

All the eight schools of thought and jurisprudence in Islam are represented by the signatories, including a woman scholar. In this respect the letter is unique in the history of interfaith relations. The letter was sent, in a spirit of goodwill, to respond to some of the remarks made by the Pope during his lecture at the University of Regensburg on Sept. 12, 2006. The letter tackles the main substantive issues raised in his treatment of a debate between the medieval Emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an “educated Persian”, including reason and faith; forced conversion; “jihad” vs. “holy war”; and the relationship between Christianity and Islam.

They engage the Pope on an intellectual level concerning these crucial topics-which go well beyond the controversial quotation of the emperor-pointing out what they see as mistakes and oversimplifications in the Pope’s own remarks about Islamic belief and practice.


i am quoting the letter BECAUSE i feel this is how a 21st century inter-faith dialogue should look like, this is how intellectually we should engage to bridge the gap, to create more harmony and better understanding. You can read the full letter from here. i quote here some excerpts from the intellectually engaging letter.

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OPEN LETTER TO HIS HOLINESS POPE BENEDICT XVI

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
Do not contend with people of the Book except in the fairest way…
(The Holy Qur’an, al-Ankabut, 29:46).


Your Holiness,
With regards to your lecture at the University of Regensburg in Germany of September 12th 2006, we thought it appropriate, in the spirit of open exchange, to address your use of a debate between the Emperor Manuel II Paleologus and a “learned Persian” as the starting point for a discourse on the relationship between reason and faith. While we applaud your efforts to oppose the dominance of positivism and materialism in human life, we must point out some errors in the way you mentioned Islam as a counterpoint to the proper use of reason, as well as some mistakes in the assertions you put forward in support of your argument.
....
God’s Transcendence
You also say that “for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent,” a simplification which can be misleading. The Quran states, There is no thing like unto Him (al-Shura 42:11), but it also states, He is the Light of the heavens and the earth (al-Nur 24:35); and, We are closer to him than his jugular vein (Qaf 50:16); and, He is the First, the Last, the Inward, and the Outward (al-Hadid 57:3); and, He is with you wherever you are (al-Hadid 57:4); and, Wheresoever you turn, there is the Face of God (al-Baqarah 2:115). Also, let us recall the saying of the Prophet, which states that God says, “When I love him (the worshipper), I am the hearing by which he hears, the sight by which he sees, the hand with which he grasps, and the foot with which he walks.” (Sahih al-Bukhari no.6502, Kitab al-Riqaq)
....
The Use of Reason
The Islamic tradition is rich in its explorations of the nature of human intelligence and its relation to God’s Nature and His Will, including questions of what is self-evident and what is not. However, the dichotomy between “reason” on one hand and “faith” on the other does not exist in precisely the same form in Islamic thought. Rather, Muslims have come to terms with the power and limits of human intelligence in their own way, acknowledging a hierarchy of knowledge of which reason is a crucial part. There are two extremes which the Islamic intellectual tradition has generally managed to avoid: one is to make the analytical mind the ultimate arbiter of truth, and the other is to deny the power of human understanding to address ultimate questions.

More importantly, in their most mature and mainstream forms the intellectual explorations of Muslims through the ages have maintained a consonance between the truths of the Quranic revelation and the demands of human intelligence, without sacrificing one for the other. God says, We shall show them Our signs in the horizons and in themselves until it is clear to them that it is the truth (Fussilat 41:53). Reason itself is one among the many signs within us, which God invites us to contemplate, and to contemplate with, as a way of knowing the truth.
....
Christianity and Islam
Christianity and Islam are the largest and second largest religions in the world and in history. Christians and Muslims reportedly make up over a third and over a fifth of humanity respectively.Together they make up more than 55 % of the world’s population, making the relationship between these two religious communities the most important factor in contributing to meaningful peace around the world. As the leader of over a billion Catholics and moral example for many others around the globe, yours is arguably the single most influential voice in continuing to move this relationship forward in the direction of mutual understanding.

Upon this sincere and frank dialogue we hope to continue to build peaceful and friendly relationships based upon mutual respect, justice, and what is common in essence in our shared Abrahamic tradition, particularly ‘the two greatest commandments’ in Mark 12:29-31 (and, in varying form, in Matthew 22:37-40), that, the Lord our God is One Lord; / And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy understanding, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.

/ And the second commandment is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

Muslims thus appreciate the following words from the Second Vatican Council: The church has also a high regard for the Muslims. They worship God, who is One, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, Who has also spoken to humanity. They endeavor to submit themselves without reserve to the hidden decrees of God, just as Abraham submitted himself to God’s plan, to whose faith Muslims eagerly link their own. Although not acknowledging him as God, they venerate Jesus as a prophet; his virgin Mother they also honor, and even at times devoutly invoke. Further, they await the day of judgment and the reward of God following the resurrection of the dead. For this reason they highly esteem an upright life and worship God, especially by way of prayer, alms-deeds and fasting.
(Nostra Aetate, 28 October 1665)

And equally the words of the late Pope John Paul II, for whom manyMuslims had great regard and esteem: We Christians joyfully recognize the religious values we have in common with Islam. Today I would like to repeat what I said to young Muslims some years ago in Casablanca: “We believe in the same God, the one God, the living God, the God who created the world and brings his creatures to their perfection” (Insegnamenti,VIII/2, [1985], p.497, quoted during a general audience on May 5, 1999).
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Click here to read the the official and full English version of the text along with the complete list of signatories.

Credit: Islamica Magazine website. Islamica Magazine is a not-for-profit publication whose aim is to broaden perspectives on Islam, provide a voice for Muslims to articulate their concerns, and establish cross-cultural realtions between Muslims and their neighbors.

:: Muslims find errors in Pope's presentation of Islam : Reuters News on the letter
:: Related Link: Get your education right Mr. Pope | Debunking Pope Benedict's speech on Islam and Prophet

:: Update: A Message from His Beatitude Ignatius IV to Pope Benedict: Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and all the East | Darvish blog has some interesting comments on it as well.

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