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Religion Within Reason

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Pope benedict’s controversial remarks about Islam a year ago at the University of Regensburg were a reaffirmation of the fundamental values of the academy. The pope was making the Enlightenment ’s argument about the necessity for discourse mediated by reason in the search for truth; he claimed that his Christian faith is constituted through reason, that it can contain no tenets, and legitimate no actions, that are unreasonable. He was not claiming that Christians have never acted irrationally, violently; he was making a moral argument about what a Christian ’s faith demands, and he was making this argument as a religious leader desirous and capable of engaging in a serious and reasoned dialogue with people of other faiths about their respective convictions. His speech demonstrated both his ability to engage in such a dialogue and a willingness to do so.

It is in this context that we must understand his remarks about Islam. They were not disrespectful (even if he might have found another way to make his point, excising the quoted comment about Mohammed); 1 instead, in making them he was presuming that Muslims can engage in reasoned dialogue. He was manifesting his awareness of the present circumstances by implying that Muslims must engage in such a dialogue if they are to have any hope of successfully combating “irrationality,” violence, within their religious community.

The central contentions in the pope’s remarks focus on the relationship between reason and faith in (various branches of) Christianity and in Islam. Missed in many of the commentaries about his speech is the fact that, according to the pope, “reason” functions on two levels. The first is the universitas of discourse that includes all persons, and, crucially for the pope, must include the reasoned consideration of faith. Here, his animus is directed towards those who believe that we cannot reason about matters of faith, those who remove themselves from this aspect of the dialogue. He believes that Muslims, as people of religious conviction, stand with him in this debate.2

The second level at which reason functions is to regulate his and others’s remarks within this dialogue, when they state their own religious perspective. He is, after all, the pope, and he argues for a position within Christianity, a position contrary to (his understanding of) Protestantism, contrary to the contentions of some great Catholic thinkers, and against aspects of the religious perspective held by Muslims. Here he contends that (his form of) Christianity is constituted through reason, that Christians, unlike Muslims, believe that all persons can have a reasoned understanding of justice and that this reasoned understanding may be used to grasp and interpret God ’s will.3

This is where I will begin my argument, with an examination of the different understandings in Christianity and Islam of the relationship between reason and revelation. I develop an argument supporting the pope ’s central conclusion that the different places of reason within Islam and Christianity have resulted in different propensities for violence among believers in the two creeds. I then examine the most thoughtful response to the pope ’s remarks from the Muslim community. I suggest that this response does not grapple adequately with the implications of the pope ’s remarks for Islam, but, even so, it proves the pope’s point, that Muslims are able to participate thoughtfully in a reasoned dialogue where disagreements might be aired responsibly and from which both sides might benefit.4 I conclude by arguing that some of the implications deriving from the pope’s understanding of the role of reason in Christianity undermine his own dogmatic positions within the Church.

Reason and revelation in Islam and Christianity

The substance of the pope’s argument about Islam is correct. A group of early Muslims, the Mu’tazilites, drew on Greek philosophy and argued that men have the independent capacity to understand justice with reason. They contended that we can verify God ’s revealed commands through our use of reason.5 They lost.6 The conviction that became dominant in Islam was that whatever God commanded was just; this — and this is the pope’s central point — is very different from the contention that God commands what is just.7

Frank Griffel characterizes the orthodox (“classical Ash’arite”) position as follows: “what is good and bad in human actions is defined by what is commanded and prohibited in God ’s revelation and cannot be learned from reason or from, for instance, an observation of nature. ” This viewpoint emerged in Ash’arite polemics against Mu’tazilites, who argued “that humans know from reason and from revelation what is morally obligatory.” As I have suggested above, “Ash’arites mostly won the day in their theological debate with the Mu’tazilites and with some important exceptions . . . their position became widely accepted even outside their school.”8

Griffel contends that the crucial question is the following one: “Are God’s commands necessarily reasonable or not? Here, the Ash’arites also had a clear position: God is not bound by any rule and may thus create obligations that violate reason. ” In the context of our present discussion we may, I believe, put this point differently. According to Muslims, the obligations that God places on believers are understood to constitute what is just and reasonable and this is so even when we are unable to grasp the reason behind them.

