Christians and Muslims: Divided by History
"Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."
This sentence from Pope Benedict XVI's speech ignited a firestorm of protest across Muslim lands last September. As the Western press noted, the pope was quoting Manuel II Palaiologos, a fifteenth-century Orthodox Byzantine emperor. Critics deemed the pope's speech insensitive and irresponsible given current tensions, and many denounced the quote itself.
Yet if you consider the situation at the time of Palaiologos, the reason for this emperor's vehement words against Muhammad becomes clear. Palaiologos was ruler of a proud but beleaguered empire facing near extinction at the hands of an army of Muslim Turks. He died in 1425, only 28 years before Constantinople (for centuries a bulwark of Christian power) fell to the Ottoman sultan. Is it any wonder, then, that at that moment in time a Christian would bemoan the militancy of Islam?
Quotes like these—and the damage they do to Christians' relationships with Muslims—make Hugh Goddard's A History of Christian-Muslim Relations timely and essential reading. Western Christians aren't necessarily aware of their predecessors' interactions with Muslims, but the past still powerfully affects many Muslims' perceptions of Christianity. Goddard hopes his survey will "help both Christians and Muslims to understand how the two communities have reached the situation in which they find themselves today."
Goddard, a professor of Christian-Muslim relations at the University of Nottingham, is well qualified to write this book. He writes for fellow scholars ...