Interviews with a Muslim

Last year, on the day after the anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Pope Benedict XVI spoke at Regensberg University, on the subject of Christian truth, and of Christian dialogue with other faiths, especially Islam. Although there has been plenty of media coverage of the Pope's remarks, and of the reaction by Rage Boy and other Islamists, one part of the story has been conspicuously absent: the text from which the Pope’s remarks were taken. So this article supplies the missing context.

In 1391 in the East, Islam was ascendant, and Christianity barely hanging on. Manuel II Paleologue ruled the Byzantine "Empire", a territory not much larger than an American state, consisting of Constantinople and some small parts of modern-day Greece and Bulgaria. Accordingly, Manuel was obliged in the early 1391 pay tribute at the court of the Ottoman Sultan Bajazet I.

There, Manuel met a very learned, older Persian gentleman, who asked Manuel to discuss with him the comparative merits of Islam and Christianity. The Persian, who perhaps was a professor, explained that he had already learned much about Christianity, but he wished to discuss the topic with a genuine advocate of Christianity, rather than with a Muslim giving an incomplete defense of the Christian faith.

So for 26 nights, the pair debated. The discussions were recorded by some members of Manuel’s court, probably to the benefit of their prince. The full dialogues have been recorded in Greek, and the dialogue of the seventh night has been translated into French, presumably because of its significance. It was from the 1966 French edition, translated and edited by Theodore Khoury, that Benedict XVI quoted, Entretiens Avec un Musluman: 7e Controverse (Interviews with a Muslim: 7th Controversy). No edition presently exists in English. (The French translation of the dialogue itself, without Khoury's extensive analysis, is here.)