During a private visit to Mashhad, Dr Abdulkarim Soroush has
commented on the Pope's recent remarks. Dr Soroush was speaking at a
gathering of friends and students in Mashhad on Thursday 21
September. He began by mentioning some of the differences between
the new Pope and the old Pope, and said: The old Pope had a better
understanding of other religions and was a philosopher and a
phenomenologist in his own right.
Dr Soroush then spoke of the new Pope's criticism of Islam and said:
Pope Benedict, citing someone else's words, described Islam's God as
an unaccountable and despotic God, who cannot be criticized or
Dr Soroush pointed to some verses in the Holy Koran in a bid to
demonstrate that the Pope's interpretation of Islam is incorrect.
Highlighting the following verse, "Messengers bearing good tidings
and warning, so that mankind might have no argument against God
after the Messengers," (Al-Nisa, 165), Dr Soroush said: This verse
tells us that, if God had not sent Messengers to guide humanity,
human beings could have had an argument against God. This means that
human beings have the right to ask questions and argue with God, and
that God officially recognizes this right.
Dr Soroush then said that, on the face of it, some verses in the
Koran, suggested an interpretation that was in keeping with the
Pope's words. Citing the verse, "He shall not be questioned as to
what He does, but they shall be questioned," (Al-Anbiya, 23), he
said that, in the history of Islamic thought, too, the Ash'arites,
basing themselves on this same set of verses, maintained that God
was a despotic being who was beyond questions and protests and
Dr Soroush said that the Mu'tazilities did not accept the Ash'arite
view of God. They believed instead that God was an absolute being
who had voluntarily bound Himself to morality.
Dr Soroush also mentioned a number of mystics who had gone so far as
to voice protests against God in their works. Citing one such
example from Fariduddin Attar's Musibat-Nameh [Book of Grievances],
Dr Soroush added: Most believers view God as a being who is beyond
accountability and beyond reason, but, when we move away from
ordinary believers and approach mystics and philosophers, the issue
appears in a different light.
Dr Soroush said that progressive and revivalists movements in the
world of Islam were movements aimed at reviving Mu'tazilite
thinking. He added: We need to worship a God who is moral and
In the question-and-answer part of the session, Dr Soroush referred
to the rapid spreading of Islam in Europe and said: Bernard Lewis,
the well-known historian of the Ottoman era, has predicted that, in
view of migration and high birth rates, Muslims will be in a
majority in Europe by the end of the 21st century.
Dr Soroush said: It is difficult to imagine that the Pope's remarks
were merely an expression of a theological opinion; undoubtedly,
worries about the spread of Islam, as well as fundamentalism, led to
Dr Soroush rejected the suggestion that fundamentalism existed in
Islam only and said: Any identity that is demeaned lends itself to
turning into fundamentalism.
Translated from the Persian by Nilou Mobasser