Prior to Pope Benedict XVI’s recent trip to Lebanon, National Catholic Register contributor Edward Pentin interviewed the Egyptian scholar Fr. Samir Khalil Samir, S.J., author of 111 Questions on Islam (Ignatius Press, 2008). While some of the interview was speculation about aspects of the papal visit, Fr. Samir also shared some frank thoughts about Islam and recent terrorist attacks and activities in the Middle East. Some excerpts:
Muslims have a right to know the Gospel. When they are convinced of their faith, they think we Christians have the right to know the Quran. In this sense, I think we only, as Arab Christians, could say something to Muslims that can be passed to both their and our culture.
A second point, one that is internal to the Church, is reform in the Church. The Catholic Church in the Middle East is a little bit too clerical. The role of the laypeople is very important here because they can say something on social, political problems, and we have no other voice. They have real dialogue every day with Muslims, but if we do it through the bishops or the patriarch, then it remains at this theoretical level.
It’s important that lay Christians understand their responsibility towards the state; it’s more important than in Europe, where people are of a Christian culture, if not of the faith. …
What is your reaction to the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. embassies in Cairo and Benghazi?
Firstly, the fact that we had an attack on embassies in both Libya and Egypt suggests that there is a connection and that it was not a spontaneous and improvised act.
Secondly, this is a typical reaction of radical Islam. We had a similar thing when the pastor Terry Jones in the United States burned a page from the Quran, and Muslim radicals in Mazar-e-Sharif (northern Afghanistan) killed eight foreign U.N. employees.
But it must be said clearly that because the film was made in America does not mean that America supports this film. It’s essential to make clear what freedom of speech means, which is unknown to most Muslims. I can say things which are wrong, and you will contradict me, but you cannot kill someone or destroy an embassy or anything like that because you disagree with me. If we go this way, there is no possibility of a dialogue of cultures.
In this sense, the reaction of Hillary Clinton was certainly understandable. She said, “The United States deplores any effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others.”
But I say: “Yes and no.” It’s not the United States but someone who is denigrating beliefs of others, so it’s his problem. It’s not the nation’s problem. But she was right that there can never be a justification for such violent acts as these.
So the sentence needs to be reworded. The United States has nothing to do with someone who is denigrating another belief.
Muslims will often say their religion is one of peace. What do you say to this view when such attacks are carried out?
If they really think Islam is a religion of peace, then they should go on to the street and demand that these people who carried out the attacks are tried. But they … protest when Muslims are criticized, and when Muslims kill innocent people, they are silent.
If Islam is a religion of peace, then organize a protest against these aggressors, and go to the U.S. Embassy and say: “Please excuse us as Muslims; we don’t consider them as Muslims.” But they don’t do anything.
Why don’t they do anything?
Because they don’t have the courage to confront their brothers in Islam and to say: “Your Islam is harming Islam.”
And, secondly, maybe because they are not so convinced; perhaps they think, in a way, they [radical Muslims] are right. They think: “These Western people, these Christians” — they confuse the two — “should be judged and condemned for making such a film.”
Read the entire interivew on the Register website.
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