“It is good to strike the serpent’s head with your enemy’s hand.”

William Oddie of The Catholic Herald has an engaging piece about the mutual interests of Catholicism and Islam.

It may be pretty much impossible to have discussions on doctrine, but we have common ground in combating secularism and the dictatorship of relativism.

Here is a quote from Mr. Oddie:

But [Islam] is not, in the end, open to Catholicism, which unlike Anglicanism is an essentially dogmatic religion (that’s why, in the end, ARCIC foundered; there is only a marker buoy to record where it sank). So, incidentally, is Islam, even if its dogmatic content is more difficult to determine. But both religions believe that they have been given the truth by God; and while we are about it, we don’t even believe in the same God, since one non-negotiable Islamic belief is a denial of the doctrine of the Trinity, along with the Incarnation, the Resurrection and much else besides.

If there is a doctrinal issue that must be clarified, it would be that of whether or not we pray to the same God.  I know that there is a statement in a document of Vatican II about this which leaves open a positive response to that question.  I am inclined to think otherwise.

Furthermore, I believe that there was a sort of common ground initiative some years ago at a UN confab in Cairo, concerning contraception.

But think about the obvious problems involved both in the decision to cooperate manifestly and deciding to not cooperate.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Henry Belton says:

    I certainly turn to experts, like you Fr Z, for important answers to important questions like this.

    But, I have been interested in the argument that Islam was founded as a terrible heresy of Christianity, by a maniacal figure who spread this new “faith” by violence. So, although, twisted at its roots, it seems that muslims are praying to the God of Christians. If basis for a God “commonality” is belief in the doctrine of the trinity, aren’t Jews, Mormons, and some protestants deemed to be on the outside? While heretical or unknowingly incorrect, I’d challenge the premise that monotheists who worship the God of Abraham don’t share a belief in the same God.

  2. Mark01 says:

    The way I see Islam is thus: The Devil could never block out the sun (God) so rather than try to block it out and gain souls that way, he simply put a prism in front of the sun, so that Muslims worship towards God, but have a twisted sense of who God is, and souls are lost to the Devil.

  3. Mormons are polytheists, who explicitly believe that none of their five major gods started out as gods from all eternity. So there really is a lot of question as to whether they believe in the same God as Christians. Generally we say “Yes, but they’re really really wrong about Him”. That’s why the Vatican decided that non-Trinitarian polytheists aren’t the kind of Christians whose form of Baptism counts as a valid Christian Baptism.

    Muslims on the other hand have very wrong ideas about God and made-up Koran scriptures, but they do explicitly believe in monotheism and the God of Abraham. So they’re really really really heretical and reject most real divine revelation, but they’re not as far off as Mormons.

    However, Mormons do attempt to follow a fairly standard pattern of Western civic virtue and Judeo-Christian morality, the more so because the US government “influenced” them to moderate the more dangerous bits of their moral theology. (And since they had a system of ongoing revelation through prophets, Mormons rejecting the adjusted theology have to reject the system or claim that they are the real prophets.)

    Islam, OTOH, very quickly diverges from both Western civic virtue and Judeo-Christian morality, and hasn’t been reined in by anybody lately. You can’t just come up with a new Koran or new hadiths (or ahadith, since that’s the plural), though some sects have tried; so people who want to moderate the moral theology are the ones on the defensive. Without a sultan, there’s not much recourse for change.

  4. eyeclinic says:

    May I recommend a debate between Robert Spencer and Peter Kreeft?
    Go to JihadWatch.org and scroll down to the YouTube video on the page. An interesting, if not one-sided debate.(And actually not much of a debate at all.)Spoiler alert!!

  5. ipadre says:

    Paul VI in Nostra Aetate #3 wrote: “The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth,(5) 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.”
    It would be good to have a clarification. I would be most interested to hear Benedict XVI’s take on this.
    We can learn a lot from the Moslems. If only our people were so zealous for the True Faith and if only we had such unity.

  6. PhilipNeri says:

    Christians, Jews, and Muslims hold wildly different beliefs about the same God.

    Islam–though clearly wrong theologically–is an Abrahamic religion.

    Fr. Philip, OP

  7. Ceile De says:

    Fr Philip has it right – if the reasons given for arguing the Muslims worship a different God are applied to Jews, they all apply equally well such that the Jews must then also worship a different God. That is getting on thin ice – the old heresy of the Gods of the Old and New Testament being different. It is the one God we worship, even as we differ as to His nature. Argue all you want with Islam – there is plenty to argue – but a little bit less of the Tea Party Southern Baptist ignorance, please. I write as a great fan of this blog in most matters.

  8. Deacon Nathan Allen says:

    I try to explain it this way: as Catholics we believe we have received the fulness of divinely-revealed truth. God has, however, revealed himself in ways outside the direct revelation we have received in Scripture and Tradition. Suppose I know a person very well. We are intimate friends, I know all about very personal aspects of his life that he has chosen to share with me. I know his character and his way of thinking through many years of close friendship. Suppose another person only knows my friend professionally. That person may refer to the professional he knows, and is referring to the same person as I am. He may also draw some inferences about my friend’s character based upon his partial knowledge, inferences that I know to be incorrect because I know the whole truth. We are still talking, though, about the same man. In the same way Muslims, though they draw the wrong inference from God’s Unity and thereby reject his essential Trinity, are still talking about the same God we are, because in the end there is only one God.

