In his speech of 12 September at the University of Regensburg, the Pope drew attention to the iniquity of spreading faith in God through violence. This is what he said:
[Recently I read] the edition by professor Theodore Khoury (Muenster) of part of the dialogue carried on — perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara — by the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both.
It was probably the emperor himself who set down this dialogue, during the siege of Constantinople between 1394 and 1402; and this would explain why his arguments are given in greater detail than the responses of the learned Persian. The dialogue ranges widely over the structures of faith contained in the Bible and in the Koran, and deals especially with the image of God and of man, while necessarily returning repeatedly to the relationship of the “three Laws”: the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Koran.
In this lecture I would like to discuss only one point — itself rather marginal to the dialogue itself — which, in the context of the issue of “faith and reason,” I found interesting and which can serve as the starting point for my reflections on this issue.
In the seventh conversation (“diálesis” — controversy) edited by professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the jihad (holy war). The emperor must have known that sura 2:256 reads: “There is no compulsion in religion.” It is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under [threat]. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Koran, concerning holy war.
Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the “Book” and the “infidels,” he turns to his interlocutor somewhat brusquely with the central question on the relationship between religion and violence in general, in these words: “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 emperor goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. “God is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably (“syn logo”) 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….”
I think it is a fact that Islam spread primarily through military conquest, whereas the Christian gospel spread primarily through unarmed preachers and missionaries. It is also a fact that today a man in the Christian world is in general free to convert to another faith whereas in general it is extremely dangerous for a man to convert from Islam to Christianity in a Moslem country. This is surely an evil thing to force someone to adopt an alien religion against their will. So why should the Pope apologise? Instead he should press the point and force the media to explain what he is saying rather than giving everyone the impression that he has committed some sin against God that he needs to say sorry for!