Papal Speech

Sep 17th, 2006, in Society, by

Pope Benedict’s speech and the muted reaction of Indonesian Muslim leaders.


Pope Benedict XVI addressed students at Regensburg University, Germany, and delivered a highly scholarly speech, called “Faith, Reason and the University – Memories and Reflections”, in which he devoted a very brief time to the discussion of Islam and violence.

The point of the speech was to show how the abandonment of reason, or logos, had led to the secularisation of western society. According to the Pope reason is not opposed to faith but instead thrives on it, even needs it.

Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI & Some Robed Men.

During the speech he quoted from a recent book by Professor Theodore Khoury, an expert on the Byzantine civilization, who has reprinted the text of a late Middle Ages dialogue between a Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Paleologus, and a Persian Muslim. In the quote Emperor Manuel II Paleologus criticises his Muslim interlocutor for Islam’s violence as exemplified by the command from Muhammad to spread the religion by war. The emperor is quoted by the Pope as saying:

violence is something unreasonable.. […it is] incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul.

The basic message is that anyone who commits violence ceases being a believer; anyone, Christian or Muslim, who goes along with violence goes against Reason and God, God being the source of reason. The Pope quoted only one verse from the Qur’an, the one that says that “There is no compulsion in religion”, and pointed out that it was written when Muhammad was in Madinah and powerless, by way of explanation. When Muhammad became powerful, later, the Pope suggests, greater emphasis was placed on war and violence as a way of cementing the new religion.

But most of the speech was devoted to an attack on secularism in the west, most Muslims would likely agree with the Pope in that area.


No Indonesian has read the speech as yet but have simply relied on media reports of it. First off the blocks was Muhammadiyah chairman Din Syamsuddin who said the Pope was misunderstood about Islam. Leaders of a religion should keep silent about the failings of other religions, he said, because failing to do so would create disharmony. Islam was not spread by the sword, he said, and jihad was only for defensive purposes. He asked that Muslims forgive the Pope and not react violently.

I hope that this case will not disturb relations between Muslims and Catholics in Indonesia because the nation already has enough problems.
(Saya berharap kasus ini tidak mengganggu hubungan antara umat Islam dan umat Katholik di Indonesia, karena hanya akan menambah masalah bangsa yang sudah menumpuk sekarang ini.)

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono also complained about the speech, saying it not wise or appropriate. He hoped the Pope would correct himself.

Majelis Ulama Indonesia (MUI) head, Ma’ruf Amin, said it would be better if Benedict were more like his predecessor, John Paul II, in that the latter was good at building bridges between religions.

Ahmad Syafii Maarif, a former chairman of Indonesia’s second largest islamic movement, the Muhammadiyah, said:

Whatever the circumstances, he as a pope should not have said things like that.


Let us be cool headed and first have a real look at what he said and the entire context of what he said, and only then can we make a comment. We have also to see what is his own opinion on the statement he quoted

Al Maschan Musa, who heads the main chapter of Indonesia’s largest Muslim
organisation, the Nahdlatul Ulama, called the Pope’s statement “regrettable”.

The Prophet’s use of the sword is for defensive purposes, when he or the religion is attacked.

Fauzan Al Anshori, spokesman for the hardline Indonesian Mujahedin Council chaired by firebrand cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, said the Pope’s comments “show a misunderstanding of Islam”. But both Musa and Anshori said they wanted to read the speech properly before saying more.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Desra Percaya said the authorities were still carefully studying the Pope’s statement before making any comment.

Muslim scholar Azyumardi Azra said:

Next time the pope should be more thoughtful when making statements.

Catholic priest Benny Susetyo believes that many Muslims have misunderstood the pope’s remarks. He doubted that those making angry comments had read the speech.

The situation in Indonesia is very sensitive because there are so many Catholics and they are generally well-regarded by Muslim leaders, seen as non-threatening because they don’t evangelise, unlike some pseudo-Protestant groups, and naturally it is likely that Muslim leaders are being deliberately cautious in order to avoid any serious unpleasantness.

33 Comments on “Papal Speech”

  1. IndraPr says:

    The Pope has sincerely apologised for the remarks he has made. I believe it’s a great effort for him to “rectify” the issue, however unfortunately the damage has been done. His remarks is creating, or even has created, more gaps between Islam and other religions, particularly Christians.

    Therefore, I don’t think his apology would help to reduce the growing fury and anger among all Muslims across the world due to his remarks. He shouldn’t have made such remarks in the first place, considering that he’s the leader of one of the greatest religions in the world. It’s simply a great mistake.

    Now, since the damage has been done, I think what Muslims can do is not to be carried out with this issue. In any case, Pope is still a human, and humans like us do make mistakes. Do not let this issue affect Muslim’s relationships with Christians, and vice versa.