This set of contentions results in the conclusion that, for Muslims, justice is defined by God ’s revelation to his final Prophet, Muhammad, whereas for Christians, man has the capacity to grasp justice independently of revelation. For Muslims, God ’s actions and expectations are reasonable and just; for Christians, God acts justly and his expectations of women and men are just. According to the pope, this difference has important consequences, but before we focus on them, it is essential to fill in a missing piece in the pope ’s argument.

Religious commitment in Islam and Christianity

In an earlier essay in this journal, “Understanding Jihad” (Policy Review 129, February-March 2005), I argued that there are fundamental differences between the nature of religious commitment in Islam and Christianity. Christians assume that women and men are tainted by original sin and thus have no capacity on their own to act in ways meriting salvation. God has sacrificed his only son so that through his grace we may be saved. Muslims, in contrast, assume that women and men are blessed with a natural affinity for God ( fitra). If they do not act righteously, it is because they have forgotten their obligations or have been tempted by Satan to follow desires in conflict with them. God is, however, merciful, so he has sent us Prophets to remind us of those obligations, to lay out for us the straight path that we must traverse to be saved, the straight path that we have the ability to traverse because of our natural affinity for God. Because of these distinctions, Christianity has developed into a religion of principles, emphasizing a soteriology of grace, while Islam has developed into an eschatology, where each person will be judged on the last day on how she has fulfilled the precepts laid down by God, where her actions will be weighed on a scale of justice determining if she will be saved. In consequence, Muslims emphasize differently than do Christians the importance of religious law, Shari’a, in the regulation of everyday activities among believers — and, the pope contends, the reasoned principles that constitute a crucial element of Christianity are less manifest in Islam, where principles can be no more than a generalization from precepts. Thus another way to make the pope ’s point is to suggest that in Christianity, but not in Islam, principles grounded in reason may problematize precepts taken from scripture.9

The pope contends that Muslims are capable of legitimating jihad in light of precepts found in the Qur’an.

While a number of commentators, for example Tariq Ramadan in the Guardian (September 22, 2006), have pointed to the Muslim philosophical tradition to suggest that the pope’s portrayal of Islam is erroneous, these contentions miss a crucial point. The question is not whether there have been great Muslim “rationalist philosophers”; our concern must be with the logic of religious commitment in the two religions. In Islam, “The orthodox theologians evolved . . . a dialectic weapon; to the cutting edge of Greek logic they fitted, in the place of the universals of Greek speculative thought, the positive doctrines of the Koran, and with this they ultimately drove the Hellenizers from the field. . . . [T]his was the decisive moment in the history of Muslim civilization —the moment at which Islam rejected the concepts which were, later on, to exercise a determining influence in Western civilization.”10

In contrast, the pope contends that the “encounter between the Biblical message and Greek thought did not happen by chance. ” He argues that there is an “intrinsic necessity of a rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek inquiry.” He typifies this encounter in his characterization of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. “A profound encounter of faith and reason is taking place here, an encounter between genuine enlightenment and religion. From the very heart of Christian faith and, at the same time, the heart of Greek thought now joined to faith, Manuel ii was able to say: Not to act ‘with logos’ is contrary to God’s nature.” Greek rationality is ancillary to religious commitment in Islam, while it is intrinsic to, in some ways constitutive of, religious commitment in Christianity.

In consequence of this difference, the pope contends that Muslims are capable of legitimating jihad in light of precepts found in the Qur’an,11 without regulating their interpretation in light of reason, while the legitimation of irrationality, violence, is more difficult for Christians (at least for those Christians who share the pope ’s understanding of the isomorphism between faith and reason). This contention and the analysis that grounds it are argued incompletely in the pope ’s remarks,12 but they are defensible and, in my opinion, are fundamentally correct. This is not to suggest (it would be absurd to suggest) that Christians have never committed acts of great violence (and in the name of Christianity);13 nor is it to suggest that we can understand acts of violence as deriving simply from religious commitments without focusing on the situational constraints and opportunities within which people act.

This is not the place to document the status of jihad in Islam (see my “Understanding Jihad”). Suffice it to say that jihad, the collective obligation to spread dar al-Islam, the control of Islam, the rule of Shari’a, is one that many Muslims derive from precepts rooted in the Qur’an. It is often referred to as the sixth pillar of Islam. Precepts mandating jihad are available to Muslims in the Qur'an and Sunna and, the pope contends, may be drawn upon to legitimate acts of violence because the interpretation of these precepts is not regulated independently by a reason that would problematize irrational, here violent, activities.