  9. Legisperitus says:

    Allah was originally one of many tribal gods among the Arab nomads. Among his followers the custom arose of calling him “Akbar,” or “the Greatest” of the many gods. Mohammed created a synthesis whereby Allah was identified with the God of Abraham and the other gods were excluded. (This from H. Daniel-Rops, “The Church in the Dark Ages.”) Since Allah’s origins are solidly pagan and polytheistic, Mohammed’s religion could be seen as a case of mistaken identity.

  10. Daniel Latinus says:

    I would argue that Moslems, like Jews, “oneness Pentecostals”, and even Mormons worship (or at least attempt to worship) the true God, but that they believe wrong things about God’s nature, and what that God has communicated to the human race.

    Alleging that Jews worshiped a false god because they didn’t believe in the Trinity was generally the first step in a line of reasoning to support a charge of devil-worship against the Jews. It also fails to take into account that the Dogma of the Trinity is a specifically Christian revelation, and was not explicitly revealed in the Old Testament.

    Alleging that Moslems do not worship the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, takes away one bit of common ground that can be used as a “hook” to evangelize Moslems, or for that matter, to cooperate with them where such cooperation is desirable and necessary.

  11. Warren says:

    It is a strange belief in a strange god that allows someone to claim martyrdom by killing himself and at the same time his action causes the destruction of innocent human life.

    What, then, makes a martyr? Does an true martyr try to dehumanize or demonize innocent bystanders as enemy combatants in order to justify murder? Is martyrdom gained at the expense of another person’s life?

    Belief in a strange god leads to strange deeds, i.e., evil deeds. Conversely, for the christian the fruit of the Holy Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Furthermore, christian belief includes loving one’s enemies and praying for those who persecute us.

    How is it loving to condemn an innocent child to death by blowing up oneself? Where is there gentleness in an “honour” killing? Where is the God of love in Islam?

  12. abiologistforlife says:

    I don’t *think* the Islamic theology about God himself is much different from the Jewish one; the differences are largely in the prophets, the Quran believed to be a new revelation, and the entire system of hadith as authoritative, Islamic (sharia) law, etc. So yes, Islam worships the God of Isaac, Abraham and Jacob, as Christianity and Judaism does.

    They do not recognize Christ as God, however, considering him to be a prophet instead (interestingly, some of the miracles associated with him do exist in the Quran). Nor does Islam have the doctrines about God found only in the Christian revelation – most centrally the Trinity.

    @legisperitus: Doesn’t “Allah” just come from “al-ilah”, “the god” (understood as The – monotheistic – God). I don’t doubt that Allah or something of the sort might have been a title for a pre-Islamic polytheistic deity, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are understood as the same deity.

  13. wmeyer says:

    Fr. Z, I am inclined to agree with you. My problem with the notion that Islam worships the same God is that they do deny the Trinity. So if we are to accept that they worship the same God, we must accept that God and the Trinity are separable. Perhaps I am insufficiently educated, but that seems an irreconcilable conflict. Having only recently read Belloc’s discussion of Islam as a great heresy helped me to appreciate, at least, how Pope Benedict might hope for some discussion; it does not, however, help me to find any path to a reconciliation between two so fundamentally opposed sets of beliefs.

    As Warren phrased it, “claiming martyrdom” while slaughtering innocents is something quite foreign to our beliefs.

  14. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Obviously, if we take the example of St. Paul when he was still Saul (so to put it: before the Damascus road), it is possible to do something like ‘mis-worshipping’ or ‘dishonouring-through-mishonouring’ God (JHVH [or YHWH] Elohim).

    What, if any are the limits to this, in time, space, society, egregiousness of such ‘mis-worship’, etc.?

    I have not read Daniel-Rops, but I have read a bit about the cuneiform tablets recovered (which, I think, have been variously dated to perhaps before, contemporary with, or after Abraham) in which El is married with children (cf. the Mormon polytheology?). I would not be surprised if someone has concluded that the God of Abraham was ‘really’ one of many Mesopotamian gods, whom the ‘Abrahamic tradition’ elevated, etc., etc. So, I think one needs to be careful how one treats polytheistic evidence in (possible) continuity with Who may be named El (or Allah).

    It is also worth considering the earliest written account of Mohammed (long before any ahadith were committed to writing) in the Armenian chronicle attributed to Bishop Sebeos (c. 661 AD at the latest), in which he is treated as an Ishmaelite self-consciously calling fellow-Ishmaelites lapsed into polytheism to return to the God of Abraham (and call on the Christian Romans to give the Holy Land back to the Jews and returned Ishmaelites!).

    It may be too much of a tangent, but D.P. Walker did interesting work on scholars in the Renaissance (and later) who concerned themselves with who in antiquity – before the Incarnation and Pentecost – (probably) knew how much about the Trinity.

    iPadre concluded “We can learn a lot from the Moslems. If only […] we had such unity.” I would love to know just how much unity Moslems do have (beyond an agreed consonantal text of the Koran and agreed possible vowels to supply).

    Has anybody conveniently tabulated a sort of ‘mere Islam’ (on- or off-line)?

    Because at the battle of Siffin, 25 years after the (traditional) date of the death of Mohammed, Islam effectively blew up over a question of Koran interpretation and application, with the Sunnites and Shiites as the major enduring results. But it is a lot messier than that, with, e.g., various Sunnites proclaiming other Sunnites betrayers of Islam, as bad or worse than the ‘infidels’, and slaughtering them as perceived faithful service to God.

