Show me just what Mohammed 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 is the statement by Manuel II Paleologus, quoted by Pope Benedict XVI. Comment has focused on whether the pope meant to insult Islam, etc.
But it is perhaps worth pointing out that as they stands, Manuel II's comments are wrong.
- He was wrong to say that anything new brought to the world by Muhammad was evil. In the context of Muhammad's time, one could claim, among other things, that his words on community peace, orphans, women, human equality etc. were great goods.
- For Islam as a culture, the art, literature, music, and aesthetic can count as goods (among others).
- Did Islam not spread by war?
- Islamdom did in parts spread by war. But this is not true everywhere -
for example Indonesia.
- Early Islam seems to have actively deterred conversion by subject peoples. Obviously, as Islamic cultures developed, this changed and converts were accepted. But if conversions were routinely forced, there would not be Christians throughout the Muslim world today, nor would India be overwhelmingly Hindu.
- Christianity, of course, was born in a very different world. It spread throughout the Roman empire without violence (although early Christian thought as represented in apocalyptic literature was remarkably violent).
- Once the Roman elite converted, at several points Christianity was spread through conquest: think of Charlemagne vs. the Saxons.
- Perhaps more to the point, countless "country conversion" narratives (England, Norway, Rus, etc.) describe how a king was converted. The enforced conversion of the ruled population seems to have been rather more thorough in many places than in Islam.