Less clear in the pope’s argument is his brief characterization of the nature of jihad, which he conflates with his discussion of religious tolerance. Jihad, as I suggested above, may be understood within Islamic tradition as the duty to create and expand the social and political world where Shari’a is implemented. It is clear that, in the Islamic tradition, the early Meccan passages from the Qur ’an that are pacifistic were understood to be abrogated by the Medinan passages that legitimate jihad.14 It is less clear that jihad was understood within the tradition (again, I am ignoring the reality that too often took place) as a vehicle to force conversions to Islam.15 Here, the tradition is more complicated.

I have argued in “Understanding Jihad” that the notion of “forced conversion” was not dominant. It is, however, fair to the pope to note that not all scholars agree with my contention. A correspondent, expert on Islamic law (who I will not name because I do not have his permission to disseminate over his name what he wrote in private correspondence), has commented as follows: “One might argue for many propositions from the Qur’an, but as far back as we can trace, Muslims agreed that the verse ‘There is no compulsion in religion’ was early16 and abrogated by the later verse about fighting the polytheists wherever they found them. In Islamic law, adult Christians and Jews [people of the book] are not to be converted by force, but there is some leeway for converting children (e.g. captives from dar al-harb), and the Muslims are positively required to convert polytheists by force. (Historically, this became a dead letter when the Muslims conquered India, but not because they began at that point to read the Qur ’an differently, rather because it was technically infeasible.)” An-Na’im, a professor of Islamic law at Emory University, and a leading Muslim reformer, makes the same point more strongly.17 He criticizes directly those, like the present author, who distinguish between “the use of force to extend the universal rule of Islam, [and] force . . . used to impose religion as such ” (149). While these comments are not dispositive, they do suggest that, even here, the pope ’s argument is defensible, even if I would contend that it is erroneous.

A Muslim response

It may be helpful to begin a discussion of the Muslim reaction to the pope’s speech by characterizing three divergent points of view that are found in contemporary Islam. While this portrait is schematic, it may help us to avert certain confusions that are repeated ad nauseam. The largest group may be labeled “traditionalists.” These are Muslims who look to the canonical interpretations as a source of their understanding of the straight-path, of the precepts that regulate their actions. They tend to insist that access to the Qur ’an and Sunna, and derivatively, to Shari’a, lies in the hands of specialists and that laypersons are better off acceding to their judgments. Among the Shi ’a, this deference is codified among those who select a model of emulation from among the religious scholars.

The next group consists of two sorts of revivalists. Both emerge within Islam regularly to purge bid’a, innovations that are understood to deviate from the authentic creed. For example, they may criticize the Sufi veneration of saints as placing man alongside of God ( shirk). In South Asia, these critics often contended that Sufi saints were Hindu Gods in another guise and that the notion of sainthood is a form of polytheism. These revivalists see themselves as reasserting orthodoxy, which went behind tradition to the Qur ’an and Sunna.

The first group of revivalists argued in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (and continue to argue to this day) that the decline of Islam came from the failure to adhere to the straight-path. They criticized innovations in “the tradition” and sought to bypass tradition in a revival of ijtihad, the reasoned examination of the Qur’an and the Sunna. They opposed taqlid, the blind adherence to the tradition constituted by one of the Sunni schools of law; for them, it was this veneration of a tradition that constituted an inauthentic Islam that explained the backwardness that they found among Muslims. We may label this group “modernists” because they found in their authentic Islam nothing that contradicted what they took to be good in modernity.

The second group of revivalists also bypassed tradition, which they viewed as corrupt (and often as tainted by its association with immoral political systems). They differ from the first group in that their re-examination of the Qur ’an and the Sunna led to the conclusion that modernity was evil (albeit they often allow for its instrumental use to further their religious values); otherwise, the two groups sometimes morph into one another. We may label this second group Salafi because they evoke the Prophet’s generation and one or two following generations as models to emulate; these early generations exemplify the straight-path and their revival of them sometimes looks like a re-evocation of the tradition. While among the Salafi certain sources within the tradition may be invoked, e.g., Ibn Taymiyya, they are evoked because they are taken to represent the early generations. While the Salafi usually are willing to use modern technology instrumentally, they reject out-of-hand modern, Western, values, which they believe lead to a form of barbarism.

