Church leaders need to be aware of the full nature of Islam to speak truth rather than wishful or clouded thinking.
Is the Islamic State Islamic?
by Pope John Paul ll in Crossing the Threshold of Hope
A very different discussion, obviously, is the one that leads us to the synagogues and mosques, where those who worship the One God assemble. Yes, certainly it is a different case when we come to these great monotheistic religions, beginning with Islam. In the Declaration Nostra Aetate we read: “The Church also has a high regard for the Muslims, who worship one God, living and subsistent, merciful and omnipotent, the Creator of heaven and earth” (Nostra Aetate 3). As a result of their monotheism, believers in Allah are particularly close to us.
I remember an event from my youth. In the convent of the Church of Saint Mark in Florence, we were looking at the frescoes by Fra Angelico. At a certain point a man joined us who, after sharing his admiration for the work of this great religious artist, immediately added: “But nothing can compare to our magnificent Muslim monotheism.” His statement did not prevent us from continuing the visit and the conversation in a friendly tone. It was on that occasion that I got a kind of first taste of the dialogue between Christianity and Islam, which we have tried to develop systematically in the post-conciliar period.
Whoever knows the Old and New Testaments, and then reads the Koran, clearly sees the process by which it completely reduces Divine Revelation. It is impossible not to note the movement away from what God said about Himself, first in the Old Testament through the Prophets, and then finally in the New Testament through His Son. In Islam all the richness of God’s self-revelation, which constitutes the heritage of the Old and New Testaments, has definitely been set aside.
Some of the most beautiful names in the human language are given to the God of the Koran, but He is ultimately a God outside of the world, a God who is only Majesty, never Emmanuel, God-with-us. Islam is not a religion of redemption. There is no room for the Cross and the Resurrection. Jesus is mentioned, but only as a prophet who prepares for the last prophet, Muhammad. There is also mention of Mary, His Virgin Mother, but the tragedy of redemption is completely absent. For this reason not only the theology but also the anthropology of Islam is very distant from Christianity.
Nevertheless, the religiosity of Muslims deserves respect. It is impossible not to admire, for example, their fidelity to prayer. The image of believers in Allah who, without caring about time or place, fall to their knees and immerse themselves in prayer remains a model for all those who invoke the true God, in particular for those Christians who, having deserted their magnificent cathedrals, pray only a little or not at all.
The Council has also called for the Church to have a dialogue with followers of the “Prophet,” and the Church has proceeded to do so. We read in Nostra Aetate: “Even if over the course of centuries Christians and Muslims have had more than a few dissensions and quarrels, this sacred Council now urges all to forget the past and to work toward mutual understanding as well as toward the preservation and promotion of social justice, moral welfare, peace, and freedom for the benefit of all mankind” (Nostra Aetate 3).
From this point of view, as I have already mentioned, the meetings for prayer held at Assisi (especially that for peace in Bosnia, in 1993), certainly played a significant role. Also worthwhile were my meetings with the followers of Islam during my numerous apostolic trips to Africa and Asia, where sometimes, in a given country, the majority of the citizens were Muslims. Despite this, the Pope was welcomed with great hospitality and was listened to with similar graciousness.
The trip I made to Morocco at the invitation of King Hassan II can certainly be defined as a historic event. It was not simply a courtesy visit, but an event of a truly pastoral nature. The encounter with the young people at Casablanca Stadium (1985) was unforgettable. The openness of the young people to the Pope’s words was striking when he spoke of faith in the one God. It was certainly an unprecedented event.
Nevertheless, concrete difficulties are not lacking. In countries where fundamentalist movements come to power, human rights and the principle of religious freedom are unfortunately interpreted in a very one-sided way-religious freedom comes to mean freedom to impose on all citizens the “true religion.” In these countries the situation of Christians is sometimes terribly disturbing. Fundamentalist attitudes of this nature make reciprocal contacts very difficult. All the same, the Church remains always open to dialogue and cooperation.