عبدالکريم سروش


Date:  Oct. 2006



Dr Soroush Criticizes the Pope's Remarks




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 questioned.

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 beyond reason.

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 accountable.

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 these remarks.

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



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