  15. Flambeaux says:

    As even honest Muslims will admit, Islam is not an Abrahamic religion, although it claims to be one. Neither a Papal decree nor the documents of an Ecumenical Council can change facts.

    Hussein Hajji Wario’s Cracks in the Crescent is very clear on this point, among many others where others, especially in the Church, are muddled or just plain wrong.

  16. eyeclinic says:

    CCC 841 The Church’s relationship with the Muslims. The plan of salvation also
    includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these
    profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one,merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.”

    Does this settle the question?

  17. Flambeaux says:

    Muslims are not just in error as to some aspects of their understanding of God. They worship a different being entirely: one who can both deceive and be deceived, among other qualities incompatible with the True God.

    Most of their ritual practices, along with the very name “Allah”, are drawn from the moon goddess cults of ancient Arabia. And the rest is a mishmash of invented fictions designed to allow a degenerate paedophile and his associates to amass power through the bloody conquest and the brutal subjugation of opponents.

    There is only one being in all of creation for whom this is “right worship”…and he “reigns” in Hell.

  18. Supertradmum says:

    Just because the Muslims claim that they believe in the God of Abraham, does not mean much, as it is a man-made religion and not a Revealed Religion. God did not reveal Himself to Mohammed. Mohammed made up his view of God from various sources. The only religions which are revealed are Judaism, the hated religion of the Muslims, and Christianity, the second most hated religion of the Muslims. To state, with distinctions, that the Muslims believe in the God of Abraham is not supported either by the Koran, the Hadith, or practice. I wish Church leaders would stop pretending as such, unless they feel they have a shoe in the door for conversion. In my long life, I only personally know one man who has converted from Islam to Catholicism, and he lives in seclusion from his family and former friends, as his life is in danger. And, he grew up in the Midwest, and his family are second generation Americans.

    The issue of Allah must be clarified, as it only adds to confusion among liberal Catholics and those who have not or cannot study Islam.

  19. Supertradmum says:


    The document states that the Muslims “profess” that they believe in the God of Abraham, not that the Catholic Church believes this.

  20. DHippolito says:

    …but we have common ground in combating secularism and the dictatorship of relativism.

    Catholics, evangelical Protestants and Eastern Orthodox have the exact same common ground. Moreover, Evangelicals and Orthodox have the same view of Christ as Catholics (disputes about theology and ecclesiology aside). Yet why is it that Islam is supposed to be the moral interlocutor with Catholicism regarding international morality?

    More to the point, how can Catholics and Muslims have “common ground” when Muslim leaders refuse to condemn or discipline their fellow believers regarding terrorism — including murdering their fellow Muslims — anti-Semitic and anti-Christian bigotry, the genital mutilation of women and other moral issues?

    Fr. Z., your assertion mirrors exactly the kind of European Catholic attitudes toward Islam that have been festering since Vatican II, if not earlier, expressed most clearly by Pope John Paul II. Go check out an article in the May 2004 edition of Commentary magazine by a French Catholic historian, Alain Besancon, “What Sort Of Religion Is Islam?” This very enlightening and eye-opening piece dismantles the Church’ conventional wisdom concerning Islam.

  21. Oneros says:

    Oh for crying out loud, of course Muslims worship the same God, and both the Catechism and Vatican II plainly recognize this (as, by the way, did most medieval and Renaissance thinkers).

    An error in predication is not an error in subject.

    The Jews don’t believe in the Trinity either, but knowledge of God’s existence is different than knowledge of His triunity. For one, God’s existence can be known by natural reason, in fact it is a dogma that: “God, our Creator and Lord, can be known with certainty, by the natural light of reason from created things. (De fide.) ” Whereas the fact of the Trinity or Incarnation can be known only from Revelation. The God of the Muslims is the God knowable to natural reason, which is the same as our God. The fact that they further recognize us as “people of the book” and intend their God to be the same as that of the Jews and Christians, of Abraham and Jesus (however warped their views)…is only further proof. This is NOT an open question.

    An error in predication is not an error in subject. Otherwise lies would be impossible. If I say, “George W Bush a 100-foot-tall golden giraffe”…the only way that statement can be wrong (and it is) is if the referent is actually George W Bush. It would be simply ludicrous to say “Well, then that proves you’re talking about a different George W Bush!” Then the Jews or Protestants or even the Orthodox don’t worship the same God either, as “my God doesn’t believe in sola scriptura, therefore the protestants must be talking about someone else.” Absurd and childish reasoning that.

    As for Allah originally having been one of many gods in a pantheon and only later becoming the greatest…trace the history of El among the Jews through the Old Testament period, and I think you’ll find the same conceptual evolution (or gradual Revelation) occurred.

  22. Flambeaux says:

    No, Oneros, they do not. And we should stop pretending they do.

  23. Flambeaux says:

    This has nothing to do with error in predication. That is a red herring, although one I note many theologians and philosophers get hung up on.

    Know them by their profession: they do not worship the One God.
    Know them by their fruits: they do not worship the One God.

    I’m not sure why this is so difficult for so many good people to grasp.

  24. RJ says:

    I don’t believe it is right to say that “God has … revealed himself in ways outside the direct revelation we have received in Scripture and Tradition”. I don’t believe there is another “revelation”. This sounds a bit reminiscent of Karl Rahner’s theory of general and special revelation. Rather suspect I think.

