Category Archives: Islam

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).

Surrounded by Tragedies

In his famous essay, Politics and the English Language, George Orwell lamented how the English language has becomes “ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts…. prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house.”  We select certain vague words or phrases that are intended to hide the truth rather than express it.  One overused word that has suffered the fate of obfuscation is tragedy.  We even attempt to dress up the word by attaching “senseless” to it, rendering what is being said nonsense.  Tragedies are by nature not random acts, but instead should be seen as the almost unavoidable consequence of the decisions of the tragic hero. There may be some fate as to how it actually plays out, but the hero always bears responsibility for the calamity.  The tragic event always comes about because of some serious flaw in the hero’s character.

Last week, the city of Orlando was rocked by two unrelated calamities that have both been called tragedies.  Despite the fact that the sheriff called the drowning of the child after being attacked by an alligator a “very unfortunate tragedy,” he was simply the victim of an unfortunate accident.  No one could have anticipated what happened and neither the child nor his parents bore any culpability in the attack.  The “national tragedy” that occurred at the Orlando nightclub was something vastly different.  It bore all the marks of a tragedy in the true sense of the word.  There was nothing random about the slaughter of forty-nine people by the tragic hero, Omar Mateen.  If the little evidence that we have been made aware of is to be believed, then it was clearly a thoroughly premeditated act.   It does not take much reflection to see that these two events are not in the same category, yet the secular press and the government would have us believe that they are.

In calling them both a tragedy it allows us to simply chalk them up to fate.  In one case it was that the alligator just happened to be in that part of the water while in the other he just happened to pick that particular club. This is like saying that Macbeth’s demise at the hand of Macduff was because the witches said he was invincible and not because of Macbeth’s lust for power.  In other words, by grouping all calamities together as tragedies, it allows us to gloss over the tragic flaw of the principle actor.

The flaw in Omar Mateen was that he had been to Saudi Arabia and been taught by a radical element within Islam; or so we are told.  And here we have yet another attempt at verbal gymnastics to avoid the deep thinking necessary.  We think by attaching the adjective “radical” to the noun Islam that we are saying that he has somehow gone beyond what is true Islam.  The base of the word radical is literally “forming the root” meaning that it is a thorough application of Islam.  It is Islam at its root.

shariah-law-picture

Anyone familiar with the teachings of Islam will know that what Mateen did was what his religion dictates.  There are a number of places in the Qur’an where homosexual activity is condemned one of which is the seventh surah:

“And [We had sent] Lot when he said to his people, ‘Do you commit such immorality as no one has preceded you with from among the worlds?  Indeed, you approach men with desire, instead of women. Rather, you are a transgressing people.’  But the answer of his people was only that they said, ‘Evict them from your city! Indeed, they are men who keep themselves pure.’  So We saved him and his family, except for his wife; she was of those who remained [with the evildoers].  And We rained upon them a rain [of stones]. Then see how was the end of the criminals.” (7:80-84).

Recall that to the faithful Muslim, the sayings of Muhammad or hadith are binding upon them, especially when applying what the Qur’an teaches to concrete circumstances.  What should a faithful Muslim do to those who engage in homosexual behavior?  Muhammad is quite explicit as to what the punishment should be:  “If you find anyone doing as Lot’s people did, kill the one who does it, and the one to whom it is done.” (Sunan Abu Dawud 4462).

It is not so much then that Mateen had been “radicalized” as that he was acting in accord with what his religion teaches.  There are some differences in the various schools of Islamic jurisprudence as to the number of strikes a suspected homosexual gets, but all of them allow for execution.  Accordingly, there have been an estimated 4000 executions of suspected homosexuals under Sharia law in Iran since 1980.  It is one thing to think homosexual behavior wrong like Christians do; it is another to treat it as a crime, punishable by death.

Obviously then we have to make the attack about what it was about.  Mateen certainly targeted Americans because they are Americans, but to think he picked this particular group of Americans for any other reason than what his religion teaches is naïve.  One could scour the media for the Islamic teachings and never find them.  The government will never assign that as his motivation.  Why is that?

First, those who have been thoroughly secularized cannot imagine anyone acting based on strict religious convictions.  Their version of religion is that which makes us comfortable, but makes very little in the way of demands.  Anyone so committed to religion that they would actually follow the tenets of that religion is clearly a fanatic or a radical.

Second, it seems very strange at first glance that two diametrically opposed world views, namely LGBT and Islam, could remain unchallenged media darlings.  That is until you factor in the idea that one of them, namely Islam is also a religion.  From a secular viewpoint, all religions are the same.  Islam is no different from Christianity, Judaism or Buddhism.  They are all just flawed man-made attempts to reach God, if there even is one.  It is all just “different strokes for different folks” and as long as we can coexist, then everything is fine.  But the minute they actually investigate Islam and find out that it calls for the killing of homosexuals, they would have to admit that this religion has something false in it.  Not only is that repugnant to a relativist, but it would force them to admit that they are not all equal.  Some are actually better than others.  This is dangerous territory because it could lead to something like dogmatism—insisting that religion is actually a source of truth.

