October 7, 2005


The rosary and Islam

The date of this issue, Oct. 7, is the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. It was inaugurated by Pope Pius V after a great naval victory on Oct. 7, 1571, that ended the threat of the Turkish Muslims in the Mediterranean Sea. It was one of the periods in history when the Muslims tried to spread into Christian Europe.

The Ottoman Turks had been making a bid for world supremacy. They seized control of Syria, Palestine, Egypt, parts of Arabia and Mesopotamia, and most of Hungary. Then they launched a campaign against Venice, Italy. The Venetians called for help from Pope Pius V and King Philip II of Spain.

Don Juan of Austria, King Philip’s brother, commanded the Christian fleet, which included 20,000 soldiers. While the fleet was sailing to meet the Turks, Pope Pius prayed, and he asked the people of Rome to fast and pray for a victory. At the time the battle was raging, a rosary procession was in progress in Rome.

In thanksgiving for the victory, Pope Pius instituted today’s feast. He named it the feast of Our Lady of Victory, but his successor, Pope Gregory XIII, renamed it the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary in 1573.

Perhaps today we should be praying again to Our Lady of the Rosary for victory over a Muslim enemy. This time, it’s not an entire empire as was the Ottoman Empire, but rather extremist terrorists who have interpreted the Muslim Quran as calling for a jihad against the West, and the United States in particular.

We are convinced that Islam isn’t the violent religion many people think it is—at least not the Islam proclaimed by Muhammad, who taught that only defensive war was permissible. Islam actually has a long commitment to religious pluralism, stretching back to Muhammad’s protection of Jews and Christians as dhimmi, or “People of the Book.” This protection was demonstrated for a long period of time when Muslims controlled Spain as well as in the East when, for example, St. John Damascene was able to oppose the iconoclasm of the Byzantine emperor because he lived in Muslim-protected Damascus.

Unfortunately, the followers of Osama bin Laden have replaced Muhammad’s original vision of tolerance and unity with their own ideals of hatred and discord. They consider what is happening in Iraq as a continuation of the conflict between Christendom and Islam.

When he met with Muslim leaders in Cologne, Germany, Pope Benedict XVI was forthright in reminding them of their responsibility to “turn back the wave of cruel fanaticism” in the world. While reaching out to Muslims, he ­ didn’t hesitate to emphasize the responsibility of Muslim educators to form younger generations in the authentic Islamic faith and to promote attitudes of interreligious cooperation.

The Catholic Church has long promoted such interreligious cooperation. In the Holy Land, for example, Bethlehem University was founded by the Vatican to serve the Palestinians, both Christians and Muslims. The majority of its students have always been Muslims. It’s unfortunate that the reason the percentage of Muslim students continues to increase is that more and more Christians are leaving the Holy Land.

But there is only so much Christians can do. It’s the responsibility of moderate Muslims to counteract the fanaticism of the extremists. What is happening now in Iraq shows that the Muslims are split as much as they were when they first began arguing over Muhammad’s successor. Shiites and Sunnis have been enemies since the Battle of Sifflin in 657. Unfortunately, the United States now finds itself caught in the middle.

It’s encouraging that one of the Sunni leaders in Iraq, Sheik Mahmud al-Sumaidaei, has criticized the Sunni militants and has called for Iraq’s religious and ethnic groups to take a stand against further bloodshed.

The Iraqis will be voting on a constitution next week on Oct. 15. It appears likely that the Sunnis will be able to block its approval. Unfortunately, the draft constitution goes a long way toward making Iraq an Islamic nation since it specifies that no laws can contradict Islamic law, but its rejection would probably prolong the United States’ presence in Iraq.

Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us. 

                               — John F. Fink


Local site Links: