The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and selection of the new Pope Francis via ancient traditions of conclaves and coloured smoke have brought the Catholic Church into the spotlight for less notorious reasons than usual.
Considering the Catholic Church makes up 17.4 percent (1.3 billion people) of the world’s population, and parallels drawn between the ability of the Pope to command the Faithful and the role of a worldwide Islamic Caliph, we observe curiously their PR efforts to promote religiosity and unity over their worldwide history of blood lust.
"Today amid so much darkness we need to see the light of hope and to be men and women who bring hope to others," the 266th pope said at his inaugural mass from South America. "To protect creation, to protect every man and every woman, to look upon them with tenderness and love, is to open up a horizon of hope, it is to let a shaft of light break through the heavy clouds."
It will take a lot more than papal doves and flowery words to convince the world the Catholic Church means what that say, especially when South Americans themselves were proselytized – with whatever force it took to accept the faith that they now profess. Religious persecution by the Portuguese Catholics from South America right up to Goa and beyond from 16th to the 17th century are a recent memory. Add the Crusades; selling redemption via Indulgence; forced celibacy; sex-abuse scandals; peadophilia; saint worship; Excommunication; Papal Infallibility; their Inquisitions; the Reformation, and support of Nazi Germany – the Catholic Church has done too many things in the name of God for us to concede ‘hope’ at the election of a new pope.
Any tourist to Spain today won’t help but wretch at the debasement and torture devices imposed on civilized humanity at the hands of the Catholic Church. The Spanish Inquisition began in the 1470’s when Spain's King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella wanted to do away with their political adversaries. They enlisted the aid of the Catholic Church to lend religious credibility to their depravity. Initially, the Pope rejected the request, but after the King and Queen threatened to withdraw Spain's troops from defending the Vatican and leaving Christianity undefended against the growing threat of the Muslim Ottoman Empire, the Pope issued a Papal Bull through which the Inquisition was established. This gave the King and Queen exclusive rights to run a secular witch-hunt aimed at purging the Kingdom of political enemies, and did so with the blessing and the full assistance of the Church and its priests.
If those were times we should forget and move on, Pope Benedict’s anti Islamic sentiments in 2006 haven’t helped Muslims see the Church any more favourably.
Quoting Emperor Manual II Paleologos of the Byzantine Empire he said:
"Show me just what Muhammad 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."
In recent years the Catholic Church’s only outreach has been to draw relations between the asymmetrical partnership that exists between three Abrahamic faiths – Judaism cannot accept the validity of Christianity and Islam without calling its own validity into question and schematically Judaism is to Christianity as Christianity is to Islam, and as Islam is to for example, Baha’ism.
A major infraction in such dialogue however is that Muslims have not only just come to these conclusions. The Quran sees the Torah and Injeel (Gospel) as Divine revelation and Muslims have long revered (as a tenant of their faith) their Prophets Moses, Jesus, and his mother Mary (peace be upon them). The other two religions however have serious theological problems with their “successor” in the form of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and the Holy Qur’an. Not only are they unaccepting of the natural succession of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), their denial has led them to vilify him and persecute his people.
Even insofar as human rights and leadership, as demonstrated in Spain and Turkey, to say Islam has historically been ‘way more tolerant’ of Christianity and Judaism than European Christianity has of Islam and Judaism, is an understatement. Islam and Muslim leadership have a history of encouraging the holistic thriving of these religions, their theological and academic feats.
David J Wasserstein, Professor of Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt University writes:
“Jewish cultural prosperity in the middle ages operated in large part as a function of Muslim, Arabic cultural (and to some degree political) prosperity: when Muslim Arabic culture thrived, so did that of the Jews; when Muslim Arabic culture declined, so did that of the Jews.
Islam saved Jewry. This is an unpopular, discomforting claim in the modern world. But it is a historical truth. The argument for it is double. First, in 570 CE, when the Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) was born, the Jews and Judaism were on the way to oblivion. And second, the coming of Islam saved them, providing a new context in which they not only survived, but flourished, laying foundations for subsequent Jewish cultural prosperity – also in Christendom – through the medieval period into the modern world.”
It is so easy to hate based on historical emotion. Tolerance, as a hue of love is more honed and refined, a version of sabr. As tempting as it may be to join those who witch-hunt the modern Catholic doctrine – we are reminded of the dignified and gentle Quranic approach: Do not curse the idols they set up beside Allah, lest they blaspheme and curse Allah out of ignorance. Al Qur’an [6:108]
A glaring lesson from the history of Catholicism is that the Will to Believe (in Something or Someone) never leaves the Faithful. Bad PR or not, the church and their missionary efforts thrive. This should serve as encouragement to those with Conviction – especially in an atmosphere of Islamophobia. Good deeds and a good social character never go unrewarded, despite negative media spinning.
While we will never condone oppression and injustice, from the Catholic Church or otherwise, we cannot treat Catholicism with the same want for destruction as they have treated Muslims and the Muslim world, throughout history. Instead we should thrive to pave a way, individually and collectively, to thrust Islam into the role it once served – Divine light and Divine hope amidst oppressive European darkness.
Umm Abdillah – Radio Islam Programming