A Proper Reading of Islam?

In a previous post, I showed that despite frequent protestations to the contrary, Islam was both by nature and necessarily a religion of violence.  The reader is referred to the full argument in that post, but the gist of it centers on the truth that there are two forces by which men can be compelled through law.  The first is through the power of reason while the second is by the sword.  Now in the Islamic conception of God, there is no room for reason because Allah is pure will.  Therefore, Islam because it rejects the notion that man can be compelled by reason to follow the commands of Allah, will always gravitate towards the sword.  This argument is a rather straight-forward application of reason.  But a disturbing trend within the Church has arisen by which the grounds of argument have risen to the level of Faith.  Even the Holy Father Francis has on a number of occasions called Islam a religion of peace, even mentioning in his first encyclical Evangelii Gaudium  that “authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence” (EG, 253).

Those who study the life of Mohammad and read the Qur’an know that this assertion is patently false.  The debate over whether it is “opposed to every form of violence” is because the Qur’an is composed in a schizophrenic manner.  To clear up any contradictions, Mohammad was given the principle of abrogation (Surah 2:106—“Such of Our revelations as We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, we bring (in place) one better or the like thereof. Know you not that God is Able to do all things?”) to guide his followers.  In essence, because Allah is pure will, he may capriciously change his mind.  Therefore any one of his commandments may be abrogated or replaced by a new one.  According to the Qur’an and Islamic teaching, Muslims should follow his most recent commandment.

Because there is a clear line of demarcation in the life of Mohammad and the tenor of the revelations, there is little debate as to which parts of the Qur’an came first.  While Mohammad was peacefully (for the most part) coexisting with Christians, Jews and pagans in Mecca the parts of the Qur’an revealed to him were reflective of this peace.  But when Mohammad was violently expelled from Mecca in 622 and escaped to Medina (called the Hijiri), the revelations became increasingly more violent.  Because they are revealed later, these are the surah that are binding upon Muslims.

It does not take a Muslim scholar to discover these simple truths and come to the realization that what the Pope has been saying is untrue.  One might understand that Pope Francis wants to avoid inflaming radical Muslims any further, but it is best to keep silent rather than passing on politically correct nonsense.  But the fact that he has spoken as he has is problematic for two reasons.

pope-koran

First, when such blatant ignorance is shown it destroys his credibility and by extension the Church.  First and foremost it does great harm to the Church’s primary mission of making Jesus known.  One is less likely to listen to the Church on matters of the Catholic Faith when its face is wrong about something that takes little effort to clear up.  One has to wonder what else that he says and teaches is wrong.  It also further perpetuates the sharp division between faith and reason.  Reason may tell us one thing, but faith says we must profess something that our reason knows is false.  The result is a weakening of the Magisterium in the eyes of both those outside the Church as well as those inside.  He risks further cementing a cafeteria environment among Christian believers.

The second issue is, in my mind, a bigger deal.  There are many in the Church who perpetuate the false claims about Islam, not by arguing from the Islamic teachings themselves, but by appealing to the authority of the Magisterium.  The fact is that for most people, if the Pope says it, then it is supposed to be binding on Catholics.  Couple that with what has in essence become a media Magisterium where sound bite replaces sound doctrine and the result is mass confusion.

In order to clear up this confusion, it is necessary to answer the question as to whether what is being said about Islam is somehow binding on Catholics.  Must we throw away common sense and the tradition of the Church and assent to the sanitized version of Islam that is being offered to us?

To address this, we can return to the teachings of the First Vatican Council (Dei Filius(DF), Session 3, Chapter 3).  The faithful are obligated to believe those things:

  • which are contained in the word of God (either through Scripture or Tradition)
  • which are proposed by the Church as matters to be believed as divinely revealed
  • whether by her solemn judgment or in her ordinary and universal Magisterium

Once the principle is articulated we immediately see the problem with any argument that Islam is a religion of peace that is based on the authority of the Church.  According to the Church, she has no authority to speak on the question of Islam because it is neither “a matter concerning faith and morals” nor regarding “the discipline and government of the Church throughout the world” (DF, Session 4, Chapter 3).  Unless one is willing to concede that Islam is somehow divinely inspired, the Church has no competence to judge on the truth of statements regarding Islam.  So when Pope Francis speaks of Islam in the manner that he has, he is going beyond the competency of his office as Pope.  He might speak as to how an area of Islam is compatible or incompatible with the Christian faith, but he has no particular charism for speaking about the nature of Islam itself in a way that binds a Christian.

It is worth mentioning as well that even if we accept what Pope Francis has said as carrying some authority, it would contradict what previous Popes have said about Islam.  To take two examples:

 “… there is hope that very many from the abominable sect of Mohammad will be converted to the Catholic faith.” Pope Eugene IV, Council of Basel, 1434.

“I vow to… exalt the true Faith, and to extirpate the diabolical sect of the reprobate and faithless Mohammad in the East.” Pope Callixtus III.

To hear previous Popes call Islam abominable and diabolical and then Pope Francis to say it is a religion of peace certainly seems contradictory.  The essence of Islam has not changed since its inception so Francis’ position would certainly represent a rupture.

Scripture itself condemns Islam when it says “every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world” (1 John 4:3).

This is why a number of the saints, including St. John Damascene, have said that Mohammad was a type of the Antichrist.  In closing t is instructive then to read Mohammad’s own account of his experience of receiving the Qur’an:

“So I read it, and he departed from me. And I awoke from my sleep, and it was as though these words were written on my heart.

Now none of God’s creatures was more hateful to me than an (ecstatic) poet or a man possessed: I could not even look at them. I thought, Woe is me poet or possessed—Never shall Quraysh say this of me! I will go to the top of the mountain and throw myself down that I may kill myself and gain rest. So I went forth to do so and then when I was midway on the mountain, I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘O Muhammad! thou art the apostle of God and I am Gabriel’” (A. Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad).

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