November 18, 2016

Editorial

Catholic ignorance about Islam

Pope Francis visited Azerbaijan, a predominantly Shiite Muslim Eurasian country, on Oct. 2 as part of a trip that also included Armenia and Georgia. While there, he visited a mosque where he said that God should never be used to justify extremism.

This was not the first time the pope has visited a Muslim country. Each time, he has asserted that Islam should not be blamed for the terrorism that some Muslim extremists perpetrate. We must differentiate between the religion of Islam and the radical Islamists of ISIS and other extremist groups.

People have trouble doing that. Some continue to insist that Islam is a violent religion. There is a definite Islamophobia in the United States, including among Catholics. However, studies show that Catholics who know Muslims personally tend to have favorable attitudes toward them.

Part of the problem is that what most Catholics think they know about Islam is often wrong. A study by Georgetown University’s The Bridge Initiative, which is trying to improve public understanding of Islam, found that Catholics in the United States are not sure about what they share in terms of religious beliefs with Muslims.

For example, 42 percent of Catholics surveyed believe that Catholics and Muslims do not worship the same God. But that should have been settled back in the 1960s when the Second Vatican Council’s “Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions” stated that Christians, Jews and Muslims—the three Abrahamic faiths—all worship the same God, even if they understand the nature of God in differing ways.

Besides Pope Francis, St. John Paul II also stated more than once that we worship the same God. When he spoke to Muslims in Morocco in 1985, he said, “We believe in the same God, the one God, the living God, the God who created the world.”

That study by The Bridge Initiative found that 88 percent of Catholics are not aware that Muslims honor Mary. In fact, there is considerably more about Mary in the Quran than there is in the Bible. An entire chapter is named after her, and she is the only woman mentioned by name in the Quran. Her story begins while she is still in her mother’s womb. It also includes an annunciation by an angel that she will conceive Jesus while remaining a virgin, and Jesus’ birth.

The study showed that 74 percent of Catholics said that Muslims do not hold Jesus in high regard. That, too, is wrong. They believe that Jesus was a prophet, the messenger of Allah, and the Messiah of the Jewish people. He was the precursor to Muhammed. However, despite Mary’s virginal birth, Muslims do not believe that Jesus is divine. The Quran mentions several miracles performed by Jesus such as speaking while an infant, healing illnesses and raising the dead to life. Muslims do not believe that he was crucified. They believe that he will return to Earth near the Day of Judgment to restore justice.

If Muslims do not believe that Jesus is divine, do they believe that Muhammad is? According to the study, a whopping 86 percent of Catholics think that Muslims worship Muhammad. They don’t. The first pillar of Islam is the profession of faith, “There is no god but God. Muhammad is the messenger of God.” It’s known as the Shahada, and it’s the only thing one must say, in front of witnesses, to become a Muslim. It’s included in each of the canonical daily prayers that Muslims say.

In pointing out that Catholics are often ignorant about the teachings of Islam, we don’t mean to downplay the atrocities performed by the extremist Islamists, supposedly in the name of Islam. There is plenty of evidence that they don’t know the teachings of their religion either, as their leaders pound into them a hatred for Christians, Jews and other Muslims.

Daniel Pipes, president of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum, has said, “Those who make all Islam their enemy not only succumb to a simplistic and essentialist illusion, but they lack any mechanism to defeat it. … We understand that radical Islam is the problem and moderate Islam is the solution. We work with anti-Islamist Muslims to vanquish a common scourge.”

—John F. Fink

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