  25. everett says:

    Flambeaux, you’re doing bad philosophy. It is exactly an error in predication. You calling it a red herring doesn’t make it so. The fact that they believe the completely wrong predicates about God, and worship God as having those predicates and follow God as having those predicates doesn’t mean that it isn’t in fact God. It just means that they believe the lies of Satan about God. One of Satan’s primary goals is to convince people that God isn’t actually who/what He is. For example, Satan’s attempts to convince people that since God is love, that therefore anything we do is perfectly ok with God (all those people out there who think that the only way to love a sinner is to also love the sin). Would you say that these sorts of people, many of whom are Catholic or Protestant also do not believe in the One God, despite being completely wrong about Him?

  26. RJ says:

    Sorry, what I meant to say was: “I very much doubt it is right to say that…”. Not quite as categorical.

  27. Flambeaux says:

    Catholics and Protestants are at least nominally Christian, unlike Muslims, but many of them do not worship the One God nor do they believe in Him.

    It seems to me that this focus on error in predication leads to the conclusion that it isn’t possible to worship anything or anyone other than the One God. Which we know to be nonsense. Demons can be worshipped. False gods and idols can be worshipped. We’ve had 400 year of man worshipping himself to the exclusion of God.

    Muslims are no different than Hindus, Buddhists, or any other variety of pagan — they do not accidentally worship the True God due to a misunderstanding; they actively worship another being who has deceived them that he is the True God.

  28. everett says:

    I completely agree that many do worship false gods and idols. However, I take issue with your claim to be able to know that many of these Cs/Ps don’t worship/believe in the One God. How do you know? Is your disagreement with the verbs worship/believe or with the noun God? I would argue that while many of them aren’t actually worshipping or believing, its still the same subject that they aren’t worshipping or believing, not some different subject. God is God.

    If Muslims claim that Allah is the God of Abraham (a disputed claim), and Catholics claim that the God of Abraham is the One/Triune God, simple logic says that both purport to be worshipping the same being. Now it may be true that Satan is purporting to be the God of Abraham, but it seems more likely to me that Satan is simply deceiving as to the actual nature of the God of Abraham.

    What troubles me is you are making absolute claims based on poor epistemology/metaphysics.

  29. Flambeaux says:

    Evertt, I find that charge amusing since I’m usually correcting the epistemological and metaphysical contentions of those around me.

    I don’t think this is a matter of epistemology or metaphysics.

    That said, I’ve read enough to conclude that while some Muslims claim continuity with Abraham, this is a tactical lie of the sort commanded by their “god”, there is no factual support for accepting this assertion, and the god they worship is a creature of (at best) fiction. At worst it is, like the dark gods of the Hindus and the pagans, our adversary the Devil who is worshipped.

  30. Flambeaux says:

    At some point the errors become so deep, so severe, and so insurmountable that they cease to be errors about a thing and the object of worship becomes something other than what it is claimed to be. We’re long past that point with Islam.

    It may have began as a heresy. It has long-since metastasized beyond that into it’s own dark religion, no different in its demands of human sacrifice than the pagans of old or the secular atheists of today.

  31. Magpie says:

    Catholic Answers has an interesting article on this issue by Jimmy Akin:


  32. samgr says:

    Muslims, as wrong as they may be, were created by the same God Who created us and Benedict XVI. We have to talk to them as brothers and sisters of the same Father, not merely as instruments of the devil. Calif, not sultan, by the way, is the Muslim equivalent of pope. The Ottomans seized both titles, and it worked for them for centuries. Sort of like Henry VIII.

  33. Supertradmum says:

    May I add that even Mohamed’s contemporaries stated that he was listening to satan and not God. He, Mohamed, is not a true prophet. He is not a person who has been recognized as giving us valid Revelation. Why would we consider what he states as Truth? Jesus Christ is the last Prophet. Any so called revelation after the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity is false.

    The violent god, the god who contradicts himself and a god who does not claim that Christ is God, the Son of God, is obviously a false god.

    Mohamed was probably listening to something or someone other than an angel or any god we would recognize.

  34. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Obviously, the daughters of Philip were “prophet(esse)s” in a sense distinct from, say, Isaiah, John the Baptist, or the Theaner according to His Enhypostatized humanity.

    Again, various people in the history of the Church have received what are generally called “private revelations”.

    Systematic rigor has been applied in the course of time in evaluating such (possible) “private revelations”.

    Has anyone ever submitted the agreed consonantal text of the Koran according to any agreed possible vocalizations, to such an evaluation?

  35. Supertradmum says:

    If Allah states, as he does in the Koran, that Mohamed is his prophet, Allah is obviously not the God of Abraham. And, Mohamed’s so called revelation is not “private” nor was it intended to be.

  36. Supertradmum says:

    I think the danger of comparing favorably the God of Abraham with Allah has to do with the Trinity. Did not the Trinity appear to Abraham at Mamre? Is not the Trinity from all time? Therefore, any reference to God, (who is not a Father in Islam), must be seen in the light of the Trinity, especially post-New Testament. Our, One, True, Trinitarian God in the 8th century would not be revealed as just the God of Abraham.