Instead they merely stick their heads in the sand and deny such dangerous elements in the religion exist.  They instead label anyone who believes such things as “radical” and accuse them of taking it too far.  But the proof is in the religion’s founding documents that no one seems to know how to read.  Meanwhile, ignorance is not bliss.  People are being killed because of the steady refusal to admit reality.  Orlando may have been a great tragedy, but like all tragedies there is a sense that it could have been averted had we been willing to acknowledge the tragic flaw.

Our Lady and the Muslims

In his Life of St. Francis of Assisi St. Bonaventure tells of his spiritual father’s “glowing charity” toward the Muslims that “urged his spirit unto martyrdom.”  He gained entrance into the presence of the Sultan of Babylon. “When the Sultan inquired by whom, why and how they had been sent, Francis replied with an intrepid heart that the Most High God had sent him to point out to the Sultan and his people the way of salvation and to announce the Gospel of truth.  Inspired from heaven, Francis continued: ‘If you wish to be converted to Christ along with your people, I will most gladly stay with you for love of him. But if you hesitate. . .then command that an enormous fire be lit and I will walk into the fire along with your priests so that you will recognize which faith deserves to be held as holier and more certain.’”  While the Sultan never took Francis up on his offer for conversion or martyrdom, the saint did earn his admiration and was eventually released  The frustration that Francis experienced in preaching the Gospel and leading Muslims to conversion is something that the Church as a whole has long struggled with.  It seems that, with very few exceptions, Muslims as a whole are unconvertable.

Certainly there are within the Islam  corpus of teachings that help to explain this.  First of all, the death penalty for apostasy is deeply ingrained in Islamic culture to the point that it is often the family of the convert who turns them over to the authorities.  This practice has its root in both the Qur’an and the Hadith of Muhammad.  In Surah 9:11-12, the author of the Qur’an declares that “But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then are they your brethren in religion. We detail our revelations for a people who have knowledge. And if they break their pledges after their treaty (hath been made with you) and assail your religion, then fight the heads of disbelief — Lo! they have no binding oaths in order that they may desist.”  While there is some difference in opinions as to whether this particular verse applies to apostates particularly, it is the Hadith (the sayings and teachings of Muhammad) that make this particular teaching binding.  “Abdullah reported Allah’s Messenger as saying: It is not permissible to take the life of a Muslim who bears testimony (to the fact that there is no god but Allah, and I am the Messenger of Allah, but in one of the three cases: the married adulterer, a life for life, and the deserter of his Din [Islam], abandoning the community” (Chapter 6,  Bk.16, no. 4152).

Fear is not the only reason why conversion has been slow.  More fundamentally, conversion is blocked for the same reason that few Christians convert to Judaism—Islam is believed to be the fullness of God’s revelation and to convert to Christianity (or even Judaism) would be a step backwards.  Muslims believe that the history of the world is divided into periods of different prophets.  First there was Moses and Torah (Tawrat), then Jesus and the Gospel (Injil) and then definitively, Muhammad and the Qur’an.  A core Islamic belief regarding the “People of the Book”, that is Jews and Christians, is that they corrupted God’s Revelation.  The Old and New Testaments contain fragments of what used to be a legitimate form of revelation but has been tampered with.

Despite these difficulties, conversion is still a possibility.  When the Church in Mexico could make no evangelical inroads with the natives to the point that he feared armed resistance, Bishop Zumarraga called on Our Lady’s help  In short order, Our Lady of Guadalupe intervened and there were 9 million converts in less than a decade.  So too does she desire to bring Muslims to her Son and home to the Father.

In setting aside some of the apocalyptic interpretations, the number of Marian apparitions in the Middle East has taken a decidedly steep uptick in recent decades.  What makes these particular apparitions so powerful is that they are fully visible to all present, and can even be captured on camera.  While the Church has yet to authenticate them, it might serve as a sign that Our Lady is ready to act in a miraculous way.

Why might we be looking at a situation similar to what was witnessed on this Continent in the 16th Century?  Because of the Muslim regard for Mary.  Just as she served as the bridge between God and Man by lending her humanity to God’s own Son, she may serve as a bridge between Christians and Muslims.

In his biography of St. Thomas Aquinas, G.K. Chesterton said that what made St. Thomas such a great evangelist and defender of the faith was the principle “that we must either not argue with a man at all or we must argue on his grounds and not ours.”  So if we are to win Muslims to the Faith we must find bridges between their beliefs and ours.  Realistically, Jesus is not that bridge.  Their beliefs regarding Isa render the true Jesus practically unrecognizable.  But when it comes to the Mother of God, they are surprisingly close to the Christian belief.

Our Lady and Our Lord infant

Surah 19 bears the name “Mary” and in it we find a narrative of the Annunciation and the Islamic defense of the Virgin Birth.  Clearly drawing from apocryphal sources like the Protoevangelium of James, the Qur’an also says much with regard to Mary’s childhood.  She is portrayed as constantly under direct divine protection, nourished by angels and blessed with heavenly visions regularly (Surah 3:32).  All of this detail serves as confirmation of Mary’s greatness.

