Regensburg revisited: the Islamic response

In mid-October, thirty-eight Muslim leaders wrote an “Open Letter to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI,” in response to the Pope’s September lecture at Regensburg University and the international controversy that followed. This unprecedented letter could — just could — help move history in a more benign direction. Understanding both what the Muslim leaders said, and the need for further clarification (and action) on their part, is of the utmost importance.

First, consider what they said.

Unlike those portside Catholic commentators who thought that the Pope had been too abstractly theological at Regensburg, the Muslim leaders “applaud” the Pope’s “efforts to oppose the dominance of positivism and materialism in human life” and they welcome the Pope’s call for an intellectually serious encounter between Muslims and Christians.  They also accept, without cavil, the Pope’s explanation that the condemnation of Islam by the medieval Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus, which Benedict referenced in his lecture, cannot be taken to reflect the Pope’s own views on the faith of Muslims.

The Muslim leaders also insist that the Qu’ran’s injunction against “compulsion in religion” cannot be trumped by other Islamic texts. Thus they reject contemporary jihadists’ interpretations of “jihad” as an obligatory holy war of conquest, to be waged against all infidels until Allah’s sovereignty is acknowledged by the entire world. Who else but the jihadists could the thirty-eight signatories have in mind when they write that “If some have disregarded a long and well-established tradition in favor of utopian dreams where the end justifies the means, they have done so of their own accord and without the sanction of God, his Prophet, or the learned tradition”? In this context, the signatories “totally condemn” the murder of a nun in Somalia in reaction to the Regensburg lecture.

The signatories go on to invite the Pope (and, by extension, the Church) to a serious theological dialogue on the transcendence of God, and on the relationship of God’s nature and attributes to human categories of understanding. They also suggest that, in the mainstream Islamic tradition, God cannot command the irrational (like the murder of innocents) — another crucial point in the ongoing contest with those jihadists whom Canadian commentator David Warren aptly styles as “postmodern psychopaths…trying to reconstruct the conditions of 7th-century Arabia.” There are historical questions to be engaged in debating the signatories’ assertion that the rapid spread of Islam in its first centuries was primarily “political.” Still, it is not without significance that the Muslim leaders close their letter by appealing to “what is common in essence in our two Abrahamic traditions,” the two great commandments as proclaimed in Mark’s Gospel: love of God without reservation, and love of neighbor as oneself. What, then, needs further clarification? It would have been helpful had this letter acknowledged the psychotic anti-Semitism that infects too much of the Islamic world today; an Islam in genuine dialogue with Christianity cannot but be in dialogue with Christianity’s parent, Judaism, as well. The Muslim leaders’ letter tends to treat contemporary jihadism as almost a peripheral phenomenon: “…some [who] have disregarded a long and well-established tradition” seems a rather anodyne description of those jihadists whose radical interpretations of the Qu’ran, often reflecting the teachings of the Wahhabi sect, are the most dynamic force in the Islamic world today. Nor does the letter address the grave problem of Shia Islamic apocalypticism, as embodied by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his evident belief that he can accelerate the coming of the messianic age by means of nuclear holocaust.

Absent two important figures (Shaykh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, head of the al-Azhar University in Cairo, and Shaykh Yusuf al-Qardawi, an influential jurist), the thirty-eight signatories represent the A-list of international Islamic authorities. They now face a large question of action: how willing are they to challenge, discipline, and, if needs be, dramatically marginalize the jihadists who preach and commit murder “without the sanction of God, his Prophet, or the learned tradition?” Each day’s headlines remind us that that crucial question remains to be answered. But it is now in play, globally. The world can thank Benedict XVI for that.

COMING UP: Team Samaritan cyclist goes ‘Everesting’ for the homeless and hungry

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When it comes to the daily sufferings of those who are homeless, there’s nothing like a 29,029-foot bike ride to keep things in perspective.

That’s exactly what Corbin Clement will be doing this Saturday, June 19, with a couple of his riding buddies as they attempt an “Everesting” ride to raise money for the Samaritan House homeless shelter in Denver. Starting at Witter Gulch Road in Evergreen, the three riders will climb Squaw Pass Road to a point in Clear Creek County and ride back down the hill for over eight laps, which amounts to roughly 190 miles in distance and the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing – hence the name “Everesting.” Their goal is to complete the feat in 20 hours or less.

Oh, and they can’t sleep. It is, indeed, just as crazy as it sounds. Those who aren’t avid cyclists might be wondering, “How in the world do you train for something like this?” 
“For training, it’s been just more or less ride as much as possible,” Clement told the Denver Catholic. “The training is structured around endurance, and that’s of course what Everesting is. It’s just a lot of peddling. So, a lot of my training so far has just been trying to ride as much as possible and ride longer high elevation rides.” 

In March, an Irish cyclist set the world record for Everesting when he completed the feat in six hours and 40 minutes. Clement isn’t trying to set a record, but regardless, it’s quite a feat to undertake, even for a seasoned athlete like him, whose pedigree includes snowboarding and rock climbing. 

“Our ride will be the same thing, but it’ll be pretty different,” Clement said. “We don’t have any sort of special bikes or super focused diet or a really regimented plan or a crew that’s very well-instructed on how we’re going to tackle this. I’ve read a couple of things to just kind of make it into a party — have friends come out to support you, get people to join you on certain laps…that’s kind of the approach we’re taking.” 

Clement has already raised $5,200 for Samaritan House, with a current goal of $8,000. This is Clement’s first year riding for Team Samaritan, but his dad, Kevin, has ridden for the team for several years. When his dad offered to give him an extra kit and uniform, Clement accepted, but didn’t want to take it without doing something help the cause. He could’ve simply opted for a nice ride in the countryside, but he chose to do something a bit more challenging.  

Corbin Clement used to experience the challenges that homeless people face on a daily basis when commuting through downtown Denver to work on his bike. This Saturday, he will raise money for Samaritan House homeless shelter by “Everesting,” a 190-mile bike ride that is the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing. (Photo provided)

“For some reason, the Everesting idea popped into my head,” he explained. “I think it’s one of those things that has a little bit of shock value for people who hear about it. It’s certainly something that’s gained more popularity and visibility in the last couple of years with endurance athletes. I wanted to choose something that would actually be a challenge for myself and something that I’d have to work towards.” 

Clement currently resides in Utah, but he used to live in Denver and commute by bike to work every day. During those rides to his office, which was located near Samaritan House, he would pass many homeless people and have conversations with them. This experience was also a motivating factor for his Everesting attempt for Team Samaritan. 

“It’s very different when you’re on a bike versus in a car because you’re right there,” Clement said. “If you stop at a stoplight and a homeless person is on the corner, whether or not they’re panhandling or something like that, you hear the conversations, or you’ll have a conversation with them. There are things you smell or you hear or you see that you just never would if you were in a car. So, it kind of made sense, too, with the biking aspect. It’s part of my community that I’ve lived and worked in for a very long time.” 

Clement’s Everesting attempt is one event in a series of endurance event’s he’s doing over the summer that culminates with the Leadville 100, a single-day mountain bike race across the Colorado Rockies. In that race, he will be riding to support young adults diagnosed with cancer by raising funds for First Descents.  

Both causes are near to Clement’s heart, and he said that while his Everesting attempt will be a form of “suffering,” it pales in comparison to what the homeless face day in and day out. This is ultimately why he’s riding and raising funds for Team Samaritan. 

“Any time we see a homeless person or people who have to live on the streets,” Clement said, “That is true suffering — true endurance — with no end in sight.” 

To learn more about Corbin’s fundraising efforts or to donate, click here.