  37. everett says:

    I think some people are making the mistake of saying that because they worship the same being (albeit in the wrong manner and having the wrong attributes) that therefore the revelation is true. Even though I do believe that the being they believe in happens to be the same being as the One Triune God, that doesn’t mean that I have any interest in granting some sort of revelatory status to the Koran or other teachings, or granting prophetic status to Mohammad. It seems far more likely that the great deceiver has once again engaged in deception, twisting all that is good and holy as he is so prone to doing. I would actually make a similar case for the LDS beliefs, just substituting Joseph Smith for Mohammad.

  38. isnowhere says:

    A number of topic of this nature hit web logs right around the anniversary of 9/11 and with the talk of the Muslim “place of worship” being built in the shadow of ground zero.


    It seems often that people choose to make comments like “we worship the same God” in order to foster “dialog”. Often times this falls short.

  39. digdigby says:

    I lived two years in Cairo and for extended periods in Syria, Turkey and Lebanon. The pious veneer of Islam hides a truly loveless and brutal family dynamic in which women and children are totally the possessions of some man – to the point that a father is allowed to murder his own children. This is traditional sharia law. Incestuous child abuse is so rampant it is the norm. The only rule is that girls remain virgins, all else goes. Though gay mutual love is considered an abomination, raping boys is not considered gay at all and it, likewise is endemic to the point of being the norm. I haven’t even touched on the loveless brutalization and reification of women. This ‘religion’ is a truly Satanic inversion of Christianity and Judaism and is the 1,400 year old scourge and enemy of Christ and Christians. NO ten commandments, no golden rule. Islam’s heaven is an eternal whorehouse in the sky. Please, find your ‘common ground’ I will remember Our Lady at Lepanto and St. Francis preaching to the Sultan. What wonderful Christians Muslims make, the best! God is their loving Father, the Holy Mother of God to pray for them, Christ leading the way through every human terror, loneliness and pain even unto death – for us. They can appreciate it after the monstruous perversion called ‘Allah’.

  40. eyeclinic says:

    The document also states ” and together WITH US(caps for emphasis only) they adore the one, merciful God…”. So, if we adore the one true God, and the Catechism and Lumen Gentium declare they(Muslims) adore with us, aren’t we adoring the same God? What am I missing here? I am amenable to correction.

  41. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Thinking out loud (as it were), under the influence of what I’ve read about the works of (St.) Paul of Antioch, Bishop of Sidon (and his Cypriot reworkers), so feel free to dissect, flay, etc., in all points:

    When was the Trinity (probably) recognizably revealed as Trinity? E.g., did Abraham at Mamre and Lot in Sodom recognizes Persons, or apparent Angel(s), of YHWH?

    Might an erring Ishmaelite, even one having had contacts with Christians, and ‘Nestorians’, perhaps Arians, etc., perceive (or even be Sovereignly given to perceive) El in Oneness only rather than Threeness as well?

    How exclusively “private” are “private revelations” (e.g., what happened at Fatima)?

    Could ‘Islam’ have been (in part) a particular ‘praeparatio Evangelicae’, imperfectly understood by its recipients (especially after the death of Mohammed)?

  42. DHippolito says:

    Well, I guess I have to come in and clean up this mess….
    Here are excerpts from Besancon’s article that I used for a commentary I wrote for Front Page Magazine, “How Will Rome Face Mecca?”

    However, Benedict and his bishops must confront what French historian Alain Besancon called the “indulgent ecumenicism” that dominates the Christian response to Islam, whether through Martino’s superficial multiculturalism or through the wistful yearning for traditionalist transcendence that Besancon described in Commentary magazine:

    “Contributing to the partiality toward Islam is an underlying dissatisfaction with modernity, and with our liberal, capitalist individualistic arrangements…. Alarmed by the ebbing of religious faith in the Christian West, and particularly in Europe, these writers cannot but admire Muslim devoutness…. Surely, they reason, it is better to believe in something than in nothing, and since these Muslims believe in something, they must believe in the same thing we do.”

    Influencing that attitude was the work of European scholar Louis Massignon, who popularized the ideas of the Koran as a kind of biblical revelation and of Muslims as being among Abraham’s spiritual children.

    “An entire literature favorable to Islam has grown up in Europe,” Besancon wrote, “much of it the work of Catholic priests under the sway of Massignon’s ideas.”

    Europe is not the only place where such indulgent ecumenism holds sway. Cardinal Bernard Law, the disgraced former Archbishop of Boston, created controversy in November 2002 when he bowed toward Mecca and prayed to Allah in a suburban mosque during a Ramadan service. Afterward, he told the congregants:

    “I feel very much at home with my fellow fundamentalists here, who are convinced that God must be at the center of our lives (Boston Globe, Nov. 25, 2002).”

    Such sentimentality, however, ignores the irreconcilable differences between Christianity, Judaism and Islam that Besancon described in his Commentary article, “What Kind Of Religion is Islam?”

    Though all three faiths are monotheistic, Islam rejects the doctrines of atonement and redemption that define Christianity and Judaism. Moreover, no concept of a covenant between God and humanity exists in Islam. Instead, Allah decrees his law “by means of a unilateral pact, in an act of sublime condescension (that) precludes any notion of imitating God as is urged in the Bible,” Besancon wrote.

    Islam also rejects the Christian doctrines of original sin and the necessity of mediation between God and humanity. In the Koran, Jesus “appears… out of place and out of time, without reference to the landscape of Israel,” Besancon wrote.

