I’ll never forget my first day of graduate school. It was in the fall of 2007, and I had beeen accepted to Hartford Seminary’s Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations program. It was familiar territory for me, as I had attended Hartford Seminary for the past two years as an undergraduate to study the Arabic language for my degree in Religious Studies. I knew many of the professors, if not personally, at least by name and face.
My experiences, which I wrote about in an article published via the National Association of Scholars Journal, include the following event from my first class, “Dialogue in a World of Difference”:
I had done interfaith dialogue before, so this was not a new experience for me. We were separated into groups for the dialogue, and when I was permitted to speak, I said, “I am Catholic, and I do not believe in Islam.” Following me, one of the Muslim students spoke. She said that she was Muslim, and then she addressed me directly. In a soft, Arabic accented voice, she told me, “You are an infidel because you do not accept Islam. According to Islam, you do not deserve to live.” A second Muslim student heartily agreed, and after repeating the first student’s comments she added, “In Islam, the Koran and the tradition of the prophet are very clear about this. You deserve to die.”
There is nothing quite like receiving a death threat on your first day of class, especially when the rest of the group acts as though it never happened. It was the first of several similar experiences I was to have at Hartford Seminary.
I retell this story because it reminds me of something that Pope Francis recently published:
In order to sustain dialogue with Islam, suitable training is essential for all involved, not only so that they can be solidly and joyfully grounded in their own identity, but so that they can also acknowledge the values of others, appreciate the concerns underlying their demands and shed light on shared beliefs. We Christians should embrace with affection and respect Muslim immigrants to our countries in the same way that we hope and ask to be received and respected in countries of Islamic tradition. I ask and I humbly entreat those countries to grant Christians freedom to worship and to practice their faith, in light of the freedom which followers of Islam enjoy in Western countries! Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalisations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence (my emphasis added).
I’ve been studying Islam since 1998, after I took an interest in it while reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Since then I’ve earned a master’s degree in Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations, published the first ever hagiographic work on Catholic saints and Islam Lions of the Faith: Saints, Blesseds, and Heroes of the Catholic Faith in the Struggle with Islam, and have been involved in numerous works involving Islam and Muslims.
I have a lot to say about Islam because there’s a lot that needs to be said that is NOT being said, and the Catholic faithful are suffering because of it. But I’ll begin with a simple proposition, one I will develop in future posts: The current, post-Vatican II view on Islam and Catholic-Muslim relations is in direct opposition to all related Catholic teaching that came before it.
“Dialogue” is not a solution to the problems of sin and salvation. That’s why Christ lived and died, established the Church on Peter, instituted the sacraments, and so on. This is understood intellectually by many Catholics involved in “dialogue,” but it is almost never realized in practice. The fact is, most “interreligious dialogue,” especially with Muslims, is a poor excuse for the inability or failure of those Catholics to evangelize. They choose to seek acknowledgement, approval, and even friendship from others instead of addressing the important issues of death, judgment, Hell, and Heaven with them.
There is no easy way to address any of these issues because Catholicism and Islam are dogmatically irreconcilable. One must accept one and reject the other or vice versa. There is no “common ground” with Islam except in mere superficialities, and even those “similarities” are often rooted in directly opposing dogmas. It’s like two people agreeing that doughnuts are bad because one doesn’t like the way doughnuts taste, while the other thinks doughnuts are an unhealthy, nutrient-void substitute for real food.
But the greater issue, I believe, is the unspoken statement by the two Muslim women who called me an infidel: Dialogue cannot exist with non-Muslims because they are infidels.
Muslim apologists and their supporters love to quote Koran 2:256 with the following translation in support of “interfaith dialogue”:
لَا إِكْرَاهَ فِي الدِّينِ قَدْ تَبَيَّنَ الرُّشْدُ مِنَ الْغَيِّ فَمَنْ يَكْفُرْ بِالطَّاغُوتِ وَيُؤْمِنْ بِاللَّهِ فَقَدِ اسْتَمْسَكَ بِالْعُرْوَةِ الْوُثْقَىٰ لَا انْفِصَامَ لَهَا وَاللَّهُ سَمِيعٌ عَلِيمٌ
Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things. (Yusuf Ali Translation)
It should be noted that in the phrase “Truth stands out clear from error” (تَبَيَّنَ الرُّشْدُ مِنَ الْغَيِّ), the word used for “truth” (الرُّشْدُ) also means “reason,” and it implies “right guidance,” as in Harun Ar-Rashid (Harun the Rightly-Guided, a 9th century ‘Abbasid Caliph). Likewise, the word for “falsehood” ( الْغَيِّ) means “something which has been cancelled.”