Traditionalists sometime criticize the revivalists for presuming to take upon themselves the task of interpreting the Qur ’an and Sunna and for sometimes creating interpretations that legitimate horrifying activities. Thus, traditionalists sometimes criticize Islamists, who, in this scheme, tend to be Salafi, for acts of violence that the traditionalists believe violate the properly understood tenets of Islam.18 They sometimes make this argument by suggesting that the institutions that previously supported the tradition, and thus the correct understanding of Islam, are no longer present.19 When, however, as is often the case, the Salafi interpret Islam in ways compatible with traditional understandings, the invocation of the early generations and the invocation of the tradition, which is, of course, rooted in those early generations, become hard to distinguish.

Traditionalists have a certain affinity with the pope’s position in that he too wants to evoke (a very different) tradition. Missing from their arguments is the possibility of an appeal to reason as a regulator of tradition. Thus, insofar as the Islamic tradition may be understood to legitimate irrationality, here violence, it serves to reinforce the criticism made by the pope.

The “Open Letter to His Holiness Pope Benedict xvi” is traditionalist, but it rarely evokes specific texts other than the Qur’an.20 It makes several points worth discussing. The first invokes Qur’anic passages that contend that God is just and merciful and suggests, “Is it not self-evident that spilling innocent blood goes against mercy and compassion? ” This strategy, seeking to interpret Shari’a through a set of principles found in the Qur’an, is a modernist trope. It is best exemplified in the work of Kemal A. Faruki, who suggests that the bismillah, which precedes all but one of the suras in the Qur’an, must be used to regulate how we interpret the text itself.21

The problem with this argument is that it does not represent the dominant traditions of Qur ’anic interpretation. There, as Fazlur Rahman has argued, the Qur’an has been understood as, and as giving rise to, a set of precepts. Rahman himself argues that the Qur ’an should be interpreted in light of principles that might be generalized from these precepts, but he recognizes that this strategy is not represented in the tradition. Further, not even Rahman argues that there are principles embedded in the tradition that are autonomous from and have a regulative capacity over precepts.22 Thus, while the signers of the statement critical of Pope Benedict may be pointing to a strategy allowing for the problematization of Qur ’anic passages that appear to legitimate violence, and while they should be praised for doing so, in doing so they are stepping outside of the tradition and they are making, at least implicitly, a modernist argument that is not warranted within the tradition.23

The more direct comments in the “Open Letter” about “The Use of Reason” are plainly obfuscatory. The authors argue that there is a hierarchy of knowledge in Islam of which reason is a crucial part. In Islam, as the pope acknowledged, human understanding may be used to address ultimate questions. Muslims, the “Open Letter” contends, have “maintained a consonance between the truths of the Quranic revelation and the demands of human intelligence, without sacrificing the one to the other. ” This misses the pope’s point. For Muslims, reason has been subordinate to revelation, a way a justifying revelation, not a way of regulating the interpretation of the Qur ’an. Even the Mu’tazilites were criticized by philosophers because they made reason subordinate to revelation, a way of justifying what was already known through revelation. If this is the case, reason, in the form of natural law, has no place in Islam and thus its capacity to inhibit irrational interpretations of the Qur ’an that are grounded in its literal text is not manifest.

In their discussion of jihad, the signatories to the “Open Letter” contend that violence is manifest in the Old and in the New Testaments. They ask, “When God drowned Pharaoh, was He going against His own Nature? Perhaps the emperor [Manuel ii Paleologus, who suggested that violence goes against God’s nature] meant to say that cruelty, brutality, and aggression are against God’s Will, in which case the classical and traditional law of jihad in Islam would bear him out completely.” While these contentions have some merit, they ignore the pope’s point.24

There are passages in the New and Old Testaments that are horrifying, and, by the pope’s standard, “irrational.” They are, however, particular in their content, capable of being contextualized.25 The passages in the Qur’an to which the pope (implicitly) referred are not contextual; they are universal. They demand jihad to conquer territory for Islam, to enable the regulation of activities by Shari’a so that Muslims may follow the straight path successfully, and they demand, and have been understood in the tradition to demand, such actions whenever they are feasible.26 Such commands are harder to contextualize than violence against moneychangers (in the New Testament) or against Egyptians (and others, in the Old Testament). As importantly, if the pope is correct, the tools to problematize interpretations of such passages that legitimate violence are found in the (Catholic) natural law tradition. The authors of the “Open Letter” have not argued that there is a natural law tradition in Islam; nor have they found a substitute for right reason/natural law in Islam.

