Having been a student of Islamic philosophy and teacher of Islam for a quarter century, I was baffled by the skewed presentation of Islam that Pope Benedict XVI offered in his speech at Regensburg, Germany, in September 2006. As a student paper, it would have failed for lack of organization.
In a decision being hailed as a major step toward female equality in the Islamic world, the grand mufti of Egypt has said that Muslim women have no obligation to prove their virginity to prospective husbands.
When someone asks me why Muslims don't denounce terrorism, I suggest that he or she Google the words “fatwa against terrorism” (80,000 hits), or name cities in the Muslim world that held major demonstrations against the 9/11 attacks (Tehran, Karachi). Most Muslims do not approve of terrorism. Their response to it is fear—fear of extremists who seem unconstrained by mainstream Islamic law, fear of a son or daughter becoming a "holy warrior," fear for the future of an entire faith community.
Trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary have voted not to hire professors or administrators who promote charismatic Christian practices, such as speaking in tongues. The board overwhelmingly adopted a statement October 17, two months after a fellow trustee noted his personal use of tongues during a sermon in the chapel of the Fort Worth, Texas, seminary.
Now that the dust has settled from l’affaire Regensburg, it’s a good time to think about what makes for genuine interfaith dialogue. One thing is clear: the reactions to Pope Benedict XVI’s address, as reported by the media, allowed little scope for dialogue. People took sides with tedious predictability.
I have been involved for 25 years in fruitful conversation with Muslims, and I have read the Qur’an and a lot of literature about Islam. But I confess that Emperor Manuel II Paleologus (Paleologus meaning Old Word) was not on my mind before Pope Benedict XVI launched his entry into the newsrooms of the world.
Mullahs in the corner of Pakistan where I live tend to be brilliant orators. They usually speak extemporaneously for an hour before Friday prayers. They can be persuasive, humorous, conciliatory, prayerful or bellicose. Frequently they break into song or weep for the sins of their tribe, and they hold their audiences spellbound, displaying a masterful use of repartee and the timing of a stand-up comic. They can move listeners from tears to laughter in the time it takes you to fold your turban.
In an unprecedented meeting with Muslim envoys on September 25, Pope Benedict XVI called for “authentic dialogue” between religions and cultures. He also said Christians and Muslims “must learn to work together” to safeguard the world “against all forms of intolerance” and “all manifestations of violence.”
The taxi drove past a mural of the American flag. There were skulls where the stars should have been and the words Death to America! scrawled across the stripes. It was the only such sign I’d seen in Iran, but at ten stories tall, it made a strong impression. Just then the taxi driver asked me, “Madam, you German?” “No,” I replied hesitantly.