Volume > Issue > Dawah, Dislocation & the Hijacking of Catholic-Muslim Dialogue

Dawah, Dislocation & the Hijacking of Catholic-Muslim Dialogue


By Timothy D. Lusch | May 2017
Timothy D. Lusch is an attorney and writer. His work has appeared in Saint Austin Review, New English Review, and Chronicles, and at CatholicExchange.com and Crisis.com. He blogs at www.pityitspithy.com.

Ed. Note: This is the second in a three-part series on the Catholic Church and Islam. The first installment, “The Interfaith Delusion,” appeared in our April issue.

Since the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and its Muslim partners inaugurated the National Catholic-Muslim Dialogue more than a year ago, the priority of the talks has shifted from theological discussion (two-way “dialogue”) to advocacy in support of the Muslim community. This is not surprising, since theological discussion never really seems to have been the point. How could it be? As Robert Cardinal Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, has observed, “There can be no theological dialogue [with Islam] because the essential foundations of the Christian faith are very different from those of the Muslims.”

An African Church leader who possesses real-life experience with Muslims outside the U.S., Cardinal Sarah laments the “very difficult, almost impossible relations with Muslims in the Sudan, Kenya, and Nigeria.” Where Muslims make up a majority of the population or control key aspects of the government, Christians find themselves in trying, and often deadly, circumstances. This is because Islam is a religious belief fully actualized in political domination, a fact few Western Christians want to acknowledge. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger depicted the chasm between Christianity and Islam some twenty years ago:

The Qur’an is a total religious law, which regulates the whole of political and social life and insists that the whole order of life be Islamic. Sharia shapes society from beginning to end. In this sense, it can exploit such partial freedoms as our constitution gives, but it cannot be its final goal to say: Yes, now we too are a body with rights, now we are present [in society] just like the Catholics and the Protestants. In such a situation, [Islam] would not achieve a status consistent with its inner nature; it would be in alienation from itself…. One has to have a clear understanding that [Islam] is not simply a denomination that can be included in the free realm of a pluralistic society. When one represents the situation in those terms, as often happens today, Islam is defined according to the Christian model and is not seen as it really is in itself. (Salt of the Earth, 1996)

Blase Cardinal Cupich, co-chairman of the USCCB-sponsored national dialogue, surely knew from the beginning that theological dialogue with Muslims is a dead end. That is likely why he recently declared that the national effort will “strive to contribute tangible fruits…that benefit not only those who pray and worship in our churches and mosques but also the American public and the international community of Christians and Muslims as each tries to replace narratives of hate and distrust with love and affection.” Inasmuch as Cardinal Cupich and his brother bishops call on Catholics and Muslims in the U.S. to be good neighbors, there is merit in what he says. But the notion that the dominant problem between Catholics and Muslims worldwide is a narrative of “hate and distrust” is simply ludicrous. And the implication that Muslims have entered into a national dialogue with the desired ends of “love and affection” is positively naïve. For Cardinal Cupich and the USCCB to attribute such motives to their current dialogue partners is an egregious example of mirror imaging — seeing their Muslim counterparts as they see themselves.

In contrast, Raymond Cardinal Burke has a more accurate understanding of Islam and, by extension, Muslim dialogue partners. Like Cardinal Ratzinger, Cardinal Burke acknowledges that Islam’s nature is fundamentally political. He has argued that “while our experience with individual Muslims may be one of people who are gentle and kind and so forth, we have to understand that in the end, what they believe most deeply, that to which they ascribe in their hearts, demands that they govern the world.” Islam, he says, is not rooted in the natural law, and Sharia is “not a law that’s founded on love. To say that we all believe in love is simply not correct.”

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