Italian journalist Sandro Magister draws attention to a December 19th essay in Asia News by Fr. Samir Khalil Samir, SJ, one of the foremost Catholic experts on Islam and author of several books, including 111 Questions on Islam (Ignatius Press). Fr. Samir’s focus is on Pope Francis’ recent Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii gaudium, which has a section on Islam. Fr. Samir writes:
There are so many positive things in Evangelii gaudium, its urging Christians and Muslims towards a relationship in love and truth, to work for peace, to enrich each other, to welcome immigrants … But there are also some points that provoke criticism: is the “compassionate and merciful” God of the Muslims really the same as the Trinity? And are the Jesus and Mary in the Koran the same as the Gospels? And is Christian fundamentalism the same as Muslim fundamentalism? What is really urgent – as suggested by Francis – is “a proper reading of the Koran,” which Muslims resist.
In the first part of his essay, Fr. Samir makes several positive remarks on the thoughts of the Holy Father, including this on the nature of authentic dialogue between Christians and Muslims:
The purpose of dialogue is to ensure peace in the world: “Interreligious dialogue is a necessary condition for peace in the world, and so it is a duty for Christians as well as other religious communities” (No. 250).
And a little further on the Pope adds: “We can then join one another in taking up the duty of serving justice and peace, which should become a basic principle of all our exchanges” ( No. 250) . Service is therefore a duty, and particularly the service of justice and peace. And it is a duty for Christians and believers.
In my opinion, the word “together” is very important: dialogue is not just “I talk and you listen” and then “you talk and I listen”, but the fact is that “together” we put ourselves at the service of justice and of peace. This is the very practical and pastoral vision of the current Pope.
Finally, the coupling of the words “justice” and “peace” is noteworthy, “We can then join one another in taking up the duty of serving justice and peace, which should become a basic principle of all our exchanges“.
You can not ‘ achieve peace without justice. As long as someone senses an injustice, there will not be peace. I think of the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. The former believe the fact that a large part of their land, where they live and lived for centuries, has been taken from them, without fault on their part, to be given to others who came from afar as an injustice. As long as this injustice is not recognized and repaired, there will be no peace!
Fr. Samir also notes, “As Christians, we should learn from them to devote time to prayer on a regular basis. The Pope stresses the positivity of the Islamic witness in front of a certain laxity of Western Christianity.”
But he is also critical of certain statements made by Francis. Here are a few of his points:
1 . Muslims “together with us adore the One, merciful God” (No. 252)
I would advise caution here. It is true Muslims worship one and merciful God. However, this sentence suggests that the two conceptions of God are equal. Yet in Christianity God is the Trinity in its essence, plurality united by love: He is a bit more than just clemency and mercy. We have two quite different conceptions of the Divine One. Muslims characterize God as inaccessible. The Christian vision of the Oneness of the Trinity emphasizes that God is Love which is communicated: Father-Son- Spirit , or Lover – Beloved – Love, as St. Augustine suggested.
Moreover, what does the mercy of the God of Islam mean? He has mercy for whom he wants and not on those whom displease him. “Allah might admit to His mercy whom He willed” (Koran 48:25). These expressions are, almost literally, in the Old Testament (Exodus 33:19). But never arrive at saying that “God is love” (1 John 4:16), like St John.
Mercy in the case of Islam is that of the rich man who stoops over the poor and gives him something. But the Christian God is the one who lowers Himself to the level of the poor man in order to raise him up; He does not show his wealth to be respected (or feared) by the poor : he gives Himself in order the poor should live. …
4 . The Quran is opposed to all the fundamental Christian dogmas
All the Christian dogmas are rejected by the Koran and Islam.
The figure of Christ as the second person of the Trinity is condemned. In the Koran it says explicitly to Christians: ” O People of the Scripture! Do not exaggerate in your religion nor utter aught concerning Allah save the truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was only a messenger of Allah, and His word which He conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers, and say not “Three” – Cease! (it is) better for you! – Allah is only One God. Far is it removed from His Transcendent Majesty that “(Koran 4:171 ). These verses against the Trinity are very clear and need no interpretation.
The Koran denies the divinity of Christ: “O Jesus, Son of Mary, did you say to the people, ‘Take me and my mother as deities besides Allah?'”(Koran 5:116 ). And Jesus denies it!
Finally, the Koran negates Redemption. It even says that Jesus Christ did not die on the Cross , but it was a look-alike: ” And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them” (Koran 4:157 ) . In this way God saved Jesus from the wickedness of the Jews. But then Christ did not save the world!
In short, the Koran and Muslims deny the essential dogmas of Christianity …
2 . “The fundamentalists on both sides” (no. 250 and 253)
Finally, there are two points that I would like to criticize: the first is where the Pope groups together all fundamentalisms . In No. 250 he says : “An attitude of openness in truth and in love must characterize the dialogue with the followers of non-Christian religions, in spite of various obstacles and difficulties, especially forms of fundamentalism on both sides“.
The other is the conclusion of the section on relations with Islam that ends with this sentence : “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”(n. 253) .
Personally, I would not put the two fundamentalisms on the same level : Christian fundamentalists do not carry weapons; Islamic fundamentalism is criticized, first of all by Muslims themselves precisely because this armed fundamentalism seeks to replicate the Mohammedan model . In his life , Muhammad waged more than 60 wars, and now if Muhammad is the super model (as the Koran claims 33:21 ) , it is not surprising that some Muslims also use their violence in imitation of the founder of Islam.
3 . Violence in the Koran and the life of Muhammad (No. 253)
Finally, the Pope mentions the violence in Islam. In No. 253 he writes : “True Islam and the proper interpretation of the Koran oppose all violence”.
This phrase is beautiful and expresses a very benevolent attitude on the Pope’s part towards Islam. However, in my humble opinion, it expresses more a wish than a reality. The fact that the majority of Muslims are opposed to violence, may well be true. But to say that ” the true Islam is against any violence,” does not seem true: there is violence in the Koran. To say then that “ for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence”” needs a lot of explaining.
Read Fr. Samir’s entire article on the Asia News site. For more about Fr. Samir’s book, 111 Questions on Islam, see the Preface on IgnatiusInsight.com, or see my CWR blog post, “The Ambiguity of Islam” (May 2, 2013).