    Patung, I appreciate your “calming” (albeit a bit misleading) post with regards to this issue, I just want to emphasize that what Pope has done is a great mistake and he shouldn’t have made such remarks in the first place.

  2. Riccardo says:

    THE POPE has not apologized for any part of the lecture, his staff have said he “…regrets that certain passages of his address could have sounded offensive to the sensitivities of the Muslim faithful…”

    One massive, and potentially dangerous, blunder I saw earlier today was in The Jakarta Post: “… The emperor, according to the pope, said that everything Muhammad brought was “evil and inhuman”…

    WRONG! It was not “according to the Pope”, he was reading from Khoury’s book, about the apparently historical dialogue between two people.

    Muslim reaction did kick up a notch on Sunday afternoon a few hours after that was published by JP in Jakarta, when the pro-Palestinian rally turned into a “we-hate-the-pope” demo complete with kids bearing guns.

  3. mrXgroovy says:

    Mr Indra

    Can you pls explain with what is wrong with the Pope’s statement and what is right about Muslim reaction. Do you think you might try to be logical in your reply?

  4. Fanglong says:

    I would say that the “Kill the Pope” and like slogans have quickly and violently arisen. Remember, the Pope was kinda lecturing about “faith & reason”… What do you think : is violence more on the side of faith than on the side of reason ? Can you see any kind of relationship between “killing others” & the quest of “ultimate reality” (a more modern name of God) ? I do not. What’s blinding me then ?

  5. Molisan Tono says:

    I won’t comment much, but everytime Catholics had their tongue slip, Christians got the blame, everytime Christian overreact, Catholics take the fall.

    So, please re-define between Catholics and Christians.

    Moslem only knew that Catholics and Christian is the same, church is church they say. We Christian don’t pay much attention to pope, but when he made his move, we must look out, sh*t can happen you know.

  6. Josef says:

    I would think that a good way for Muslims to prove that Islam is not based on violence would be to not do anything violent.
    Anyway, what the pope said was very true (and I am no fan of the pope).
    Killing in the name of God, no matter who or why, is wrong.End.

  7. As I have said elsewhere, Pope calls the emperor an erudite person. So, I thought Pope had the emperor’s opinion in high regard. Until his “apology”, that is.

    To most Muslims, many of Pope’s remarks about Islam in his speech are simply wrong. See for example Karen Armstrong, John L. Esposito, or Juan Cole’s take on this issue.,1874786,00.html

    Some of you may say that they are too sympathetic towards Islam. But, my point is, Indonesian Muslims would be likely to think of Pope’s remarks like what Armstrong or Esposito writes.

    Having said that, Indonesian Muslims should not resort to violance. (They do not resort to violance, I guess)

    I am pleasantly surprised to see that Patung takes a not-so-biased stand on this issue. Though he/she still carelessly writes that “No Indonesian has read the speech…” (Come on, Patung! How do you come to this conclusion?), and that he/she speculates “Muslim leaders are being deliberately cautious” (Give them credit, when the credit is due).

  8. Andrew says:

    I have not read the exact statement, but regardless, if the pope have said something sensitive that hit the hot button of others, he needs to apologize.

    We should avoid anything that widens the gap, whether or not we believe it is true – and this is true for both (or all) parties.

  9. Adi says:

    My people perish because of lack of knowledge!

  10. Molisan Tono says:

    Adi, next time you quote bible, better put your reference, so other people understand that you are not saying that on your behalf dude.

  11. Tony says:

    His speech on Sunday Mass:

    Sono vivamente rammaricato per le reaZioni suscitate da un breve passo del mio discorso all’Universita di Ratisbona, ritenuto offensivo per la sensibilita dei credenti musulmani.

    Vatican Press Release:

    “è vivamente dispiaciuto che alcuni passi del suo discorso abbiano potuto suonare come offensivi della sensibilità dei credenti musulmani.”

    “Rammaricato” and “Dispiaciuto” are the key words. They both can be basically translated into “sorry”.

    So, he is sorry, he is not apologising because there is nothing to apologise for.

  12. Molisan Tono says:

    Well noted. Let this forum understand what it’s really sorry mean for.

  13. Tony says:

    Molisan, to make it easier:
    “I am sorry for your reaction” or “I regret that I have been misunderstood” is completely different from “I am sorry for what I said”. He did not say the latter. Or am I wrong?

  14. IndraPr says:

    Tony is right, the Pope never apologised for what he said. That’s why a lot of Muslims are still not satisified with the apology. They expect the Pope will retract what he has said, which is not the case at the moment.

    If you ask my opinion, it doesn’t matter, actually. The damage has been done, the widen gap has been created. It’s simply a GREAT mistake, from a leader of one of the greatest religion in the world.

