Pope Francis Sent a Powerful Message to the World About Offensive Muslim Stereotypes
The news: Pope Francis has made big news this year, tackling issues ranging from capitalism to climate change — but he's not done just yet.
On a three-day trip to Turkey, the pontiff spoke about the perils of religious fundamentalism, regardless of creed. And on the topic of Islam, Francis was very clear: You can't equate ordinary Muslims with radical fundamentalists.
"You just can't say that, just as you can't say that all Christians are fundamentalists. We have our share of them. All religions have these little groups," he said Sunday. "[Muslims] say: 'No, we are not this, the Quran is a book of peace, it is a prophetic book of peace.'"
"Religious belief has an important place in the life of this predominantly Muslim nation. In my visit to Ankara, I wished to stress the importance of ensuring its free exercise by all, and the need for Christians and Muslims to work together in promoting solidarity, peace and justice," he said.
Listen up: The pope's words come at an important time. Ever since Islamic State started grabbing headlines — and even before — talking heads from Bill O'Reilly to Bill Maher have often conflated Islam with radicalism, contending that the religion has an intrinsic propensity for violence.
But as Francis reminds us, it's disingenuous to take a small, radical subset of a religion and apply their beliefs to a vast, global population — around 1.6 billion people, to be more precise, or nearly one-quarter of the world's population. After all, it wouldn't be fair to project the actions of a few Christian fundamentalists onto the 1.2 billion people Roman Catholics Francis leads.
Francis's stance also marks a departure from his predecessor: Back in 2006, former Pope Benedict sparked protests for making remarks that seemingly linked Islam to violence.
Entirely different things: One can take a firm stance against Islamic State without condemning Islam. In conversation with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Francis reaffirmed that Islamic State is "an extremist and fundamentalist group" subjecting communities in Syria and Iraq to "barbaric violence simply because of their ethnic and religious identity," and called on Muslim leaders around the world to take a more vocal stance against the group.
"I told the president that it would be beautiful if all Islamic leaders, whether they are political, religious or academic leaders, would speak out clearly and condemn this because this would help the majority of Muslim people," he said.
As the pope's trip to Turkey demonstrates, it's possible to condemn the actions of an individual sect without calling an entire religion into question. The international community needs to present a united front against Islamic, and this interreligious dialogue is a good start.