    Most importantly, Judeo-Christian and Muslim concepts of divinity revolve around one irreconcilable difference:

    “Although Muslims like to enumerate the 99 names of God, missing from the list, but central to the Jewish and even more so to the Christian conception of God, is ‘Father’ – i.e., a personal god capable of a reciprocal and loving relation with men,” Besancon wrote. “The one God of the Koran, the God Who demands submission is a distant God; to call him ‘Father’ would be an anthropomorphic sacrilege.”

    Christianity as a whole, and Catholicism in particular, has a lot more in common with Judaism than with Islam.

  43. DHippolito says:

    BTW, you go, Flambeaux! Preach it, brother!

  44. gambletrainman says:

    Flambeau, I wholeheartedly agree with you. I have always been taught that in order to agree in the belief of the same God we MUST believe in the Trinitarian God. God is Three Persons in one Godhead. The Father, the Son, and Holy Ghost (Spirit). Even Muslims agree that they do not worship the same God. After all, they get highly offended in the term “God the Son”, as it implies the Father is/was married in order to have a Son. This not only insults their intelligence, they consider this an act of blasphemy, and the perpetrator must be put to death.
    The Jews do not believe the Messiah has come–they are still waiting for him. When the true Messiah came, they rejected him. Acceptance of the True Messiah is a mandatory requirement for salvation. The Jews do not believe in the True Messiah, therefore, they do not worship the same God.

  45. OPmom says:

    Fr. Z: I would like to recommend the works of John Alden Williams, who I had the privilege of studying Islamic Art History with for 2 semesters at the University of Texas (and I want to stress it was a privilege, he was brilliant). He later retired from the College of William and Mary. Dr. Williams, a practicing Catholic, has written many works but, two may be of more interest to you: The Word of Islam and Roman Catholics and Shi’i Muslims, Prayer, Passion and Politics. No comment about Islamic theological concepts of God. I said Dr. Williams was brilliant, not I.

  46. Maltese says:

    “‘CCC 841 The Church’s relationship with the Muslims. The plan of salvation also
    includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these
    profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one,merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.’

    Does this settle the question?”

    Unfortunately, eyeclinic, I don’t think it does. That is a non-dogmatic statement (both in the original Vatican II, and supra.)

    In fact, unlike Judaism (which acknowledges that a Messiah might some day come), to Muslims the idea of the Trinity is distinctly anathema to Muslims:

    Verse 4:171
    “People of the Book, do not go to excess in your religion, and do not say anything about God except the truth: the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, was nothing more than a messenger of God, His word, directed to Mary, a spirit from Him. So believe in God and His messengers and do not speak of a ‘Trinity’—stop, that is better for you—God is only one God, He is far above having a son, everything in the heavens and earth belongs to Him and He is the best one to trust. “(Qur’an 4:171, M. A. S. Abdel-Haleem translation)

    Since God, by His very nature is Three in One, the Qur’an eternally forbids worship in Almighty God as He has been revealed to us in Tradition and Holy Scripture, I would strongly suggest that we do not, in fact, worship the same God.

  47. Supertradmum says:

    There are differences in public and private revelation, specifically concerning doctrinal points. The word “prophet”, very popular with the charismatics and as a term we all use (such as, so and so was prophetic in a statement), yet Christ Himself stated that among men born of women, there was none greater. John was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophets and their messages regarding Christ.

    As to prophetic statements since Christ, the Scriptures are complete, which is why we call the New Testament the fulfillment of the Old. Revelation has been completed in the Person of Christ, Himself.

    Mary’s apparitions, which I love dearly, are for our devotion and not considered prophetic revelation as were the Old Testament prophets’ statement concerning the Messiah, or John’s role preparing the way for Christ. Clearly, and even not looking at the garbled message, the Messenger of Islam is not a prophet.

    As to the Catechism statement or Nostra aetate, these bring up more questions than they seems to answer. I think the wording may be faulty in both cases.

  48. Supertradmum says:

    sorry, a line introducing John the Baptist as the greatest prophet and the last was erased.

  49. FXR2 says:

    I am far from an expert, but my best guess is Mohamed either invented the story of the Archangel Gabriel dictating the Koran to him in search of power, or he was deceived by Evil. I can not see any other alternative. It is likely that many Muslims believe, through no fault of their own, they worship the one true God of creation. Their scripture is clearly not divinely inspired. If Mohamed invented the Koran it has nothing to do with God. If Mohamed was deceived the Koran has nothing to do with God. The Muslims who live today can not be culpable, however they lack the sacraments chiefly Baptism and Penance to be saved. As God is omnipotent it is possible they can be saved. I would not speculate on that probability.

    Just my guess!


  50. The Astronomer says:

    From Rorate:
    His wrath upon their heads

    The blood of Baghdad screams out to heaven and earth.

    There has been an orgy of violence in Iraq this week, as terrorists have set off a series of bombs, murdering well over 100 people. But what happened last Sunday was so utterly horrific that it merits special, and thunderous, condemnation, backed up with lethal force if necessary.

    On Sunday, an al-Qaeda affiliated terrorist group stormed into the cathedral of the Syriac Catholic Church, Our Lady of Deliverance, during the evening Mass. They immediately killed the priest offering the Holy Mass – three priests in all were murdered. They began shooting members of the congregation, and held hostage others who took refuge in a locked room. When the security forces stormed the church, the jihadists killed as many as they could, and some of them set off the suicide bombs on their belts.

