Pope Benedict XVI arrives in Britain for an official State visit on Thursday 16 September 2010 – the first such kind of Papal visit since the Reformation(other Papal visits have been unofficial).
There are two main thoughts that emerge regarding this trip and the media coverage in its run up.
Firstly, the media coverage has been overwhelmingly negative. It is as if the liberal media have been waiting for an excuse to add to their attacks on religion generally, to attack Catholicism specifically – outside of the understandable coverage about the abuse of children by clergymen.
The liberal media has chosen to focus upon every issue where the Catholic doctrine conflicts with their own secular beliefs in a self-righteous orgy of barely concealed abuse and criticism. From Catholic theories of creation that conflict with Darwinism, to views on stem-cell research, celibacy in the clergy, abortion, and women priests, the media and some commentators have declared open season, with a semblance of a debate.
The media hysteria led Cardinal Walter Kasper, an aid to the Pope, to exclaim Britain is a “Third World country” marked by “a new and aggressive atheism”.
Of course Muslims will disagree and differ with on matters of belief and on religious rules and rituals. Islam’s view on creation is neither based on blind faith in religion, nor upon blind faith in speculative scientific theory, but based on reason and rational thought. Islam does not have a clergy, encourages marriage and discourages celibacy. Islam, through ijtehad, answers questions on cloning, stem cell research and abortion, based on clear legal reasoning, not upon debatable moral precepts.
Moreover, Islam has had a very difficult historical experience with the Catholic Church – from the Crusades through to the ethnic cleansing of Muslim Spain in the name of Christendom. More recently Pope Benedict himself offended Muslims by quoting a 14th Century Christian emperor who claimed that Prophet Muhammad (saw) had brought the world only “evil and inhuman” things.
However, most Muslims will not raise these issues of religious difference, or historic grievance as an excuse to attack the Catholic Church during this visit.
Yet the secular liberal establishment, through the media, in spite of the fact their government has invited the Pope, have barely concealed their contempt for this man, and the religion he leads.
However, Britain and Europe are at odds with the rest of the world. Evidence is that elsewhere religion has not been sidelined, particularly in the Islamic world, and in fact is on the rise – calls for Shariah and Khlilafah ring out from the streets from Turkey to Indonesia.
Indeed, one could argue Europe did not abolish religion, they merely substituted it – becoming slaves to material things; replacing clergy making laws with capitalists making laws; and congregating at the alter of celebrity and sport.
Also, Europe’s particular experience of oppression under the Church leading to the division of church and state cannot be generalised to the rest of the world. In particular the Islamic world achieved its greatest progress and civilisation when it had a stronger political adherence to Islam; and when that link was broken it has been in decline ever since.
The second lesson for Muslims that emerges from this visit is the length of time it has taken for Britain to be at relative peace with its 6 million Catholics. Catholic citizens of this country, though pure born and bred English or Scots for generations, had been seen as second class citizens and viewed with immense suspicion. Ultimately their loyalty was always seen to be with Rome and for this reason they faced inequality, and often abuse – even if they were model citizens. There were, in Tudor and Stewart times, attempts on the life of the monarch, but even non-violent Catholics who proselytised their faith were persecuted – even tortured and executed on grounds of suspicion. To this day a Catholic cannot sit on the throne.
This lesson is sobering for Muslims. We may behave with the utmost integrity and manners, fulfil duties to our neighbours, and be a force for good in society. However, the State views our brotherly loyalty to the global Ummah with at best suspicion, and at worst treason. They view our loyalty to Allah and His Messenger, and our distinct Islamic values, as a challenge that requires compulsion to join their way of life. Hence they have embarked on a programme of coercive assimilation.
Yet Islam is different to Catholicism. It is a greater challenge. It is the truth – rooted in reason and without contradiction. It agrees with man’s nature and satisfies his instinctual needs. Our ties to the Ummah are embedded in Quranic commands to hold fast to the rope of Allah and not to be divided.
Our duty to live by these values and invite others to them, is the same reason Muslims are seeing secular states across Europe (and indeed in America) abandon its pretence at human rights and pluralism in order to ‘deal with Muslims’.
This should not be any source of regret for a Muslim. It is a privilege to carry this deen, even if others hate it. It is a privilege to invite others to this deen, and many will accept by Allah’s Leave, as He is sufficient as our Wakil.