    However, retracting what he has said will at least reduce the damage and narrow the gap, a bit… let’s see whether he’ll be doing that. I doubt so, though…

  15. Pope does not apologize; he distances himself from the emperor, though.

    Still, many of his remarks about Islam are inaccurate, to say the least. He should have admitted it.

    Of course, he is free to do otherwise 🙂

    See more here:
    Time’s Jeff Israely:
    Time’s David van Biema:
    Slate’s Christopher Hitchens:
    Slate’s Anne Apeopleebaum:

  16. Riccardo says:

    Rasyad, I’m curious, I’ve been asking others this same question. Yourself, and many other Muslims keep repeating the same mantra: ‘the pope’s remarks about Islam are “simply wrong” or “inaccurate”…’

    So what exactly was wrong or innaccurate?

    surah 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.

    Then he reads what the emperor said:
    “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.”

    “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.”

    So, these are the only bits where he refers to Islam, I am curious to know what is “inaccurate” and why? Thanks.

  17. Riccardo,

    Please read the links I provided above. I think they explain it very well. (I will copy them here for your convinience). See also another van Biema’s take on this:

    (For the Q: 2, 256 quoted by Pope, see Esposito or Cole. For forced conversion, see for example van Biema’s, Hitchens, or Armstrong.)

    You may disagree with them. My point is this: Most Indonesian Muslims share those Esposito or David van Biema’s concerns. Hence most Indonesian Muslims think that many of Pope’s remarks about Islam are wrong.

    If you are really passionate about this, I recommend Clinton Bennett’s “In Search of Muhammad”

    Bennett’s work is an historiography on how Muslims and non-Muslims see Muhammand and Islam, since the beginning of Islamic history until now. It covers the earliast works on Muhammand and Islam by the like of, among others, Ibn Ishaq or Ibn Hisham, to William Muir, Alfred Guillaume, or Hans Kung, and the recent Salman Rushdie, Samuel Huntington, or Ibn Warraq.

    Esposito: (Esposito was quoted by WP).
    Time’s Jeff Israely:
    Time’s David van Biema:
    Slate’s Christopher Hitchens:
    Slate’s Anne Apeopleebaum:

  18. Riccardo says:

    I did read the earlier links and now I’ve read the other links, none of them spells out how or why the pope is wrong or inaccurate. A few of them just “state” it without any reference or source, and don’t actually explain any of his so-called “inaccuracies”.

    Here’s the amazing part, how can average lay people like yourself or these columnists and bloggers possibly think they know more about theology or religion (any of them) than one of the world’s foremost authorities on theology? I’m not Catholic and I have no interest in defending their leader, but I am intelligent enough to recognize that this is a man who has devoted his whole life, over 60 years, to studying, researching and analyzing religions, theology and history. And that I do respect more than some atheist columnists/writers.

    But still, you don’t answer the question I’m curious about. Rasyad, you say he is innaccurate. What specificially is he inaccurate about?

  19. To be honest with you, I find myself amazed too. How come a Pope could be so “erudite”.

    I thought the links I mentioned above explain it clearly. Unfortunately, I don’t have the luxury to debate this issue in depth, so let me just be brief.

    You write (quoting the Pope): surah 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.

    Here’s for example what Esposito said
    … in fact, the “no compulsion in religion” is a later verse, from Muhammad’s time in Medina — when he had effectively established a state, not from the Mecca period in which he was under threat. “The pope was suggesting that the ban on forcible conversions was overtaken by later verses advocated the spread of Islam by the sword, but that is false,” the professor said.

    Now about the second quote: “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.”

    Read, for example, the last three paragraphs of

    If you want to look at references and sources, I strongly recommend you reading Clinton Bennett’s “In Search of Muhammad”

    I guarantee you that you will get all references and sources available in the world regarding this very issue.

    Btw, I am not seeking convert here 🙂 So, feel free to hold to whatever opinion you have regarding Pope’s speech, Muhammad, or Islam.

  20. Miss Indo 07 says:

    Molisan tono:
    Moslem only knew that Catholic and Christian is the same, church is church they say. we Christian don’t pay much attention to pope, but when he made his move, we must look out, sh*t can happen you know.

    Forgive my English if I’m wrong, but tono did you mean that you blame Catholics for what the pope said?

  21. Riccardo says:

    So Prasyad, the fact that you cannot back up what You think about these “inaccuracies”, but only can give more links that say Nothing about what I’m asking you, is clear proof that you should now retract your accusations of the pope being accurate.

    BTW, Thank you, you’ve answered my query. People are merely claiming, without proof, that he is “inaccurate”, but the fact is, he clearly stated some real truths that make Muslims very uncomfortable — even to the point of killing an old Italian nun who was working in children’s hospital.

