The Church’s Strange Reappraisal of Islam
WILLING CAPTIVES TO CONTEMPORARY IDEOLOGY
Ed. Note: This is the third in a three-part series on the Catholic Church and Islam. The first installment, “The Interfaith Delusion,” appeared in our April issue, and the second, “Dawah, Dislocation & the Hijacking of Catholic-Muslim Dialogue,” appeared in May.
In a recent article at National Review Online, Fr. Benedict Kiely describes a visit he had with a Catholic priest in Iraq, the pastor of a ruined church in the empty Christian town of Karemlash, which has been ravaged by the Islamic State. “Surveying the horror and the eerily silent town, punctuated only by the distant thump of explosions in Mosul, nine miles away,” Fr. Kiely writes, “I asked Father Thabet, the Chaldean Catholic priest who serves as pastor of St. Addai, whether all this destruction represented real Islam. ‘Yes,’ he answered strongly, without a moment’s hesitation. ‘You wouldn’t be allowed to say that in the West,’ I said smiling. He didn’t smile back” (Apr. 3).
Fr. Kiely’s encounter highlights the chasm between Church leaders in the West and persecuted Christians in the Muslim-dominated Middle East. Pope Francis, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and any number of ill-informed clergy at the pulpit bombard us with blind and bland sloganeering that Islam is a “religion of peace,” that there’s “no such thing” as Muslim terrorism, and that the real problem today is the “scourge of Islamophobia” — all routinely said with a straight face. Meanwhile, bishops and priests in the Middle East and their dwindling flock confront the brutal reality of persecution and death at the hands of Islamists on a daily basis.
How did we get here? A cursory glance at history shows that the Catholic hierarchy hasn’t always extolled Islam. The misguided public-relations campaign lauding a “peaceful” Islam is entirely of recent vintage. If anything, Church history over the past fourteen hundred years has been dominated by our oppositional relationship with Muslims. (Where episodes of cooperation have occurred, they have been limited geographically and politically in scale and scope). For Christians (and Jews) living in Muslim-controlled lands, violent persecution and enslavement, relegation to subservient dhimmi status, and financial extortion via the jizya, the Sharia-mandated tax of non-Muslim “People of the Book,” have been common occurrences. These practices, to a greater or lesser degree, continue unabated today where Islam is the reigning politico-religious system. Groups like the Islamic State (ISIS), al-Qaeda, and Boko Haram, for all their particular horror, are simply practicing Islam as it has been practiced since the days of Muhammad. It is not Islam that has changed, thereby warranting reappraisal in our time; rather, it is the Church leadership’s view of Islam that has changed. Our current leaders have altered their view arbitrarily, without authoritative textual or behavioral evidence from Islamic sources. Worse, they have disregarded the lessons of history and the teachings of their forebears.
In the ninth century, when Muslim ships threatened Rome and its environs, Pope Leo IV organized a defense league to fight them. Culminating in the famous Battle of Ostia (A.D. 849), Christian navies prevailed over the Muslim pirates. Captured Muslim warriors were made to help build the Leonine Wall that once surrounded the Vatican, parts of which still stand to this day. So significant was the Christian victory that, centuries later, Renaissance artist Raphael commemorated it with a magnificent fresco in the Apostolic Palace. Due in no small part to Leo’s efforts, Rome remains the only apostolic see that never succumbed to Muslim conquest. Constantinople, Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria were all captured by Islamic jihadists in the first millennium.
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