Perhaps the most important point to make about the signatories’s argument about jihad is that it ignores the passages in the Qur’an that many Muslims over many years have used to justify violence. In citing passages that appear to delegitimate the use of violence, at least under certain conditions, they are citing precept against precept and they are ignoring the traditional understanding that some passages in the Qur ’an (the later ones that appear to condone violence) abrogate other passages (the earlier ones that appear to condemn violence). Once again, their argument ignores the pope ’s point, that Muslims may find in the Qur’an and Sunna passages that appear to legitimate violence.27 The pope claims that in Islam, unlike in Christianity, there are no religious commitments grounded in reason that condemn violence as irrational.

Finally, the contention of the authors of the “Open Letter” that the Prophet never claimed to bring anything new to the world is disingenuous. It is, of course, correct that Muhammad claimed that his revelation was the same as previous revelations from God. It is also the case that Muslims do not accept previous revelations because they are understood to have been corrupted. Thus, while Christians sometimes appeal to the Old Testament, Muslims almost never appeal to a scripture other than the Qur ’an. It is the precepts found in the Qur’an that define the straight path, the obligations that God has laid down for women and men. These obligations constitute a form of religious commitment that differs systematically from the one found in Christianity, and this cannot be disguised by suggesting that God has sent only one revelation to women and men.28

In sum, while the signatories recognize the pope’s “desire for frank and sincere dialogue,” and while they have contributed to that dialogue, they have not responded satisfactorily to the pope ’s central contention, that in Catholic Christianity reason serves to regulate interpretations of scripture that are irrational and unjust, while in Islam, the precepts found in the Qur ’an themselves characterize what is reasonable and just and thus may legitimate more readily irrational, violent actions.

The pope’s inconsistencies

Two issues remain. The first is that one appropriate response to the pope’s comments is to redirect them back to his own stance within the Catholic Church. Briefly, if reason and justice are inherent in Christian faith and if they may, as he implies but does not argue, regulate dogma, how is it that he is incapable of according a full humanity, which he acknowledges is demanded by reason, to women and gays? How is it that, for him, dogma trumps the just, full inclusion of women and gays into the Church, affording them the role of priests? Further, how is it that he has sought to regulate the teaching of theologians in Church-sanctioned positions?29 If logos regulates academic inquiry and discourse, there can be no bounds on such inquiry and discourse. We have to be able to problematize even the fundamentals of faith, even the existence of God.30

The importance of this point may be illustrated by discussions in the Episcopal (Anglican) Church over the appropriateness of a gay man serving as a bishop in the Church. Those who argue in the negative cite passages from scripture that suggest that homosexuality is a sin. Those who argue in favor contend that the dignity of all persons before God is demanded by the constitutive principles of Christianity, by their understanding of right reason, which gives them access to these principles. For the latter group, any interpretation of scripture that violates these rational principles is irrational and necessarily void. In making this argument they are, I believe, putting the pope ’s words into practice; they are articulating an understanding of what is fundamental in Christianity and using it to regulate what might be termed accidental. Their Catholic counterparts are, unfortunately, making such arguments against the pope, who is, I contend, acting contrary to his own arguments.

Pope Benedict has treated Muslims with respect, calling on them to engage in reasoned dialogue.

The second issue concerns the appropriateness of the pope’s remarks in the present historical juncture. This is, I think, a complex question. Pope Benedict has treated Muslims with respect, calling on them to engage in reasoned dialogue. He is not being disrespectful to Muslims by “criticizing” Islam. To the contrary, if he were to have assumed that Muslims are incapable of partaking in dialogue, if he had presumed that Islam must be protected from criticism, he would have treated Muslims as infants.

I began by noting that the pope’s remarks are embedded in two forms of reason, the universitas of discourse that includes all persons who wish to participate in dialogue and the reason that regulates their contentions within that dialogue. Sociologists, like the author, should be sensitive to both aspects of reason in discussions of religion. Our theoretical tradition enables us to focus on the functions fulfilled by all religious systems and thus it enables us to emphasize the common traits possessed by all religions, to, in Durkheim ’s terms, emphasize the “truth” found in all great religious traditions. Here, all religions are the same. This does not contradict the complementary task, highlighted in Weber ’s religious sociology, to understand the logic of religious commitment specific to each religious denomination and to understand the different consequences that derive from these different commitments. The pope has helped us to understand the need to reason together about differences between religions.

