The Issue Of Inter-religious Dialogue With Islam
Many Christians today have been quite perplexed by the Inter-religious meetings promoted by Pope Francis. And his “Abrahamic” gathering during his visit to Iraq last week, in which not a single Jew was present — apparently the Iraqi government blocked Jews from attending pope’s interfaith service — was no different.
The Church’s dialogue with the Islamic world has sought to promote a “peaceful co-existence.” This has been a priority to Francis since becoming pope, which he later propagandized when he co-signed with Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, the grand imam of Cairo’s Al-Azhar University — the oldest and most prestigious university in the Sunni Islamic world — the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together during his visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in February 2019. Yet not to undermine certain harmonious intentions on the Catholic side, the Inter-religious movement with Islam raises questions.
Inaptness in Equating Islam and Christianity
Aside the fact that such discussions have borne little significant fruit, if any — as can be seen by the ongoing persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in Muslim countries — Islam has been inaptly put on equal footing with Judaism and Christianity. This is due to two factors.
The first is based upon the Vatican II of Nostra Aetate, (Proclamation on the Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions), which stated that Muslims believe in the same One and Merciful God as Christians, even though they outright refute the divinity of Jesus and, consequently, the Christian profession on the fullness of who God is:the Holy Trinity (Father, Son [Jesus], and Holy Spirit):
They [Christians] have certainly blasphemed who say, “Allah [God] is the Messiah, the son of Mary,” while the Messiah has said, “O Children of Israel, worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord:” for there is no God except one God Allah. They have certainly blasphemed who say, ‘Allah is the third of three’.” —Sura 5, 72
The second is due to the Vatican’s advocacy for uniformity under the claim that, like Judaism, Christianity shares the common Abrahamic roots with Islam — a position Jews find offensive, especially since they claim their heritage is derived from the line of Isaac and not Ishmael, as Muslims hold.
Differences between Islam and Christianity
When we conclude that there is a categorical equality in value between Islam and Christianity, we forbear to give sufficient attention to whether there are inherent, fundamental, or categorical qualities that render them different.
First and foremost, Muslims have a different conception about God than Christians. For the former, Allah is exclusively transcendent and cannot interact with his creation. They reject the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation in the Person of Jesus and His crucifixion:
- And because of their saying: “We slew the Messiah Jesus son of Mary, Allah’s messenger.” They slew him not nor crucified, but it appeared so unto them. —Sura 4, 157
- The Merciful God of Islam is a god who has mercy for whom he wants and not on those who displease him: “Allah might bring mercy whom He will[ed].” —Sura 48, 25
I explain in my book Islam: Religion of Peace? – The Violation of Natural Rights and Western Cover-Up, mercy or “love” in Islam is equated with the rich man who is obliged to stoop over the poor and offer him something. He bestows not necessarily because he is rich or because he pities the status of the destitute person.
In Christianity, mercy and love reflect the teaching of the Incarnation of the Son of God becoming man, “one who lowers Himself to the level of the poor man in order to raise him up,” much more so if he is a sinner: “I have not come to call the just, but sinners, to repentance.” —Luke 5, 32
Second, unlike the gospels which promote justice, peace, and love, there are numerous verses in both the Quran and the Hadiths the incur violence:
- “Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth, and ye know not.” — Sura 2, 216
- [Remember] when you asked help of your Lord, and He answered you, “Indeed, I will reinforce you with a thousand from the angels, following one another … I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieved, so strike [them] upon the necks and strike from them every fingertip. That is because they opposed Allah and His Messenger. And whoever opposes Allah and His Messenger — indeed, Allah is severe in penalty.” — Sura 8, 9; 12–13
- Allah’s Apostle said, “The Hour will not be established until you fight with the Jews, and the stone behind which a Jew will be hiding will say. “‘O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, so kill him.’” —Sahih al-Bukhari 52, 177
- The Messenger of Allah said: “I have been commanded to fight against people so long as they do not declare that there is no god but Allah.” —Sahih Muslim 1, 30
I do want to make clear that as a Catholic priest, having visited Islamic nations like Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, (north) Nigeria, and the Palestinian Territory, it is imperative that dialogue is fostered with Muslims — not doing so would be detrimental to both Christians and other religious communities. At the same time, the Catholic hierarchy must conform to the reality that Islam is on a totally different plain than Christianity. And this means that unless such aforementioned belligerent Islamic verses are both confronted and placed into historical and/or allegorical context, the Inter-religious dialogue will continue to breed ambiguity, let alone bear any substantial and permanent peace.
Mario Alexis Portella is a priest of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Florence, Italy. He has a doctorate in canon law and civil law from the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome; he also holds a M. A. in Medieval History from Fordham University, as well as a B.A. in Government & Politics from St. John’s University. He is also author of Islam: Religion of Peace? – The Violation of Natural Rights and Western Cover-Up.