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An Israeli's rejoinder to Pope

Reader comment on item: Pope Benedict Criticizes Islam [in Regensburg]

Submitted by Naimat Khan (Pakistan), Sep 28, 2006 at 03:15

RIZWAN YASSIN has shared it with Dawn's readers. Please read it.

The Israeli is Mr Uri Avnery, a scholar and peace activist and once a Knesset member. In an article, Mr Avnery first corrects the verse number which the pope quoted and then says, "The treatment of other religions by Islam must be judged by a simple test: how did the Muslim rulers behave for more than a thousand years when they had the power to ‘spread the faith by the sword'?" For many centuries, he says, the Muslims ruled Greece. "Did the Greeks become Muslims? Did anyone try to Islamise them? On the contrary Christian Greeks held the highest positions in the Ottoman administration. The Bulgarians, Serbs, Romanians, Hungarians and other European nations lived at one time or another under Ottoman rule and clung to their Christian faith. Nobody compelled them to become Muslims and all of them remained devoutly Christians".

Then he points to a fact which perhaps most Pakistanis do not know. When the Crusaders invaded Palestine, the majority had remained Christian in spite of 400 years of Muslim rule. Then "in the name of gentle Jesus", he says, the Crusaders "massacred its Muslim and Jewish inhabitants".

He adds: "There is no evidence whatsoever of any attempt to impose Islam on Jews. As is well known, under Muslim rule, the Jews of Spain enjoyed a boom the like of which the Jews did not enjoy anywhere else until almost our time."

Then giving the names of some great Jewish poets and scholars, Mr Avnery says, "In Muslim Spain, Jews were ministers, poets, and scientists" and "Christian, Jewish and Muslim scholars worked together and translated ancient Greek philosophical and scientific texts. That was indeed the Golden Age. How would this have been possible had the Prophet decreed the ‘spreading of the faith by the sword'?" Then he refers to the re-conquest of Spain by Catholics and says: "The Jews and Muslims were presented with a cruel choice: to become Christians, to be massacred or to leave". Then he asks, "Where did the hundreds of thousands of Jews ... escape? Almost all of them were received with open arms in the Muslim countries. The Jews settled all over the Muslim world, from Morocco...to Iraq, from Bulgaria (then part of the Ottoman empire)… to Sudan. Nowhere were they persecuted. They knew nothing like the tortures of the Inquisition… and the terrible mass expulsions that took place in almost all Christian countries up to the Holocaust".

He asks, "Why?" and then he answers, "Because Islam expressly prohibited any persecution of ‘peoples of the book'. In Islamic society, a special place was reserved for Jews and Christians..." Then he says something touching: "Every honest Jew who knows the history of his people cannot but feel a deep sense of gratitude to Islam, which has protected the Jews for fifty generations, while the Christian world persecuted the Jews and tried many times ‘by the word' to get them to abandon their faith". The story about "spreading the faith by the sword", he says "is an evil legend, one of the myths that grew up in Europe" during the many wars with Muslims. He adds," I suspect that the German pope, too, honestly believe in these fables…"

The Muslims too ruled India for a thousand years but chose to remain a minority rather than become a majority by persecuting the Hindus. Even Delhi had a non-Muslim majority till the fall of the Mughal empire.

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