The Muslims even believe in a reduced form of the Immaculate Conception.  In Islamic theology, man is incapable of entering into a relationship with Allah and therefore there is nothing like the Christian doctrine of Original Sin.  However they do believe that mankind has a natural defectibility which makes each member impure from birth.  In Hadith 4506 it is said that ” “When any human being is born, Satan touches him at both sides of the body with his two fingers, except Jesus, the son of Mary, whom Satan tried to touch but failed, for he touched the placenta-cover instead.” From this Hadith and from Surah 3:35-37 Islamic commentators have put forth the principle of Mary’s original purity.

While there are some inconsistencies related to the fact that Mary is portrayed as unwed at the time of the Annunciation and a confusing narrative which seems to suggest that she is Moses’ sister (Surah 19:28), these differences are far outweighed by the similarities.  Why is this?  Because one of Mary’s titles in the Old Roman Missal was the “Destoyer of Heresies.”  Wherever she is honored, heresies are destroyed.  All Mary does is lead people to her Son.  When we honor her, she responds by leading us more fully to her Son.  Venerable Fulton Sheen in The World’s First Love says

“Mary is the advent of Christ, bringing Christ to the people before Christ Himself is born. In an apologetic endeavor, it is always best to start with that which people already accept. Because the Moslems have a devotion to Mary, our missionaries should be satisfied merely to expand and to develop that devotion, with the full realization that Our Blessed Lady will carry the Moslems the rest of the way to her divine Son. She is forever a traitor, in the sense that she will not accept any devotion for herself, but will always bring anyone who is devoted to her to her divine Son. As those who lose devotion to her lose belief in the divinity of Christ, so those who intensify devotion to her gradually acquire that belief.”

To the extent that we are faithful to Jesus’ command to take His Mother into our homes and consecrate ourselves to her and her evangelical mission of converting Muslims then we will begin to see waves of Islamic conversions.  For Muslims too have a devotion to Our Lady.  After the Virgin Mary, Muhammad’s daughter Fatima is held in the highest regard among women.  Let us then follow Our Lady of Fatima’s command to pray the Rosary daily and offer it for the conversion of Muslims.

The Church and Coexist-ing

In the spirit of Advent, the President of the USCCB, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, issued a statement yesterday calling upon all people of good will to unite in confronting the “Violence and hate in the world around us [meeting them] with resolve and courage.”  Furthermore he promised that the Bishops’ Conference would “advocate on behalf of people facing religious discrimination, including our Muslim brothers and sisters.”  This was followed by the call to “confront the extremist threat with courage and compassion, recognizing that Christianity, Islam, Judaism and many other religions are united in opposition to violence carried out in their name.”

While the Archbishop should be applauded for his effort of sowing seeds of peace, especially with Muslims, his statement papers over some very important differences that it is time the shepherds of the Church address.  Namely, he says that “When we fail to see the difference between our enemies and people of good will, we lose a part of who we are as people of faith.”  While this comment may in fact be true, the opposite is also true—when we fail to see the difference between our friends and our enemies, we also lose something of who we are.  In other words, there is an equal danger of calling someone an enemy who is a friend and of calling someone a friend who is really an enemy.  Rather than issuing statements filled with the puree of political correctness, it would be good to give us the meat of truth about Islam so that we can discern the difference.  Without this, there is a certain gravity that naturally pulls anyone of goodwill into one camp or the other.  Only with a proper understanding of Islam, can someone love Muslims while rejecting Islam.  This can only happen when the Church speaks in a clear voice about the subject of Islam.

The most recent authoritative statement regarding Islam comes from the Catechism— “The Church’s relationship with the Muslims. ‘The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day’” (CCC 841).  This statement is a direct quote from the Second Vatican Council’s Lumen Gentium (16).  Like many statements contained in documents of the Council, it is plagued by a certain amount of ambiguity.  With some context and explanation, this statement can be better understood and lead to a sense of clarity.

Certainly the accusation that the Council Fathers were overly optimistic about the world, and specifically about Islam, has some merit to it.  But the world of Islam in the 1960s is not the same world today.  The amount of hostility that the Muslim world displayed towards Christianity was at an all-time low.  Most people thought that secularization and Westernization had left the Islamic world in ruins.  So of course in that climate, such a statement that emphasized commonalities was in order.  A plea to “forget the past” and the recommendation that both sides “work sincerely for mutual understanding” is appropriate.  With the “Arab Spring” uprisings came a reassertion of the political aspects of Islam all across the Middle East.

In short, I think the Council Fathers read the signs of the times correctly, but those times have passed.  Many prelates and priests in the Church are still living in those times and need to bring their understanding and teaching up to date.

Coexist

A careful reading of the paragraph from the Catechism yields certain questions that bear further explanation.  Specifically:

What does it mean when it says “the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims”?