It is time to engage in a dialogue where both Christians and Muslims are self-critical.31 Then, and only then, can there be a real dialogue, where both sides are capable of problematizing their own beliefs and thus responding to the criticisms of others. As one scholar on the American Academy of Religion ’s listserver on Islam commented: “Muslim scholars and civil society need to challenge the pope on the terms and text of his debate rather than demanding an apology ” (Salmaan Keshavjee, September 15, 2006). I hope that they continue do so and I hope that the pope responds to their criticisms. If this hope is not fulfilled, if we cannot reflect honestly on our own traditions, and if, instead, the reaction to remarks on either tradition is a violent one, we must ask whether the anticipation of such a reaction should cow us, as scholars and believers, into silence. Let us hope that we can address our differences in a reasonable way.

1 In the revised version of his speech, where he adds the scholarly apparatus in footnotes, Pope Benedict remarked in regard to the now infamous quotation from the 14th century Byzantine emperor Manuel ii Paleologus (“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 ”) as follows: “In the Muslim world, this quotation has unfortunately been taken as an expression of my personal position, thus arousing understandable indignation. I hope that the reader of my text can see immediately that this sentence does not express my personal view of the Qur ’an, for which I have the respect due to the holy book of a great religion. In quoting the text of the Emperor Manuel ii, I intended solely to draw out the essential relationship between faith and reason. On this point I am in agreement with Manuel ii, but without endorsing his polemic”
(http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2006/september/ documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20060912_university-regensburg_en.html [accessed November 12, 2007]).

2 The 38 Muslim leaders who wrote an “Open Letter to His Holiness Pope Benedict xvi” applaud his “efforts to oppose the dominance of positivism and materialism in human life.” They go on to say “we must point out some errors in the way you mentioned Islam as a counterpoint to the proper use of reason, as well as some mistakes in the assertions you put forward in support of your argument. ” A pdf is accessible at http://www.islamicamagazine.com/online-analysis/open-letter-to-his-holiness-pop e-benedict-xvi.html (accessed November 12, 2007). I discuss their argument against the pope’s contentions, at the second level at which reason functions, later in this essay.

3 David Nirenberg misses this distinction between the two levels of reason and, in consequence, he argues that the pope ’s argument within the dialogue, that Catholics alone have found the correct balance between reason and faith, precludes a dialogue with believers in other faiths, especially Islam, where this balance is not, in the pope ’s view, present. “Paleologus and Us,” New Republic (October 9, 2006).

4 Missing in this discussion is a consideration of the pope’s erroneous characterizations of Protestantism (and, implicitly, of Judaism) and liberalism. The pope conflates the revivalism and the rejection of Catholic tradition that characterize Protestantism with a rejection of rationality. In fact, ascetic Protestantism embodies the rationality he advocates to a greater degree than does Catholicism. Contrary to the pope ’s implication, a clear manifestation of this is the access each believer has to scripture and the contention that reasoning together about scripture will result in the discovery of truth. See my Revolution in the Development of Capitalism (University of California Press, 1987). One might further suggest, again contrary to the pope’s argument, that his polemic against liberalism/positivism is misplaced. This “secular” tradition embodies the discursive reason that the pope advocates; the most eloquent statements for discursive reason are found in the work of the pope ’s countryman, Jürgen Habermas; Habermas continues the “post-metaphysical” ethical tradition of Kant that the Pope attacks in his speech. For the Pope’s dialogue with Habermas, see Joseph Ratzinger and Jürgen Habermas, The Dialectics of Secularization: On Reason and Religion (Ignatius Press, 2007).

5 “The ethical theory of the Mu’tazila is properly called ‘rationalism’, because it held that the values of human and divine actions are knowable in principle by natural human reason. ” George Hourani, “Islamic and Non-Islamic Origins of Mu’tazilite Ethical Rationalism,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 7:1 (1976).

6  It matters, but not here, that the Mu’tazilites persecuted those who disagreed with them instead of engaging in rational discussion with them, and that they were incapable, perhaps like the pope, of problematizing fundamental articles of faith. Mu ’tazilite theology retained greater influence among the Shi’a than among the Sunni.

7 I am too facilely equating the Mu’tazilite argument with the pope’s understanding of logos, which I am assimilating into an understanding of natural law, which includes “justice” under the rubric of “reason.”