Yes, because Islam teaches that all previous “revelations” — meaning Judaism, Christianity, and other religions — have been eternally “cancelled” and replaced by the preaching of “Al-Islam” that Allah channeled to Mohammed through the “Angel Gabriel.”
But it gets better. The next phrase, “whoever rejects evil” (فَمَنْ يَكْفُرْ بِالطَّاغُوتِ), literally translates as “whoever becomes an infidel to idolatry.” The word for idolatry (الطَّاغُوتِ) literally means “rebellion,” but is always understood in Islamic theology to mean idolatry. This is because according to Islam, Christians are idolaters who worship three gods:
وَقَالُوا كُونُوا هُودًا أَوْ نَصَارَىٰ تَهْتَدُوا ۗ قُلْ بَلْ مِلَّةَ إِبْرَاهِيمَ حَنِيفًا ۖ وَمَا كَانَ مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ
They say: “Become Jews or Christians if ye would be guided (to salvation).” Say thou: “Nay! (I would rather) the Religion of Abraham the True, and he joined not gods with Allah.” (Quran 2:135- Yusuf Ali Translation)
يَا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ لَا تَغْلُوا فِي دِينِكُمْ وَلَا تَقُولُوا عَلَى اللَّهِ إِلَّا الْحَقَّ ۚ إِنَّمَا الْمَسِيحُ عِيسَى ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ وَكَلِمَتُهُ أَلْقَاهَا إِلَىٰ مَرْيَمَ وَرُوحٌ مِنْهُ ۖ فَآمِنُوا بِاللَّهِ وَرُسُلِهِ ۖ وَلَا تَقُولُوا ثَلَاثَةٌ ۚ انْتَهُوا خَيْرًا لَكُمْ ۚ إِنَّمَا اللَّهُ إِلَٰهٌ وَاحِدٌ ۖ سُبْحَانَهُ أَنْ يَكُونَ لَهُ وَلَدٌ ۘ لَهُ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَمَا فِي الْأَرْضِ ۗ وَكَفَىٰ بِاللَّهِ وَكِيلًا
O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion: Nor say of Allah aught but the truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) a messenger of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His messengers. Say not “Trinity” : desist: it will be better for you: for Allah is one Allah: Glory be to Him: (far exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belong all things in the heavens and on earth. And enough is Allah as a Disposer of affairs. (Quran 4:171- Yusuf Ali Translation)
لَقَدْ كَفَرَ الَّذِينَ قَالُوا إِنَّ اللَّهَ ثَالِثُ ثَلَاثَةٍ ۘ وَمَا مِنْ إِلَٰهٍ إِلَّا إِلَٰهٌ وَاحِدٌ ۚ وَإِنْ لَمْ يَنْتَهُوا عَمَّا يَقُولُونَ لَيَمَسَّنَّ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا مِنْهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ
They do blaspheme who say: Allah is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except One Allah. If they desist not from their word (of blasphemy), verily a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them. (Quran 5:73, Yusuf Ali Translation)
These are but a few examples. All of this can be found in not just the Koran but in Islamic sacred tradition, and it’s supported by 14 centuries of Islamic textual exegesis, theology, and history.
This is a very small point, considering the large number of issues within Islamic theology. It illustrates briefly the central problem with Catholic-Muslim dialogue, however, which is this: Any “interfaith dialogue” is absolutely pre-conditioned upon one person wanting to seek an accurate understanding of the other. Islamic theology dogmatically defines as divinely revealed truth Christian dogma according to its — Islam’s — own understanding. Catholic-Muslim dialogue consistently fails not because of a lack of willingness on the part of the participants — especially in our own Church — but because for any Muslim faithful to orthodox Islamic theological teaching, to dialogue with Christians would be an act of heresy.
As far as Islam is concerned, there is no such thing as “dialogue.” There are only three things: (1) Islam or falsehood; (2) belief in or rejection of Islam; and (3) the subsequent consequences for acceptance or rejection.
This is the reality that the modern Church has, sadly, for the most part refused to acknowledge. It is important to love Muslims and seek to build relationships with them, but these are only means to the greater end, which is communicating the Catholic Faith to them for the sake of their own salvation, as Jesus is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and no-one comes to the father except through (Him).” (John 14:6)
Originally published on August 1, 2014.
Andrew Bieszad has an MA in Islamic Studies from Hartford Seminary with concentration in the Islamic equivalent of Dogmatic Theology. He is the author of Lions of the Faith: Saints, Blesseds, and Heroes of the Catholic Faith in the Struggle with Islam. He is a sought after writer and speaker on Islamic topics.