There is no question that throughout history, empires and religious institutions have abused and perverted religion to further their own agendas. In light of the comments made by Pope Benedict XVI on Islam, and with the growing trend of Islamophobia in the West, we should ask ourselves: Was the quote he cited from a 14th century Byzantine emperor appropriate to make his point? Did the Prophet Muhammad actually command his followers to “spread by the sword the faith he preached?” What are the ramifications of his statement, knowing that Catholics around the world consider him the infallible supreme authority of the church?

The Sept. 20 San Diego Union-Tribune editorial (“The pope’s speech/Violent responses only prove pontiff’s point”) unfortunately reinforces the growing trend of misunderstanding about the teachings of Islam. It was not just the radical and fringe Muslim groups that were offended by the pope’s comments but also a vast majority of Muslims. The pope quoted from a source that made inaccurate assertions completely contrary to the teachings of Prophet Muhammad.

The prophet never taught any of his followers to spread the religion of Islam by the sword. The Quran, Islam’s revealed text, actually condemns the forced acceptance of any faith when it states, “Let there be no compulsion in religion” (2:256).

The pope apologized for the extreme reaction that it caused, not the statement itself. What Muslims are waiting to hear from the pope is a commitment to interfaith dialogue as well as an apology for the inaccurate quote. Genuine religious dialogue cannot be achieved when one party continues to perpetuate the common myths.

Faith and reason have never been a problem for Islamic civilization. The first verses of the Quran that were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad were, “Read! In the name of your Lord – Read! Your Lord is Most Gracious taught by the (use of the) pen, taught man what he knew not.” Historically, whenever Islam flourished, so did the development of knowledge and discovery. This is evident in many fields of study we see at colleges and universities around the world today, such as sociology, mathematics, astronomy and medicine, which owe their development to Muslim scholars. . .

Edgar Hopida is the director of public relations for the San Diego chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. He may be reached by e-mail at


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