On the Pope

I decided to take a week to talk about the passing of Pope (may God have mercy on him) for a few reasons. One, he was an extraordinary figure, and one needs time to digest a life like that. Two, I needed to understand what it meant to me personally. Three, the constant coverage was somewhat sickening.

As a result, I’ve decided rather than talking about the person of the Pope, I would rather talk about the figure of the Pope, and what his passing made me understand. For those of you who wish to have an understanding of how Muslims are dealing with the Pope’s death, I refer you to Martijn and al-Muhajabah. Please also read this story about the man before the Pope and his respect for Jewish tradition.

As a Shi’ah Muslim, many people would assume that there is a natural affinity with Catholicism because of the central religious interpreter of law, and the notion of infallibility. The theological underpinnings behind the two roles are different, and rather than belabor the point, I direct you to Roman Catholics and Shi’I Muslims; the key distinction rests in how the Imam and Pope are chosen. The first is chosen by God, the latter by men. I know it’s a simplification, but let it go.

However, this distinction did get me thinking about how difficult it is to understand another person’s faith. I recognized the death of a great man, a spiritual man. I recognized the loss to a community. I recognized the loss to the world of a statesman. I prayed for him, but I could not feel sorrow. This is not because I am outside of the tradition. This is because the death of an Imam has a different meaning in the Shi’ah context. Some Shi’ah might mourn the passing of the body, but the continuation of the line is a cause for joy as well, that the plan God has is working. The focus is on the nûr, or light, present in the Imam.

The news reports focused on the ritual and what politicians and ranking members of the church had to say. Loss, however, is a communal event. How is that sorrow and grieving understood? How do we participate? The building of the community is how we can understand one another. This deficit in reporting, and my own lack of sorrow, made me realize then how hard it must be for non-Muslims to understand Muslims based on what is reported, even when it is reported well; the human connection is missing.

It is in the passing of the Pope that I received insight.

One thought on “On the Pope

  1. Islam and the Pope

    In Islamicate’s entry discussing Pope John Paul II’s death, he compares the Pope to the Imam. He mentions the similarities between the Pope and the Imam, and the differences between them. It’s this commentary that I’d like to add my own thoughts to…

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