    Close to 60 Catholics were killed. In their cathedral. At Mass. It has now come to this, where Christians are killed at prayer by Muslim fanatics.

  51. Ringmistress says:

    I think it would be accurate to say that despite their denial of the Trinity, the Jews worship the same God. It is the God that revealed Himself to Moses at Sinai, and that was worshipped by the Hebrews up to the time of Jesus. They are rather like an insect preserved in amber, and still worship Him (to the degree that they can, the Temple being destroyed) as they always have. The object cannot have changed, and the object of their worship was one and the same with the object of the worship of Christ.

    The Muslims are a whole different kettle of fish. What it unclear is how far you can water down wine before you can stop calling it wine. Because they acknowledge Jesus as a prophet, they don’t have the excuse the Jews do for being unitarians. They aren’t an ancient understanding of God preserved in a particular moment in time. Rather, they are an amalgam of heretical ideas about God, mixed up with pagan ideas (among them the local paganism of the Arabian peninsula and Zoroastrianism), attached to a man whose character is difficult to read 1400 years removed. (Was he ambitious? a con man? a true believer who bought his own hype, a la L Ron Hubbard?) How much pagan underpinings with Judeo-Christian veneer undermine the veneer. Mere monotheism is not sufficient to make one’s object of worship the Living God. Pope John Paul II said the God of the Philosophers was not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And before that god, the heretic pharaoh of Egypt, Akenaten, briefly promulgated monotheism. To say what my old friend Shakespeare once said, “What’s in a name?”

    Thought experiment. Imagine you are neo-pagan living in a town in the deep South. You can’t get away with practicing openly, so you go underground and use Catholic imagery and terminology as cover. It’s easy since Our Lord and Our Lady are terms that both groups use. It isn’t easy being a Catholic in the Bible belt, but certainly better than persecution as a pagan. Now what is your object of worship?

    But if that one is too easy, what if you are of the muddle headed sort that tends to be syncretistic and incorporate all sorts of New Age mumbo-jumbo into your version of the Catholic faith? Angels and labyrinths and apparition hunting become the sacraments that fill your life and the real Sacraments just don’t seem very fulfilling or “spiritual” so you ditch them. You still talk about Jesus, and you have pictures of Mary all over your house. But what are you actually worshipping?

    In both cases, the instance is individual. But if the same is done on a wide scale and becomes a sect in its own right, you have a good example of what Islam could be viewed as. Whether its an incoherent muddling of truth and nonsense, or a deliberate deception using the terminology and mythos of one sect to further the ends of the founder, in both cases the object of worship is at odds with the public name of that object.

    I think that the problem here is that there are several angles of attack. There is the problem of the actual object of worship, which could vary from Muslim to Muslim. Some may in fact be seeking to worship the God of Abraham, however imperfectly, and their inner sense of justice reveals the facets of their faith that are at odds with the character of that God. They would be heretics, to be sure, but in fact worshippers of God. But the question is whether the faith as a whole is directed to God, or whether there is some other object who has stolen His Name for his own dark purposes?

    And setting that all aside, what is the point of contending that we worship the same God if those who worship Him “very imperfectly” are by nature of that imperfection denied salvation. Are we trying to say “You’re close, but no banana”, or are we trying to say “Really we’re all on the same team here so let’s stop slinging words and worse at each other and sit down over tea and crumpets to talk.” Is the point of all the softened language an attempt at reaching the reasonable, at earning a respite for beleaguered Christians trapped in Muslim territory, at entering into endless dialogue?

    What I don’t get is why say what ended up in the VII documents in the first place? What was the point of giving a hierarchy of error? Wouldn’t it just make more sense to say “and many outside the Church have some points of contact with the truth, and it is upon those common points that we must begin our evangelization”?

  52. Kerry says:

    Re: Robert Reilly’s book, The Closing of the Muslim Mind, How Intellectual suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis. We believe in the Word, Logos, and a God who can be grasped through reason. The Muslims, (and Reilly specifically means the Sunnis,) believe only in a god of will. There is neither potency nor cause and effect. They live entirely in a world of First Causes, believing Allah continuously, moment to moment, atom to atom, causes what surrounds us, and can change anything at any moment. Caprice, they name is Islam. For them it is my way or the highway, the highway of death. (I am doing a poor job writing this morning. Excerpts of the book can be found on the web highway.)

  53. Kerry says:

    One more note, the enemies of reason cannot be defeated by reason alone.

  54. DHippolito says:

    As far as Islam being an “Abrahamic” religion goes…

    1. If the descendants of Ishmael embraced Buddhism, Zoroastrianism or Hinduism en masse, would those be considered “Abrahamic” religions, as well? Just because Ishmael’s descendants embrace something doesn’t necessarily and immediately make that something “Abrahamic.”

    2. Even if Islam is an “Abrahamic” religion, so what? The biggest problem with Islam is the absolute refusal of its religious leadership to confront, let alone condemn and issue sanctions against, terrorism in Allah’s name, cruelty toward women and other moral issue.

    3. Actually, my second point refutes the idea that Islam is “Abrahamic.” The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob demands obedience to certain fundamental moral criteria. I doubt if terrorism or cruelty toward women meet those criteria…

  55. DHippolito says:

    Then again, perhaps Catholicism and Islam do have something in common to work from. After all, Catholicism (like Islam) has centuries of innocent blood on its hands. Catholicism (like Islam) treats women (especially married women) as second-class citizens (this has nothing to do with abortion or a female priesthood but rather with the fact that most saints are single, not married).