The context of Lumen Gentium is important here.  First of all in speaking of the “plan of salvation” it refers to the universality of Christ’s redemptive act.  Muslims are awaiting their redemption from Christ, not as Muslims, but as potential Christians.  They should be targets of evangelization (more on this below) just like everyone else is, but in a manner that respects where they are beginning from.   Furthermore, the paragraph also is referring to the fact that among all the non-Christian religions (Judaism excepted), Muslims are “in the first place” because they profess monotheism.  All the other religions mentioned in the document (Buddhism, Hinduism, even atheism) do not have this.

What does it mean when it says “these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day”?

This statement is particularly ambiguous, but the key to understanding lies in the fact that they profess to hold the faith of Abraham.  The Church is not saying that they actually do hold the faith of Abraham, only that they profess to.

There seems to be a contradiction in this interpretation when it says “with us they adore the one, merciful God.”   The point of this qualifier is that they adore the one merciful God in much the same way St. Paul found the Athenians in the Aeropogus.  St Paul tells them,

“You Athenians, I see that in every respect you are very religious.  For as I walked around looking carefully at your shrines, I even discovered an altar inscribed, ‘To an Unknown God.’  What therefore you unknowingly worship, I proclaim to you” (Acts 17:22-23).

The analogy between Islam and the Athenians is that both are aiming at the true God, even if they were missing.  For the Athenians they were blind and could not see where to aim, the Church seems to be suggesting that Muslims are in fact aiming at the correct target, even if they miss very badly.  St. John Paul II in his book-length interview, Crossing the Threshold of Hope suggests the same thing:

“Some of the most beautiful names in the human language are given to the God of the Koran, but He is ultimately a God outside of the world, a God who is only Majesty, never Emmanuel, God with us. Islam is not a religion of redemption. There is no room for the Cross and the Resurrection. Jesus is mentioned, but only as a prophet who prepares for the last prophet, Muhammad. There is also mention of Mary, His Virgin Mother, but the tragedy of redemption is completely absent. For this reason not only the theology but also the anthropology of Islam is very distant from Christianity.”(Emphasis added).

All of which leads to another oft-asked question, namely:

Is the God of Islam the “same” God as the Christian God?

In a 1999 General Audience, John Paul II seems to give an answer to this in the affirmative.  But in many ways this is the wrong question.  Whether we classify Islam as a Christian heresy or not isn’t really that important.  What is important is to understand how fundamentally flawed their conception of God is and to show them the freedom that Christ is offering to them.

In St. John’s Gospel (8:31-59), Jesus engages “those Jews who believed in Him” regarding the question of Abraham’s fatherhood.  He tells them that they are indeed children of Abraham, but not children of the promise like Isaac, but slave children like Ishmael.  Rather than seeing God as master, they should look upon Him as Father.

This dialogue could very easily be applied to “dialogue” between Christians and Muslims.  For Muslims, Allah is Master and man his slaves.  He is not Father, and has no sons.   To call Allah Father is a great sin in Islamic law.  And yet, like Jesus, we need to offer to them the “freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:21) by introducing them to God as Father.

Despite the fact that it may be met with hostility, Christians need to show Muslims the Fatherhood of God.  Ultimately it is God as Father that meets every longing of the human heart.  The path to evangelizing Muslims lies precisely in this—“formed by Divine teaching” having the courage to call Him Our Father.

Here ultimately lies the problem with the Archbishop’s statement.  By referring to Muslims as “brothers and sisters,” Archbishop Kurtz does both Christians and Muslims a great disservice.  If we are brothers and sisters, then this means we have a common father.  Who is this father?

A fundamental belief of Christianity is that despite being creatures, God in Jesus Christ, is offering us adoption as sons and daughters.  But this adoption is not something automatic, but instead something that is offered to us.  It remains our choice to accept this adoption and to live as sons and daughters.  The Muslim conception of God would forbid this view and thus they are not open to being adopted into the Family of the Trinity unless someone preaches it to them.

By calling them “brothers and sisters” we are doing the exact opposite.  We are saying that they already are in that relationship with God.  It confuses both Christians and Muslims alike.

First of all, anyone familiar with Islamic teaching knows that no follower of Islam (radical or not) would ever view a Christian as his brother or sister.  While they may offer solidarity with Christians after a great tragedy like occurred in San Bernardino that solidarity sits on a shaky foundation.  That solidarity sits upon a political unity as Americans that is foreign to the Islamic mindset.  There is only one source of unity in the Islamic mindset and that is the Dar al-Islam, or abode of Islam.  In other words, it is unreasonable to expect that when push comes to shove the moderate Muslims will be allies in a fight against radical elements.

From a Christian standpoint, the only conclusion to the label of “brothers and sisters” is that we do not need to preach the Gospel to them.  Ultimately we can just “Coexist.”  This is why the proper identification of friends and enemies that the Archbishop mentioned is so important.  Muslims certainly can be our friends, but Islamic teaching itself is not friendly to Christianity.  It regards itself as an enemy of Christianity.  But properly understood, Muslims are not yet brothers and sisters.  And the only way to ensure that those who are our friends remain so is to make them true brothers and sisters.  Let’s stop wasting time and energy spouting out politically correct drivel.  If we focus on converting the “moderates”, the blood of the martyrs in the East will take care of the “extremists.”  One has to wonder, what is the USCCB’s plan for converting Muslims?  Could we have a document on that?  While the Archbishop is right that “Policies of fear and inflammatory rhetoric will only offer extremists fertile soil and pave the way toward a divisive, fearful future,” the surest path to a divisive and fearful eternal future for all of us, is to just let them be—“woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” (1Cor 9:16).