8 The quotations in this and the next paragraph come from Griffel’s remarks on Islamaar, the listserver for the section for the study of Islam of the American Academy of Religion (September 20, 2006). Griffel is Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies at Yale University.

9  For Christians this relationship is manifest most overtly in their understanding of the relationships between the Old and the New Testaments.

10 H.A.R. Gibb, Modern Trends in Islam (University of Chicago Press, 1947), 18-19. See also the analysis in William Montgomery Watt, The Formative Period of Islamic Thought (Oxford: Oneworld, 1998 [1973]), where he argues that Greek rationalism was either subordinate to revelation or marginal in the development of religious dogma in Islam.

11 Gibb goes on to argue that the Muslim theologians did not carry the day because of the superiority of their arguments, but because of “the intuitive clinging of the mass of the community to the truths [i.e., to the precepts —M.G.] of the Koran.” (19).

12 Perhaps the most important missing link is the pope’s understanding of the relationship between reason and natural law. To excavate his understanding of this relationship one has to consult his earlier writings, where he argues that Church dogma should never be legislated by the state, and where he contends that because all women and men have access to natural law, certain aspects of Church dogma, for example the sanctity of life and thus the evil of abortion, should be legislated on grounds of reason and natural right. This is the same natural law that defines violence as irrational. See Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions, trans. by Henry Taylor, (Ignatius Press, 2004 [2003]) and Joseph Ratzinger and Marcello Pera, Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity, Islam, trans. by Michael F. Moore (Basic, 2006). St. Thomas Aquinas’s discussions of natural law, which are a crucial foundation of the pope’s contentions, may be found conveniently in The Political Ideas of St. Thomas Aquinas, Dino Bigonguari, ed. (Hafner, 1953), Thomas Aquinas, On Law, Morality, and Politics, trans. by Richard J. Regan, (Hackett, second ed., 2002), and in Thomas Aquinas, Treatise on Law, trans. by Richard J. Regan. (Hackett, 2000).

Missing in this literature is a comprehensive discussion of the relationship between original sin and right reason. Among Catholic thinkers, the apparent contradiction between the two is taken usually as warrant for the necessity of revelation to complement a right reason damaged by original sin.

13 In Values in a Time of Upheaval, trans. by Brian McNeil, (Ignatius Press, 2006 [2004]), then Cardinal Ratzinger commented as follows: “ . . . we have seen that there exist highly dangerous pathologies in religion that make it necessary to regard the divine light of reason as a kind of controlling authority. Religion must continually accept the purification and regulation that reason carries out — and I may note in passing that this was the view of this Church Fathers too” (42). This comment makes manifest the regulative function of right reason, natural law. For a further comment on religious pathologies, in both Islam and Christianity, see Truth and Tolerance, 204.

14 Rudolph Peters, Jihad in Classical and Modern Islam (Markus Wiener, 1996) and Rudolph Peters, Islam and Colonialism: The Doctrine of Jihad in Modern History (The Hague: Mouton, 1979).

15 In fact, the tradition accorded a status to people of the book within a state regulated by Shari’a. While this was a second-class status, it amounted to greater toleration than any available in Christianity until fairly recently, and legally, if not always factually, it recognized the religious autonomy of people of the book (Christians and Jews), but not that of polytheists.

16 This contention has been challenged in the “Open Letter to His Holiness Pope Benedict xvi.” The authors argue that “There is no compulsion in religion was not a command to Muslims to remain steadfast in the face of the desire of their oppressors to force them to renounce their faith, but was a reminder to Muslims themselves, once they had attained power, that they could not force another ’s heart to believe.” In other works, many argue that this passage comes from a Medinan revelation, when Muslims were strong, and not an early Meccan revelation, when they were weak.

17 See An-Naim, Toward an Islamic Reformation (Syracuse University Press, 1990), 144-49; he refers directly to the argument about 2:257 at 149.

18 See, for example, the essays in Joseph E.B. Lumbard,  ed., Islam, Fundamentalism, and the Betrayal of Tradition (World Wisdom, 2004). See also a comment in the “Open Letter to His Holiness Pope Benedict xvi”: “If some have disregarded a long and well-established tradition in favor of utopian dreams where the end justifies the means, they have done so of their own accord and without the sanction of God, His Prophet, or the learned tradition.”