    And Catholicism, like Islam, doesn’t give one rip about protecting the innocent (as evidenced by the theological revisionism on capital punishment, the esoteric and academic proclamations on morality [c.f., Hiroshima and Nagasaki, “torture”], the clerical sex-abuse crisis, the lack of any effective means within the Church to redress legitimate grievances and the viewing of the laity as a distinctly inferior class to the clergy and prelates).

    Just something to think about, people….

  56. Sam Urfer says:

    People should know that the “Allah is a Moon god” thing is, in fact, a lie perpetuated by quack scholarship. Pre-Mohamedian Arab Jews and Christians called God “Allah” (“All?h al-?ab, All?h al-ibn and All?h al-r?? al-quds” being the Father , Son and Holy Spirit), and even in Maltese (which is a Semetic language spoken by Catholics) the word for God is “Alla”. The word “Allah” is made up of “al-” which means “the” and “Ilah” meaning “god”, literally “The God” or “The LORD”. Arab pagans had Allah in their pantheon as the Creator, much as the Caananites had El in their pantheon as the Creator. Does that in any way invalidate the Jewish revelation of Elohim? Modern Jews are not Trinitarian, and there is not much reason to believe that pre-Christian Israelites were, either.

    St. Thomas Aquinas and the other Scholastics saw Plato and Aristotle as, in some way, grasping towards the One Truth that is the Trinitarian God, but not knowing what they sought. They didn’t treat Muslims (not Muhammad, not the Koran, but Muslims believing in The God) any differently, in terms of being part right and big part wrong.

  57. Daniel Latinus says:

    It probably ought to be mentioned that Arabic speaking Christians (including Maronites and Melkites) call God “Allah”.

  58. Sam Urfer says:

    DHippolito, you might want to attend to that lumber jutting from your eye, there.

  59. DHippolito says:

    Sam, if I had blood on my hands, treated women as second-class citizens and didn’t care about protecting the innocent, you might be right. As it stands, I know that none of those sins apply to me (though others do, certainly).

    Nice to see that you learned the ol’ Catholic trick of trying to make anyone who demands moral accountability from the Church feel guilty by making them look inward. Not buyin’ it, though. Sell crazy someplace else, OK?

    It probably ought to be mentioned that Arabic speaking Christians (including Maronites and Melkites) call God “Allah”.

    So what? They don’t believe that the Koran is inspired or that Mohammed is God’s final prophet or that he’s the perfect man. We use the word “god” to describe Zeus, Wotan, Thor, Mercury, Apollo, Saturn, Pluto, Ba’al and other deities from assorted pantheons. That doesn’t mean they’re equal to Yahweh, does it?

  60. Sam Urfer says:

    If by “old Catholic trick” you mean “words of Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God”, then thank you.

    As to crazy, I wasn’t the one defending nuclear weapons and torture.

  61. Sam Urfer says:

    Nor, for that matter, being confused over the use of the word “God”, going astray from how it is traditionally used.

  62. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Thinking out loud again:
    How worthy of attention is it that neither ‘Nostra aetate’ nor the account of Mohammed in the Armenian chronicle attributed to Bishop Sebeos (c. 661 AD at the latest: far older than any written Moslem ahadith) refer to the Koran?

    ‘Bishop Sebeos’ refers to Mohammed’s knowledge concerning Moses, as well as to his being an Ishmaelite.

    Ishmael was one of the first circumcised into the Covenant in Genesis (‘Sebeos’, in the translation I’ve seen, does not refer to the Covenant with that word, but does present a self-conscious return to the God of Abraham).

    So, it is possible to consider in what sense ‘Islam’ represents (or might represent) a ‘return to’, or ‘Moslems’ conceive of themselves as devoted to, the God of Abraham, without any reference to the Koran (is this what ‘Nostra aetate’ does, in fact?).

    None of which is to say that any Moslem would be likely not to insist on the essential importance of the Koran.

    How can one (Moslem or otherwise) determine if a given Moslem is interpreting the Koran (or a verse, etc.) correctly?

    How far is there consensus in ‘Islam’ (whether it interprets correctly or not)?

    E.g., how widespread an ‘Islamic’ consensus is there that a ‘faithful Moslem’ should have recourse to killing those who interpret ‘incorrectly’? Or as to how soon (s)he should have recourse to that killing, in general or in particular circumstances?

    To return to a comparison, how far was Saul of Tarsus serving the God of Abraham according to the Scriptures while and/or when he was persecuting Christians (to use that name already) even to the death, and how far was he falsely believing himself to be serving God in accordance with the Scriptures?

  63. ASD says:

    Something from fascinating biography of John Paul II, Witness to Hope, prompted me to come back and find this blog entry to add a belated comment.

    In May, 1985 JP2 visited the Netherlands. He was met by protests, rudeness and rotten eggs. (pp 496-497).

    In contrast, when he went to Morocco in August, 1985, he spoke to a huge crowd of teenagers who listened with “interest and a kind of reverence.” (p 500)

    The Muslim teenagers of Casablanca had, in fact, listened to the Bishop of Rome with far more interest and respect than had many middle-aged Dutch Catholics.

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