One colleague of mine, a fellow Arab-American Republican activist and a devout practicing Muslim, took umbrage with the speech, as he stated in the following email to a group of conservatives:
Let me start by saying that the stupid reaction of some Muslims to the ignorance of the Pope is unacceptable.First of all, he is right in the sense that the words "holy war" are written nowhere in the Koran. However, the word "jihad" is. Somehow, it has become an accepted fact that jihad translates to holy war. Suffice it to say: that is incorrect. I recall a great Star Ledger oped - a strident critique of terrorism - from last year by my friend Anisa Mehdi that addressed this topic.
As for my thoughts about his comments...it is either ignorance on his part or a deliberate act to fuel a conflict between Islam and Christianity...I challenge him or anyone else to show me where in the Quran the words "holy war" are mentioned. IT DOES NOT EXIST.
Jihad is an Arabic word that roughly means "struggle" or "striving". Interestingly, it can also be given as a first name – someone named Jihad means "one who struggles" or "one who strives". There have been long books written about the various permutations of jihad and its historical overtones, but the word jihad is not uniquely Islamic. For example, during my last visit to Damascus, I recall a Syrian friend talking about the jihood (plural of jihad) of getting his factory up and running. In fact, plenty of Christian as well as Muslim Arabs have the first name Jihad.
But getting back to the Pope's speech, my friend was wrong to have characterized the Pope's remarks as ignorant. He cited the speech in English. However, the speech was given in German, and in the original speech, the Pope said, according the German section of the Vatican's website:
In der von Professor Khoury herausgegebenen siebten Gesprächsrunde (διάλεξις – Kontroverse) kommt der Kaiser auf das Thema des Djihād, des heiligen Krieges zu sprechen.So he used the Arabic term. It was the English version on the Vatican's website (as well as the French and Italian versions), however, which improperly translated jihad as holy war.
In the seventh conversation (διάλεξις - controversy) edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war.Notice the explication used by the translator for the greek citation. Why was this not done for the arabic word جهاد (jihad)? So the bottom line is: Cheers to the Pope for taking the high road and engaging the Islamic world in a sophisticated manner. Jeers to his linguistic team for their low-brow translation.
NOTE: I made an error in this post, which I explain in the comments section.