19 See, for example, Wael B. Hallaq’s explanation for why Shari’a cannot be revived, “Can the Shari’a Be Restored,” in Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad and Barbara Freyer Stowasser, eds., Islamic Law and the Challenges of Modernity (Altamira Press, 2004).

20 In criticizing the pope for mentioning Ibn Hazm, it suggests that Al-Ghazali is a more appropriate source for understanding the doctrine of transcendence in Islam. Otherwise, all of the citations are to the Qur ’an. They do, however, make several generic references to the contents of the tradition, without including specific citations.

I have refrained from discussing Christian and Muslim notions of transcendence in this essay because such a discussion requires an essay of its own. For an insightful discussion of transcendence and immanence and their consequences in Christian traditions, see Guy Swanson, Religion and Regime: A Sociological Account of the Reformation (University of Michigan Press, 1967).

21 “Consequently, whenever there is a reference in a Qur’anic verse to an attribute of God, understanding of that attribute must guide us in understanding that verse and the imperatives that follow from this understanding. This establishes our immediate directional guide within that verse, but this particular directional guide must be conformed with the preceding and succeeding verses and with other references in the Qur ’an upon the same subject and, finally, our understanding of the Qur’an’s position on this particular subject must not conflict with our overall understanding of the conformable Qur ’an, free as it is from all discrepancy. What, then, is this overall significance and direction which the Qur ’an indicates and against which we must test the validity of our conclusions?

“The answer is given in the Qur’an itself in an unmistakable manner. Of the one hundred fourteen chapters of the Qur ’an, all but one begin with the invocation, bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim, commonly rendered as ‘In the name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful” but which can be more adequately, though not completely satisfactorily, rendered as ‘I seek the assistance of God, the Beneficent Whose beneficence requires the exercise of mercy. ’” Kemal A. Faruki, Islamic Jurisprudence (Delhi: Adam Publishers, 1994 [1962]), 246-7. See my “Kemal A. Faruki: an Islamist, a Modernist,” <<span class="italic">Muslim World, forthcoming.

22 See Fazlur Rahman, Islam and Modernity: Transformation of an Intellectual Tradition (University of Chicago Press, 1984 [1982]) and Major Themes of the Qur’an (Bibliotheca Islamica, 1994 [1980]). I discuss Rahman extensively in my “The Sovereignty of God: Constitutional Processes in Islam and Christianity,” forthcoming in this journal.

23 A fuller discussion would have to consider the so-called equitable principles and principles of public interest that were put forward in three of the orthodox schools of law in Islam and later rejected by all four of the orthodox schools.

24 Only some merit because “aggression” in the form of offensive jihad may be legitimated through the Qur’an. The now classical modern statement is S. Abul A’la Maududi. Jihad In Islam (Lahore: Islamic Publications, 1998 [1973, 1939]), which greatly influenced Sayyid Qutb’s Milestones (American Trust Publications, 1990).

25 This does not justify them.

26 Claiming that “the Islamic conquests were political in nature” does not take into account the claims of the participants that they were undertaking jihad, which is conquest to impose Shari’a, conquest in God’s name and for God’s glory.

27 An extreme, but nonetheless edifying example of such arguments is found in Johannes J.G. Jansen, The Neglected Duty: The Creed of Sadat’s Assassins and Islamic Resurgence in the Middle East (Macmillan, 1986).

28 On October 13, 2007, a group of “Muslim Religious Leaders” addressed “An Open Letter and Call” to Pope Benedict and other prominent Christian leaders arguing that Islam and Christianity share two “foundational principles,” “love of the One God, and love of the neighbour,” and that these principles are the basis for peace and understanding between Muslims and Christians (http://www.acommonword.com/lib/downloads/CW-Total-Final-v-12g-Eng-9-10-07.pdf [accessed November 20, 2007]). This letter appeared after the current article was completed; it does not discuss directly the pope's remarks at the University of Regensburg, and thus my discussion of it may be deferred to a later publication.

29See “Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian,” available at  http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_d oc_19900524_theologian-vocation_en.html (accessed November 12, 2007).

30 Positions in the Church are crucial for Catholics, whose Christianity is embedded in their understanding of the role of the Church in mediating their salvation. The importance of the Church in Christianity is manifest in Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology: Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology, trans. by Mary Frances McCarthy (Ignatius Press, 1987 [1982]).

31 I am excluding other religious faiths only because they were not discussed in the pope ’s speech.