 

A Religion of Peace?

In his dialogue with Euthyphro, Socrates poses a crucial question that has application even today.  He asks Euthyphro “is what is holy, holy because the gods approve it or do they approve it because it is holy?”  Put in other words, he is asking whether something is good because God commands it or whether God commands it because it is good?  A moment’s reflection reveals a philosophical catch-22.  The question is essentially trying to answer which of the two—goodness or approval of the gods—is the cause and which is the effect.  Euthyphro contends that a thing is good because God commands it.  But this makes God arbitrary and mankind subject to His every whim.  Socrates chooses the second; God commands a thing because it is good.  This too presents a problem, namely that there appears to be something above God, binding His omnipotence.

Which answer is correct?  Both.  Both Euthyphro and Socrates are right.  But because they do not know God in the manner He has revealed Himself to Christians, they are also wrong.  They assume a cause and effect relationship between commandments and God’s will.  Instead it is of God’s nature to act in accord with reason.  The Christian conception of God is one in which God is a God of reason.  We worship the Logos or the Word Made Flesh because we alone recognize God’s true nature.

This problem of somehow seeing laws as constraining God has plagued both the East and the West.  In the Christian West it has led to the rejection of Natural Law and reduced all law to the “will of the People.”  In the East it took the form of a religion called Islam.

euthyphro painting

It is this philosophical problem that plagues Islam and is ultimately the reason why Islam cannot be a religion of peace without being first a religion of force.  There are two ways in which a man can be compelled—by reason and by force.  A god who is pure will and not governed by reason is necessarily a god who will command violence.  A god not governed by reason can only make his law known by commanding it.

In his Regensburg Lecture, Pope Benedict XVI used a quotation of Manuel II to draw out this truth.  Manuel II said that “To convince a reasonable soul one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening the person with death.”  His point is that the truth has a compelling force of its own.  Certainly we are fallen creatures and have difficulty both arriving at and conforming ourselves to the truth, but never the less the truth is ultimately what sets us free.

If you remove truth (through moral relativism) or our ability to know the truth on our own (like in Islam where man can only know what God tells him directly) then the only compelling force to follow laws is through force.  If truth does not make right then “might makes right.”  If Allah is the mightiest then he will ultimately resort to violence to enforce his will.  This violence is not directed just towards non-Muslims, but all mankind.  The violence is done to man’s nature and freedom to come to know the truth and live in accord with it.  For non-Muslims the violence simply extends into man’s material being as well.

This is why any claims that Islam is a religion of peace are logically incoherent with their conception of God.  If we assume that God is a god of pure will then the commands in the Koran such as, “Fight in the way of God against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! God loves not aggressors. And slay them wherever you find them and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter,” (Sura 2:190-193) naturally follow.  When reason or Logos does not govern action then it necessarily becomes a matter of “might makes right.”  What we label as terrorism is simply a logical consequence of a voluntarist Allah to whom the entire world must be submitted.

As an aside it is worth understanding the claim that the Sura quoted above only allows fighting for self-defense.  The problem with this explanation is the definition of what constitutes an act of aggression against Islam.  Some Islamic schools say non-belief in Islam is itself an act of aggression since it is the true and original religion.  It is assumed that the truth of Islam is so obvious that only an obstinate person would refuse to accept it.

It is said that the goal of Islam is peace.  This is why they greet fellow Muslims with “as-salamu alaykum” (“the peace of Allah be upon you “).  This same greeting is never extended to a non-Muslim because in Islam there exists no concept of peace between nonbeliever and devout Muslims.  The peace that is promoted is within Umma or the worldwide Muslim brotherhood and is the fruit of everyone submitting (the meaning of the word Islam) to the rule of Allah.

For Islam the whole world is wakf , which means it is territory belonging to Allah.  This territory has been promised to the Muslims and jihad is the means by which those lands that have been “illegally” held by infidels are brought back into Islamic possession.  In other words, Muslims can never be accused of occupation or oppression because they believe the land is theirs.  Before allowing any mass “migration” into a country this needs to be understood.  A Muslim who is faithful to the Koran does not see himself as an immigrant anywhere, but instead as coming into land that is by right his.

Everyone has a philosophy whether they recognize it or not.  As Cicero once said, the choice is not between having a philosophy and not having one, but between having a good one or a bad one.  By recognizing the underlying philosophy of Islam, we are able to cut through a lot of the false ideas and rhetoric surrounding it.  A belief in a capricious god always leads to violence as his followers enforce his arbitrary rulings.

