According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur'an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness which leaves us astounded, on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "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". The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God", he says, "is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably (σὺν λόγω) is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death...".
The violent reaction goes right to the heart of what Pope Benedict XVI is trying to get at, that violence is the antithesis of faith in God from whom comes faith and the ability to reason and preach His word in a manner those who do not know may understand it. If you would like to read the entire address click here.
Now I read and here a lot of people in their anger at this reaction lash out as the Islamic protestors, wanting reprisals. As Christians, we do have ability to defend ourselves from harm, but to return this evil with evil is not defensible, and so far I do not see or read of reprisals, just words of it. As Christians we must remember that we have taken up our cross with Christ and will suffer in this lifetime. And our response must be that of Christ while He suffered.
"Father forgive them, for they know not what they do."
Despite the anger, despite the outrage we may feel, we still must forgive those who would wish
to harm us.