As the Islamic genocide against Christians and other “infidels” goes on and on in the Middle East, jihadists shouting “allahu akbar” (God is great) invaded a Catholic church in Normandy France during mass on July 26th. They beheaded an 85-year-old priest and seriously injured a nun. Yet while declaring that “the world is at war,” Pope Francis refused to acknowledge that this war has any religious component.
Pope Francis explained to journalists accompanying him from Rome to Poland that the war he was referring to was “a war of interests, for money, resources.” He added: “Religions don’t want war. The others want war.”
The jihadists who beheaded the priest, seriously injured a nun and terrorized worshippers did not select the church for their attack in order to steal money from the church’s donation box. They selected the church to harm Christians – just because they were Christians.
A religion can be defined in terms of a particular set of values, doctrines and practices organized around a fundamental belief in a divine power. Religious doctrines and practices move from mere words to actions by those who make them the central part of their identity.
Some religions, such as Christianity and Judaism, have evolved over time through adaptive interpretations of religious doctrine. They have tried to integrate Enlightenment values, including the power of reason, without losing the soul and basic faith that lie at their core.
The Crusades occurred largely between the 11th and 15th centuries. Christian leaders and the Christian faithful have long since moved beyond the Crusades, even if President Obama seems to think they are still relevant to what is happening today. Indeed, Pope Francis would have been more accurate if he had applied his declaration that “religions don’t want war” more specifically to the religions whose leaders and practitioners are not seeking to impose their religions by force on others. In that sense, for example, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and Yazidism are religions today that “don’t want war.”
However, prominent Islamic leaders, and millions of Muslims who follow their leadership, are still practicing their religion by means of waging offensive war against Kafirs (unbelievers). Their jihad reflects the religion of Islam at war with much of the rest of the world.
Pope Francis’s predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, delivered an important speech to scientists at the University of Regensburg five years after the 9/11 jihadist attack on our homeland . His theme was faith and reason, which he explains are compatible with each other.
Pope Benedict made some references to Islam in his speech. In particular, he described a dialogue between a Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, which was believed to have occurred around 1391, shortly before the siege of Constantinople began.
Persia, it should be noted, was conquered by Muslim Arabs about 20 years after Prophet Muhammad’s death in 632. According to Muslim historical accounts, Muhammad himself had sent a letter to the king of Persia, urging him, “Embrace Islam so that you may remain safe (in this life and the next).”
During the course of the conversations described by Pope Benedict between the Byzantine emperor and the Persian, which occurred centuries after the fall of Persia to Muslim conquest and decades before the fall of Constantinople to Muslim conquest, the emperor was reported to have said:
“Show me just what Mohammed 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. God is not pleased by blood – and not acting reasonably (σὺν λόγω) is contrary to God’s nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats… To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death…”
Pope Benedict drew an important lesson from this dialogue. “The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion,” Pope Benedict said, “is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature.” The Byzantine emperor understood this proposition as “self-evident,” Pope Benedict said. “But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality.”
Pope Benedict was criticized for appearing to disrespect the Koran, which he denied was the case. But the fact remains that unless faith and reason can be allowed to work together in harmony in the practice of a religion, such religion in the hands of fundamentalist believers in an “absolutely transcendent” God, as they alone define such God, will become an engine for war against all non-believers.
A few leaders in the Muslim world have expressed their own concerns about how Islam has been at war with the rest of the world. Addressing religious scholars and clerics at Al-Azhar on New Year’s Day, 2015, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said that the “corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the years, to the point that departing from them has become almost impossible, is antagonizing the entire world.”
Sisi called for “a more enlightened perspective” and “a religious revolution.” He said to his audience, “You, imams, are responsible before Allah. The entire world, I say it again, the entire world is waiting for your next move… because this umma is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost—and it is being lost by our own hands.”
The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) has reported that there are an “increasing number of articles in the Arab media calling to acknowledge that Islam, and the obsolete interpretations of it that are still applied today, are indeed related to the wave of global terrorism.”
However, such recognition by Muslims of an inherent problem within their own religion, which leads to violence, is scant to say the least. Too many Muslim leaders and organizations, if they are not actually justifying the violence on one pretext or another, are in denial. They would rather censor speech critical of Islam and its ideology of supremacism and jihad than deal with the underlying issues. The executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations, for example, tweeted following the slaughter in Nice: #Don’tCallTerroristsJihadists.
Pope Francis wrongly assumes that the world is at war today exclusively over matters other than religion. Yes, wars today are being fought over resources, ethnic and tribal differences and sheer power. However, we are also being confronted by a one-way offensive religious war – Islamic jihad against the rest of the world.