Dialogue with Islam

As was mentioned in a previous post, one of the fruits of the Second Vatican Council was a concerted effort on the Church’s part to enter into dialogue with non-Christian religions.  While this always has the aim of evangelizing, it assumes that dialogue is possible.  What I mean by this is that, first, the other group is interested in dialogue and, second, that they are capable of it.  Nowhere are these assumptions challenged more than when it comes to the religion of Islam.  The Church has expended considerable resources on this effort and has had little fruit to show for it.  Could it be that dialogue is simply impossible with Islam?

When his brother Dominicans approached him to ask St. Thomas Aquinas about dialogue with Muslims, he said that they ought to approach them as if they were “natural” men.  What he meant by this is that unlike the Jews, Muslims fully reject Biblical Revelation.  Likewise because of the many contradictions regarding Christian doctrine (most notably the divinity of Christ) found in the Koran, Christians cannot accept theirs.  Therefore, the only approach is through human reason alone.

So even though Islam professes to worship the God of Abraham, the approach is the same as with any other non-Christian religion, through human reason.  What has to be understood however is that Islam rejects the whole notion of human reason.  In the Eleventh Century, there was an intellectual revolution led by perhaps the most influential Muslim next to Mohammed named Al-Ghazali.  As founder of the Ash’arite theology he affirmed that man can only know that which Allah tells him.  This makes entering into dialogue practically impossible.  If man can only know what God tells him, then any search for the truth (the literal meaning of the word dialogue) outside of the definitive revelation of the Koran is fruitless.

In his now infamous Regensburg Lecture, Pope Benedict was addressing this very same issue.  He was calling for an intellectual awakening both in the West and in Islam itself.  The violent response of Islam to Benedict XVI’s lecture showed that there is little room for reasonable discourse about Islam.  But what many Catholics are not aware of is that it actually did result in a gesture toward dialogue when 138 Islamic scholars penned a letter to Pope Benedict called A Common Word between Us and You.  Many within the Church took this as a great sign, but for those who are familiar with the teachings of Islam, it perhaps represents a subterfuge more than a real attempt at peace and understanding between the adherents of the world’s two largest religions.

The Islamic scholars insist that the “basis for this peace and understanding already exists. It is part of the very foundational principles of both faiths: love of the One God, and love of the neighbor. These principles are found over and over again in the sacred texts of Islam and Christianity. The Unity of God, the necessity of love for Him, and the necessity of love of the neighbor is thus the common ground between Islam and Christianity.”  One has to ask whether this is true.

The title of the letter comes from Sura 3:64, “Say: O People of the Scripture! Come to a common word between us and you: that we shall worship none but God, and that we shall ascribe no partner unto Him, and that none of us shall take others for lords beside God. And if they turn away, then say: Bear witness that we are they who have surrendered (unto Him).” The scholars connect this verse with the First and Greatest Commandment given by Jesus—“The words: we shall ascribe no partner unto Him relate to the Unity of God, and the words: worship none but God, relate to being totally devoted to God. Hence they all relate to the First and Greatest Commandment.”Church of Holy Sepulchre and Dome of the Rock

The problem with this is that it attempts to gloss over a very real and potentially insurmountable difference.  No Muslim actually believes that to say “we shall ascribe no partner unto Him” simply refers to the Unity of God in the sense that a Christian would understand the unity of God.  For to “ascribe a partner unto Him” is the unforgivable sin in Islam, namely shirk.  Christians, who believe that Jesus is the Son of God, commit this sin with impunity.  The Koran is very clear as to what Muslims are to do to those who obstinately commit this sin,

“Fight against such of those who have been given the Scripture and believe not in God nor the Last Day, and forbid not that which God has forbidden by His Messenger, and follow not the religion of truth, until they pay the tribute readily, being brought low…and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of God. That is their saying with their mouths. They imitate the saying of those who disbelieved of old. God (himself) fights against them. How perverse are they! They have taken as lords beside God their rabbis and their monks and the Messiah son of Mary, when they were bidden to worship only One God. None should be worshipped but God alone. Be He glorified from all that they ascribe as partner (to Him)!” (Sura 9:29-31)

A difference this large cannot be a foundation for peace and understanding.  For faithful adherents of Islam, this difference is a foundation for war and dhimmitude (“pay the tribute, being brought low”).  To pretend otherwise is disingenuous at best.

The second commandment as a basis for peace and understanding, namely the love of neighbor also forms a shaky foundation.  After issuing the twofold commandment of love of God and love of neighbor, Jesus is asked by the scholar of the law “who is my neighbor?”.  He goes on to tell him the parable of the Good Samaritan to illustrate that Christianity believes in the brotherhood of all mankind (Luke 10:25-37).  The Christian sees in all men, his neighbor.  For the Muslim who is faithful to the Koran and Hadith, his neighbor is only other Muslims.

One of the five pillars of Islam is Zakat, or almsgiving.  All Muslims are obligated to give alms only to “the poor and the needy, and those who collect them, and those whose hearts are to be reconciled, and to free the captives and the debtors, and for the cause of God, and (for) the wayfarers; a duty imposed by God. God is Knower, Wise” (Sura 9:60).  But these alms can only be given to other Muslims because Allah commands that Muslims “[N]ever be a helper to the unbelievers” (Sura 28:86).  In other words, if the victim was not a Muslim in Jesus’ parable, then Muslims are commanded to pass him by.

