remarks about the Prophet Muhammad bringing only what is "evil and inhuman" to the world, a quote he himself admits was marginal to his argument, he would not have emphasized as clearly as he has done the focus of his central argument - that is modern secular rationalism needs to heed the contribution of faith to enable it to break out of the narrow confines of absolutism and fundamentalism. Which is specifically the problem with Islam, both as a religious doctrine and as a ‘way of life'.
To understand this point, Non-Muslims must focus on the difference between Islam and Islamism. Islamism is a set of political ideologies that holds that Islam is not only a religion, but also a political system that governs the legal, economic and social imperatives of the state according to its interpretation of Islamic Law. For Islamists, the sharia has absolute priority over democracy and universal human rights. The terms "Islamist" and "Islamism" are used often in several publications within some Muslim countries to describe domestic and trans-national organizations seeking to implement Islamic Law.
There is intense debate in the Muslim world about the differences between Islam and Islamism. The controversy is rooted in differing answers to questions about how Muslims should live, the sort of governments they should support, and the proper role of Islamic symbols, ideas, and tenets in the modern world. Those who are called Islamists argue that Islam is inherently a political religion, and that the rules and laws laid out in the Al Qu'ran and Hadiths mandate Islamic governments.
In its bare essence, the substance of Pope Benedict XVI's argument can be summed up in the following syllogism: Islam is faith devoid of reason; modern secularism is reason devoid of faith; Christianity is a dynamic wedding of faith to reason. Both faith without reason and reason without faith can be very destructive. Ergo, both Islam and modern secularism should learn from Christianity the art of the mutual enrichment between faith and reason. Which, admittedly, sounds overall a little bit one-sided.
That said, however, the phenomenal overreaction of Muslim leaders and masses around the world to the Pope's remarks proves once again that Muslims do indeed have a problem with rationality. It is not by rioting on the streets and calling for jihad and the destruction of the Holy See and, in fact, of all symbols of Christianity and Judaism that Muslims can hope to re-build their tarnished image as well as the proper civil institutions, which could have both the capability and authority to respond effectively and in a measured way to the challenges facing them today.
Exaggerated reactions such as those to the Pope's speech or the ones involving the publication in the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten some time ago of cartoons depicting and satirizing the Prophet Mohammed reflect the general inadequacy of the Islamic State and civil organisations, which lack both the authority and the effectiveness in dealing with the perceived challenges. They also reflect the deep ignorance of the Islamic masses and their aversion to anything and everything which they characterize as non-Islamic.
The failures of Islam, as correctly pointed out by the Pope, are multi-faceted and stand in the fact that Islam - both as a religion and as a way of life - has failed to achieve many of its goals. Raising standards of living, ridding societies of corruption (corruption in all its manifestations, incidentally, is expressly forbidden by the Prophet), freeing people from chronic, centennial poverty, failure to allow freedom of thought and expression even in their basic forms and even protecting Islam from what Muslim scholars have dubbed a ‘rampant Westernization'.
It is not through its inveterate Western-phobia, anti-Americanism and utter dislike of Israel that Islam will ever solve its own shortcomings. But, above all, it is through the embracing and acceptance of jihad or holy war as a means to spread the faith that Islam manifests its own irrationality in its entirety. And this is specifically what the Pope was referring to when he cited Emperor Manuel II Paleologus' remarks, which were rendered within the wider context of the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both faiths.
The message of the Pope was that 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.
Contrast this message with the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad in the matter of spreading Islamic faith to the rejecters of truth (infidels) after truth has become evident to them:
"Kill them wherever you find them and drive them out [of the place] from which they drove you out and [remember] persecution is worse than carnage. But do not initiate war with them near the Holy Kabah unless they attack you there. But if they attack you, put them to the sword [without any hesitation]. Thus shall such disbelievers be rewarded. However, if they desist [from this disbelief], Allah is Forgiving and Merciful. Keep fighting against them, until persecution does not remain and [in the land of Arabia] Allah's religion reigns supreme. But if they mend their ways, then [you should know that] an offensive is only allowed against the evildoers. A sacred month for a sacred month; [similarly] other sacred things too are subject to retaliation. So if any one transgresses against you, you should also pay back in equal coins. Have fear of Allah and [keep in mind that] Allah is with those who remain within the bounds [stipulated by religion]." (Qu'ran, 2:190-194)