  22. Miss Indo 07 says:

    Pope is a human,n human makes mistake, and he apoligised, isn’t that enough?
    Gee, sorry for the Moslems who are not, but I think a lot of Indonesian Moslems always sweat over something small. The point is Islam can’t be touched, say a tiny li’l bad thing about Islam and they will march on the street say “kill the pope” or “apologize!!” or whatever, as if they had nothing better to do, I mean, ok, it’s very common to be angry if someone say something bad about your beliefs, but dont need to be so kaypoh and try to be a hero, as if Islam people never say something bad about Christians or Catholics.

  23. Say whatever you please, Riccardo 🙂

    As far as I know, most scholars, including non-Muslim scholars, agree that Q: 2, 256 is a Medinan.

    Regarding forced conversion, as van Biema writes, “many (though not all) historians understand to be the larger pattern of Islamic conquest…”

    You say you want sources. I refer you to Clinton Bennett’s work, an historiography, which will give you all references and sources available in the world.

    Nun was killed by Muslim because of Pope’s speech? I would be very, really, ashamed.

    There’s no doubt that not all Muslims nowadays subscribe to Islam as perceived by Muslims the 7th-12th century world. But, Pope is commenting on Islam in the 7th-12th century, as I far as I understand it.

    Good. So I “should now retract your accusations of the pope being (in)accurate”.

    No problem, Riccardo 🙂

    Here it is: Dear Pope. I regret if certain passages of my comment could have sounded offensive to your sensitivities.


  24. Bradlymail says:

    Just forget it! As a Muslim I accept his apology. I do not need violence to protest….we must prove ourself that we are not related ourself to terrorists, violence or other criminals act. Islam is against all these nonsenses.

  25. Molisan Tono says:

    No miss indo, pope is human and he is Catholic. Whether he is Catholic or not, Islam only knew there is one type of Christian. No matter who is in action, always both us Catholics or Christians take that fall. This is really annoying you know. Soon you’ll find out their comments about Israel again.

    Jews = Israel = Christian = Catholic = blablabla… you know what I mean?

    it’s really hard to be a real Christian.

  26. Miss Indo 07 says:

    Oh ok,well noted tono, I guess we should be strong for that, because there’s no way trying to change their way of thinking.

    I just know that most (sorry for those who are not, again, I said most, not all) Moslems always overreact if they feel that someone says something bad about their religion. Before I thought it’s only in Indonesia but then I see that it happens in other countries as well. Like for example–> wandering around with a big “kill the pope” sign.

    Hoho, seriously, I’ll never want to kill an uztad or whatever if he said that Catholics or Christians are sh*t, or even if they insult my Jesus, it’s not my right to punish, let alone kill.

    One thing, if you dont like others to insult you or your belief, try not to insult others, note that everything I do comes back to me, but in Indonesia it’s allowed to insult Christians and Catholics, but it’s extremely forbidden to insult Islam, be careful with FPI, even Inul’s butt is a shame for Islam, Anjasmara’s nude pic is an insult to Islam, some artist’s album cover is an insult to Islam.

    Gosh, why on earth should they be supersensitive and fussy like that? And guess what I found in a famous bookstore in Indonesia called Gunung Agung, a book written by a former nun who became mualaf, the title is “hati2 bahaya kristenisasi”. Haha, I read the book and I laughed, how come a former nun wrote a book like that? Such an insult to Christians rites? But then I dont feel like killing that nun or something, it’s her right.
    I just wonder how come a bookstore like gunung agung allowed such book to be sold there?
    What if someone write a book “be careful of Islam”. I’m sure the FPI and gank will march and try to burn gunung agung (I’m not saying this as an insult to Moslems, because my Moslem friends arent like that) but I bet with my ear, that’s what would happen if there were such a book.

    And when Gusdur say something bad about the Qur’an, yes they marched again, and when Tamara Blezinsky said that Qur’an is much better than Bible, then they say it’s fact, so it’s alright. (as if Tamara had read all the Bible contents..haha,neither have I). And when Christians or Catholics became mualaf they say alhamdulilah,but if a Moslem became Christians or Catholic then they curse them. Ring a bell guys?

  27. Molisan Tono says:

    A Dutch pastor friend of mine always learn to spell this word good… “MUNAFIK”.

  28. Bradlymail says:

    To tono and miss indo, I am sorry for that! I know what you feel. But I will teach my son and beautiful daughter about love, tolorence and care to each other without looking what races and religions. If my children has grown up and wanted to marry a Christian I would agree…because all religions teach us very good value.

  29. Molisan Tono says:

    who so ever love peace, is welcome to me either bradly…

  30. Miss Indo 07 says:

    Bradly, nice to hear such thing from you. If only all people could think the way you do, our country could be a wonderful one, regards to our wife and prince and princess. ^^

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