It is this foundational truth about Islam that makes dialogue extremely difficult.  Dialogue always assumes an equality between the two parties insofar as their dignity is concerned.  Their ideas may not be equal, but without seeing the other as your equal then honest dialogue can never happen.  Muslims are taught not to see “People of the Book” as their equals.  Only their fellow Muslims can be their equal.  This distinction between believers and unbelievers is made in everything.  It even plays out in Sharia Law with respect to punishments for crimes.  Punishments change based on whether the perpetrator/victim is a Muslim or not because a Muslim is considered to be on a higher level of faith and thus to do him harm is not just breaking some moral code, but also constitutes an act of sacrilege.  The robbers in the parable may even have been faithful Muslims who justified it by saying they were collecting the jizya.

Above I appeared to be overly harsh in response to what appears to be a good will gesture by calling it potentially an act of subterfuge.  This is because Islam is one of the only religions that has a developed doctrine of deception called Taqiyya.  Sura 3:28 commands Islamic adherents to practice deception if it benefits the spread of Islam. Al-Tabari (an early Islamic scholar) explains “If you are under their authority, fearing for yourselves, behave loyally to them with your tongue, while harboring inner animosity for them…”  Because dialogue depends upon both parties being truthful, there can be no movement toward the truth when either party is convinced that they can lie anytime it helps them.  Knowing this, we naturally have to ask whether the scholars are trying to disarm Christians.  Beware of the man offering peace with one hand behind his back.

All of this shows the near impossibility of dialoguing with Muslims.  They can only do so on the basis of the Koran, which is the very text that is in question.  Ultimately in any investigation of the truth, it comes down to “because the Koran says so.”  This was also a point the Benedict XVI stressed as well when he quoted Ibn Hazim “[W]ere it God’s will, we would even practice idolatry.”  The Pope Emeritus was stressing that the Muslim conception of God puts Him  somehow beyond good and evil and that those categories are simply a matter of His capricious will at any given time.

Despite appearing to be a prophet of gloom, I believe there is a path forward in which fruitful dialogue might take place.  Certainly an awareness of what Islam teaches is very important for Catholics.  I am often struck by the level of ignorance of members of the Church.  The reasonable person when confronted with a threatening ideology will learn about it in order to defend themselves against it.  Can you imagine the Church trying to fight Communism without reading Marx and learning how Lenin interpreted him?  Or how about Fascism without reading Nietzsche and seeing how Hitler interpreted him in Mein Kempf?  Regardless of how we divide up Islam into moderate and radical, there is some percentage of Muslims who have become sworn enemies of the Church.  We may choose to fight armed with love and the sword of the Spirit, but not attempt to understand your enemy will not lead to a single conversion.  Perhaps this is why the Church has seen so little fruit in converting Muslims.

Personally I loathe the designation between “moderate Muslims” and “radical Muslims” almost as much “cafeteria Catholics” and “orthodox Catholics.”  In both cases both groups must be prepared to make an explanation for difficult teachings.  The cafeteria Catholic must be prepared to say what the Church teaches about a given issue and why it is wrong or being misinterpreted.  So too the moderate Muslim needs to be prepared to explain the difficult passages in the Koran just as much as the radical Muslim does.  The moderate Muslim needs to be ready to explain why Osama Bin Laden was wrong when he thought “terror in Islam is an obligation” was true based on Sura 9:41 (“Go forth, light armed and heavy armed, and strive hard with your wealth and your lives in the way of Allah! That is best for you if you but knew”).  All too often I have found the Church kowtowing to political correctness by staying away from the controversial issues.  The responses to the letter from those inside the Church were no exception.  I recognize there is a certain amount of decorum necessary, but eventually you have to confront the real differences.  Personally had I received the letter, my first question would have been “how can we have peace and understanding between Christians and Muslims when it appears to the average reader of the Koran that you are commanded to kill me?”  Regardless of whether the person is “moderate” or “radical” the movement toward the truth can never be accomplished without asking these types of uncomfortable questions.

 

 

 

 

Deconstructing the Jesus Myth

Muslims love Jesus too

Just as sure as Easter coming on the first Sunday after the first full moon in Spring is the seasonal attempt to demythologize Jesus.  This can come in various forms but usually involves someone claiming to have found His actual tomb or that He was married to Mary Magdalene.  There is one myth however that seems to have no season and that should be debunked.  It is the myth that Christians and Muslims both have much in common because of their love for Jesus.  The argument goes that while the Muslims only hold Jesus, the Son of Mary, as a prophet, we ought to be able to use this as common ground.  An investigation of the Koran and the New Testament reveals that the Isa of Islam is not the same Jesus of Christianity.

