Yousef al Khoei, director of the Al Khoei Foundation in London: The Pope, being in a very important position, he should really know better than quoting a 14th century Christian emperor, who was a political man who made his statements for a political reason during around the time of the Crusaders — it does not necessarily apply to a statement in a world that is full of tension at the moment.
BBC: But I mean, there are forced conversions going on.
Khoei: Well, if you actually read the Koran, it says no compulsion in religion. It says . . . you have your religion and I have yours. [sic] So I do not know why he would choose to quote things out of context. When you have clear instructions in Islam which says no forced conversion – why do we need a Christian emperor to tell us what Islam is?
BBC: Well, in a way, you are agreeing with him, though, that’s what’s so difficult about all of this.
Khoei: I’m agreeing with him, but I’m not agreeing with the context and the way he said it.
BBC: Because it has a political impact.
Khoei: It has a strong political impact, and it would be seen as a Christian head of state having a go at another faith.
BBC: Well, I mean, it has to be said, some Muslim leaders do have quite a strong go at Western leaders, don’t they?
Khoei: Yes, I think we must not make religion part of the problem, we must make religion part of the solution. The problem with religious politicians is they try to bring religion into their agendas, and I would expect from somebody as holy as the Pope is to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
BBC: What do you think will happen now? Do you think the Catholic Church . . . what do you think the Catholic Church should do?
Khoei: Well, I really think… first of all I don’t think the Muslims should overreact to a statement. I think it is something said, maybe, is being quoted out of context — but I do actually believe that religious leaders, both Muslim and Christians, have a duty to reduce all this nonsense about the clash of civilizations, and to not contribute to it in the name of the faith. Because at the end of the day, all faiths call for one thing – that is peace. There is many ways to God, there’s as many ways — as one of our Muslim leaders says, ‘as many ways to God, as many breaths in this Earth.’ So let us not make religion really a part of this global conflict which people are talking about.
BBC: I’m also joined now by Archbishop Kevin McDonald. He’s the Catholic archbishop of Southwark. Do you think the Pope did make a mistake in making these remarks, which have proved highly offensive to many people around the world.
Archbishop Kevin McDonald, the Catholic Archbishop of Southwark: I think it’s important that this quote from the emperor be seen in context. It’s part of a very complex lecture which is really all about the relationship between Faith and Reason. And he quotes the emperor, Manuel II, as saying this, but he uses it as a springboard for making the point that violence is incompatible with reason, therefore incompatible with the nature of God. That’s the main point that he wants to make – that faith is rational, is reasonable. That the leaders should act reasonably, should act rationally. And anybody who acts violently in the name of religion is acting in a way that is contrary to the nature of reason, contrary to the nature of God. That’s the point he’s making in what is, by the way, quite a long, subtle and complex lecture. And I think also, it’s important to say, that this Pope has already called for a dialogue with Islam, and made quite significant overtures towards Muslims when he was in Cologne, and in other places. And I think what he’s said here needs to be seen in that context as well.
BBC: Sure, but if what he wants is dialogue, then surely it would be extremely naïve to believe that you, as the Pope could say, quote someone saying that Muhammad brought was evil and inhuman, and not expect a pretty strong response.
McDonald: I suppose so, but I would appeal to the Muslim community to see it as what it is, as a quotation, and also to see it in the context of an academic lecture. I think that it is important to read the whole text and to see where that quote is going. You know, I understand what you’re saying, that it could be seen as inflammatory. The only thing I can say is that I am quite sure the Pope didn’t intend to be inflammatory, but I am equally sure he intended it as a very strong challenge to anyone who would justify violence in the name of religion.