Friday, April 13, 2012

The Church's View of Islam



My wife recently received one of those email forwards which suggested that Muslims are in league with liberals to destroy Christian America.  While one can easily parody a certain brand of right-wing Christian populism, the question of how Christians ought to regard Islam is one of considerable debate.  Into that discussion, allow me to interject the following from the Council Fathers at Vatican II.  In Nostra aetate, the Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, they write the following:

The Church regards with esteem also the Muslims. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.

Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Muslims, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.
In the same document, the Council Fathers reference the following letter of Pope St. Gregory VII (1073-1085):
Gregory . . . to Anazir, king of the province of Mauretania Sitifensis in Africa.

Your Highness sent to us within a year a request that we would ordain the priest Servandus as bishop according to the Christian order. This we have taken pains to do, as your request seemed proper and of good promise. You also sent gifts to us, released some Christian captives out of regard for St. Peter, chief of the Apostles, and affection for us, and promised to release others. This good action was inspired in your heart by God, the creator of all things, without whom we can neither do nor think any good thing. He who lighteth every man that cometh into the world enlightened your mind in this purpose. For Almighty God, who desires that all men shall be saved and that none shall perish, approves nothing more highly in us than this: that a man love his fellow man next to his God and do nothing to him which he would not that others should do to himself.

This affection we and you owe to each other in a more peculiar way than to people of other races because we worship and confess the same God though in diverse forms and daily praise and adore him as the creator and ruler of this world. For, in the words of the Apostle, "He is our peace who hath made both one."

This grace granted to you by God is admired and praised by many of the Roman nobility who have learned from us of your benevolence and high qualities. Two of these, Alberic and Cencius, intimate friends of ours brought up with us from early youth at the Roman court, earnestly desiring to enjoy your friendship and to serve your interests here, are sending their messengers to you to let you know how highly they regard your prudence and high character and how greatly they desire and are able to be of service to you.

In recommending these messengers to Your Highness, we beg you to show them, out of regard for us and in return for the loyalty of the men aforesaid, the same respect which we desire always to show toward you and all who belong to you. For God knows our true regard for you to his glory and how truly we desire your prosperity and honor, both in this life and in the life to come, and how earnestly we pray both with our lips and with our heart that God himself, after the long journey of this life, may lead you into the bosom of the most holy patriarch Abraham.
Both documents leave considerable wiggle room, both in terms of theory and practice.  Still, they declare two very important things: that "we worship and confess the same God though in diverse forms" and we are called to work together for the good of the world.

Today's image of St. George's Maronite cathedral and the Mohammad al-Amin mosque in Beirut comes courtesy of Wikipedia.
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