First of all, it is necessary to mention how we as Christians have made the wholesale acceptance of this myth possible.  In fighting the rising secularist tide, Christians have sought out other “believers” to engage with them in the fight based on the principle that the “enemy of my enemy is my friend.”  This however need not be so.  It can equally be true that “enemy of my enemy may is also my enemy.”  And if history is any indication then we ought to be extremely cautious in labeling Islam as somehow friendly to Christianity.  The only thing that has stopped Islamic jihad in the past is a loss of political power.  For the majority of the Twentieth Century for example, secular despots in the Middle East acted as restraining forces on the violent manifestations of Islam.  Once these secular rulers (like Sadaam Hussein) were ousted (ironically with the help of the West) then it opened up the door to the mass persecution we are witnessing once again.

In the West there is more of a “stealth” jihad that happens by which various Islamic interest groups frame their grievances in terms of civil rights or diversity.  Groups like the Council on American Islam Relations (CAIR) have become powerful lobbying groups that fight for civil rights of Muslims in the US.  These groups have witnessed the success of the gay lobby associated with labeling anyone who opposes them a “Homophobe” and now apply to anyone who openly opposes Islam the label of “Islamophobe.”  Any examination and criticism of Islamic doctrine that might occur is avoided because of the fear of this damning label.

But history also plays an important role in deconstructing the “same Jesus” myth.  Jesus is not a mere idea, but a real person who entered into history.  He truly was a man who walked the earth and made very specific claims that were well documented about where He came from and Who He was.

Islam may say He was merely a prophet, but this is just a different variation on CS Lewis’ “Lunatic, Liar, or Lord” argument against those who say Jesus was simply a “Good Teacher.”  Jesus never claimed to be a prophet like Islam claims He did.  Islam claims that He did, but then they must deal with the fact that He was killed because on His claim that He was God.  Islam may deny the crucifixion of Jesus, but history confirms the fact that He was crucified.  There is no reason to question the historical accuracy of the Gospels on this point especially since extra-biblical sources confirm his execution as well.  The first to mention Jesus as being executed by Pilate in the reign of Tiberius was the Roman historian Tacitus in 68 AD.  The point is that Christians need to be clearer when they portray Islam as merely misinterpreting Jesus’ role.  Given the historical support Islam is misrepresenting Jesus.

Lewis Trilemma

On the other side it is important to understand Islamic doctrine.  In particular, there is the doctrine of taqiyya which permits deception on the part of a Muslim in promoting their faith.  In many ways Islam is a Machiavellian religion in which almost anything is permitted as long as Islam is spread and protected.  They see no problem in promoting the “same Jesus” myth, especially in the West, if it suits their purposes.

It is worth examining as well the actual claim that it is the same Jesus whom both religions revere.  While the Islamic portrait of Isa borrows much from Christianity, the differences are quite stark.  In fact I would say that these differences are so vast that you cannot reasonably say they refer to the same person.

One might expect that as much as Jesus is spoken about by Muslims and Christians during their “dialogue” that the Koran would be filled with wisdom from Jesus.  It contains no account of His life and only refers to Him as the “son of Mary” in order to de-emphasize His own claim that He is the “Son of God.”  In one chapter of the Koran, Isa is presented at table with his disciples when they ask him for a miracle of a table-full of food from Allah.  Allah consents provided that Isa answer clear up the confusion regarding Jesus’ divinity.

And when Allah will say, “O Jesus, son of Mary, didst thou say to men, ‘Take me and my mother for two gods beside Allah?’”, he will answer, “Holy art Thou. I could never say that to which I had no right. If I had said it, Thou wouldst have surely known it. Thou knowest what is in my mind, and I know not what is in Thy mind. It is only Thou Who art the Knower of hidden things. (Koran 5:117)

The point is that the only purpose the Koranic Isa serves is to discredit the claims of Christianity.  He seems to be an anti- John the Baptist that says “I must decrease so that he (Muhammad) can increase.”    Isa also is not a Jew, but a Muslim.  He is not the Message but a Muslim who says he is the messenger that brings “news of an apostle that will come after me whose name is Muhammad” (Koran 61:6). Again this obviously presents some historical problems, but the point is that no one would read the accounts of these two men and think they are referring to the same person. Isa also is said to return to “break the Cross” at the Last Judgment which most Muslim scholars interpret to mean He will abolish Christianity.

Why is a proper understanding of this important?  There has been an attempt in the Church to enter into dialogue with Islam based on the mutual esteem of Jesus (see Nostra Aetate 4 from Vatican II for example).  But unless this point is made entirely clear, dialogue will really be something like negotiations.  If Catholics would be willing to concede that Jesus’ salvific role is not unique then Muslims would be willing to admit that He may be the savior of Christians just not the savior of Muslims.  Dialogue (dia-logos) can only occur within a context of a search of a mutual esteem for the truth.  If one side condones lying or believes truth can change based on the arbitrary whims of their god then dialogue is very difficult.  The truth is that esteem Islam has for Jesus is for Isa.  They hold the Jesus of the Christians in contempt because He is guilty of the greatest sin in Islam, shirk, which is to associate oneself with Allah.  The Word cannot become Flesh in Islam because their god is not a god of reason (i.e. Word) but instead a god of pure will.  Perhaps rather than a commitment to dialogue, we need to be committed to preaching the God Who is both reason (Logos) and will, who became flesh to save us all from the capricious god of pure will.