Pope mends Muslim fence. What are we doing?
Pope Benedict XVI is touring the Holy Land and on Saturday dropped in at Amman’s Al-Hussein mosque, Jordan’s largest.
The Pope hit the nail on its head: it is not religion, he said, but the manipulation of religion for political ends that is instigating rifts between communities.
I told you so.This is soon going to be a truth universally acknowledged: that exploitation of religion has resulted in terror and will result in differences and conflicts.
In 2001, Pope John Paul won Muslim hearts around the world when he prayed at the Umayyed Mosque in Damascus during a televised stop.
In a symbolic gesture, Pope Benedict XVI, when he spoke on Saturday, described God with the well-known Muslim epithets of “merciful and compassionate”, adding both creeds should unite.
When religious leaders talk sense, the world sits up and takes notice. The Pope said: “The contradiction of tensions and divisions between the followers of different religious traditions, sadly, cannot be denied.
However, is it not also the case that often it is the ideological manipulation of religion, sometimes for political ends, that is the real catalyst for tension and division, and at times even violence in society?”
Pope Benedict XVI has been met with less enthusiasm, compared to the rock-star reception accorded to his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, who had made a similar, unprecedented tour in 2000.
The reason for the relatively mundane reception this time is being attributed to the pontiff’s 2006 lecture in which he quoted a medieval Christian emperor who criticised some teachings of the Prophet Mohammed as “evil and inhuman”.
In that lecture delivered before an academic audience in Germany’s Regensburg, Pope Benedict XVI had cited the words of the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus: “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.”
The Vatican has since clarified that this was not the Pope’s “personal opinion”.
Now, this trip to the Holy Land is being seen as a serious attempt to mend Christianity’s relations with the Muslim world.
The Pope’s remarks at the mosque clearly suggest that the Pope thinks Islamic radicalisation is the real reason for differences between Christians and Muslims more than any real flaw.
When radicalisation happens from either side, as in India, the results can be disturbing. It is time for Hindus and Muslims to launch a similar mutual outreach and this is possible.
Bridges must be built. Attitudes must be changed. Courses need to be corrected. Mistakes need to be condoned; some condemned. The art of living together needs to be learnt. Non-interference in each other’s religious affairs must be practised. And the delay in achieving all this must be avoided.
During several anti-terror meets organised by the Muslim organisation Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind and Islamic seminary Darul Uloom, two of which I had covered for the Hindustan Times, Hindu and Muslim clerics shared daises. These were pleasing sights but they lacked any powerful symbolic gesture. This is probably because these are never televised nationally like a papal visit. Neither are they attached unprecedented importance, though Darul Uloom’s fatwa to denounce terror, which was first reported by the HT, made headlines around the world.
Now is the time to make swift moves against radicalisation — of both Hindus and Muslims. But it is equally important not to miss the woods for the trees.
So who is a radical and what does he do?
“Fundamentalist” is not an antonym for “moderate”. The word is radical. Devout (Muslim or Hindu) is not the opposite of rational. The word is fanatic. We have often mixed these notions up.
Who is a fundamentalist? A fundamentalist is one who believes in the *fundamentals of his religion*. A Muslim fundamentalist then is one who believes in the essentials of his religion; while a Hindu believes in his. In this sense, I am a Muslim fundamentalist. What can be wrong with this?
Who is a radical? A radical is an extremist or uncompromising person. Sometimes, radical means something having to do with basics and, in this sense, even the dictionary tends to use this to mean something negative: for example, a radical flaw or error in the system.
Radicalisation would then mean *to make something more radical*. Sometimes, radical means thorough or complete: radical reforms or liberalisation. Religious men are seldom radical. In most cases, it is not the humble priest but the hair-splitting politician who is radical.
Who is a fanatic? Somebody who is too enthusiastic about what he does: a fanatic stamp collector, for example. However religious fanatics are passionate in the derogatory sense and fanaticism borders on hatred of that which is outside its domain. Fanatics are easily roused, often have hare-brained designs and are hot-blooded.
A fundamentalist will inspire his co-religionists; a radical will incite. A fundamentalist will be careful, a radical callous. A fundamentalist is so because of his faith; a radical because of his own personality.
We need to make a distinction between a fundamentalist and a radical because if we mix up the two, we will not know the chaff from the grain.
A fundamentalist will ideally be a God-fearing man, who will be devout, spiritual and pious. A radical will be a spitfire, who will be out to find faults with other religions and will see threats where there is none. He is inherently abhorrent of diversity. All religions have both specimens who need to be treated with contempt.
Religious leaders have great moral responsibilities. Unlike elected politicians, they cannot be changed. If they do not do the needful, they run the risk of harming their own religion they are meant to defend.
Israel and the Vatican, for example, have clashed in recent months over the papal decision to rescind the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying bishop Richard Williamson of Britain, and over moves to beatify Pope Pius XII.
The war-time Pope Pius XII is reviled by Israelis, who see him as not having done enough to protect the Jews of Europe from the Holocaust. Pius is hated for what Israel perceives as his passive stance during the Holocaust.
Perhaps, the Holocaust could have been blunted a bit had Pius come out strongly against it. In my opinion, we in India face a comparable situation: our religious leaders, Hindus and Muslims alike, are looking on impassively while the radicals hold the fort.