There are about a billion Moslems in the world today. Their number is growing, while the number of those of European ancestry — Westerners — is dwindling. The recently published book by Pat Buchanan, The Death of the West , has shocked many into this realization, which has been predictable for years, thanks to the pagan morality western “Christians” have accepted, embracing the twin demons of contraception and abortion. The world — including much of former Christendom, like France — is becoming Islamified at a very rapid rate.
Regardless of the horror that this reality may strike into some, and the cold indifference it may meet with in others, this fact of a growing Muslim population, even here in America, puts on our shoulders a heavy onus: to work for their conversion to the true Faith; because now they are our neighbors, and the Gospel precept of love of neighbor applies to them as it didn’t when they were “over there” in some exotic Eastern locale.
In answer to the question “Why evangelize Moslems?” regular readers of this publication will not be surprised to read our simple answer: Because, unless they believe and are baptized, unless they “submit” to God (to use their word) with the real submission of the true Faith, they will be lost. Jesus’ death on the Cross for them would have been in vain.
But how to evangelize them? Their beliefs are so foreign to us, their customs so different: Where do we begin? Before answering that, we should have at least a basic idea of what Islam is. This will give us a framework from which to operate.
Islam: What is it?
Over the years, many Jews have treated Islam as a Judaic heresy, while many Christians — including St. John Damascene and Hilaire Belloc — have treated it as a Christian heresy. Though I disagree with this latter conclusion, based upon what may be considered a technicality; 1 as a practical matter, it is sensible and effective to think of Islam as a “Judeo-Christian” heresy. However, as the word “Judeo-Christian” carries with it a certain oxymoronic ecumenical connotation, I prefer to call it an Abrahamite heresy.
In order to understand this label, the reader must know that the Moslems believe in Abraham — the “Father of all believers” — and give him pride of place in their history and religion. We know from the Bible (Gen. 16) that Abraham had a son before Isaac, by the Egyptian bondwoman, Hagar. This son, Ishmael, is the Father of the Arab peoples. In the official Moslem version of the history of Abraham, it is Ishmael he is called upon to offer in sacrifice, not Isaac. Abraham and Ishmael together built the great temple in Mecca, the Ka’ba, where they worshiped the one true God (Allah), and enjoined this worship on their children. Unfortunately (so their version continues), these descendants of Abraham largely fell away into idolatry, so that at the time of Muhammad, the Ka’ba was filled with idols — about 160 of them, as the worship of Allah was synchronized with worship of other gods (including Allah’s “daughters”: Al Lat and Al Uzza, and Manat). As a Prophet of God, Muhammad was called upon to restore the true worship of God, cleansing the temple of Mecca, much as the Macchabees cleansed the Temple of Jerusalem when Antiochus IV desecrated it.
Not only was Muhammad a prophet, he was the “seal of the prophets,” completing the revealed Word of God that was given in the Old and New Testaments, which, in their originals , the Moslems consider legitimate: “To Moses We gave the Scriptures and after him We sent other apostles. We gave Jesus son of Mary veritable signs and strengthened him with the Holy Spirit” (Koran, Sura 2:87). 2 “We sent forth Jesus son of Mary, confirming the Torah already revealed, and gave him the Gospel in which there is guidance and light, corroborating what was revealed before it in the Torah: a guide and an admonition to the righteous” (Sura 5:46). The claim is that the Koran completes those books, and that in rejecting it, Jews and Christians — collectively dubbed “the People of the Book” (Ahl al-Kitab ) — reject God’s revelations: “When they [Christians and Jews] are told: ‘Believe in what God has revealed,’ they reply: ‘We believe in what was revealed to us .’ But they deny what has since been revealed, although it is the truth, corroborating their own scriptures” (Sura 2:91).
The “original” Old and New Testaments were corrupted by the Jews and Christians, so that no argument drawn from our Bible will suffice for a Moslem. Wherever the Koran contradicts the Bible (such as in its bizarre account of the Annunciation [Sura 3:42-51] and many other Gospel events), it is the Bible that must give way to the Koran. The infidels (Jews and Christians) have tampered with what they were given by God.
Now, when a Catholic argues religion with a Protestant, he can draw arguments from the Bible, Old and New Testaments. He can ( sometimes ) get an agreement from the Protestant that these books (at least the 66 both parties accept) are inspired and form God’s inspired word. From there, he can cite passages that prove Catholic dogma and / or refute Protestant opinions. With what has been said, the question becomes: What “common ground” do we have with Moslems?
There’s more than perhaps most people think. Before enumerating the points, however, I feel bound to explain that, however complimentary the following several paragraphs may seem to Islam, and whatever ecumenical overtones may be read into them by liberals, Islam is a false religion . The point of finding common ground with Moslems is not to have something to praise them for but, rather, something to use as a point of reference in witnessing to them. That said, here are a few points which those of the true Faith hold in common with Moslems:
Monotheism. This may seem like no big thing, but dealing with pantheists and polytheists has some unique challenges and can be far more frustrating than dealing with a Moslem. (For example, it can take a long time to figure out if a Buddhist is an atheist, or someone who believes that both he and the Dalai Lama are Buddha, who may be God. Moslems don’t generally fall into such mystical murkiness.) Though the actual identity of the unitarian monad the Moslems worship is not the same as the one true God (the latter revealing Himself as a Trinity), their concept of God as the omnipotent, omniscient creator of the universe is at least philosophically our concept of the God of nature, as one can come to know Him by natural reason.
Before moving beyond the topic of Monotheism, we should address the name of God that Moslems use. Some go to great lengths to prove that Allah is a pagan deity that the Moslems adopted. This is nonsense; Allah is simply the Arabic word for God. When St. Charbel or St. Rafqa Ar-Reyes spoke of “God” in their native tongue, they would have referred to Him as Allah. As for its etymology, some scholars have suggested that, with much of the rest of the religious vocabulary of Islam, the word was borrowed from Aramaic, which has an exact equivalent to “Allah,” with a non-pagan and philosophically monotheistic connotation to it. It matters little if the ancient Bedouins called the moon God Allah. The Latin word for God ( Deus ) shares a common origin with the word “Zeus,” while the Greek word, Theos , was applied in the plural to the false gods of Olympus. St. Paul didn’t avoid calling God Theos because the Greek pagans used the same word.
To avoid distraction, for the rest of the article, I will refer to the Moslem divinity simply as “God.”
Belief that God is both just and merciful. These two attributes of God both figure into Islam. Most of us would, in fact, be surprised at the emphasis of God’s mercy in the Koran. It is the one attribute that seems to be stressed over all others.
Belief in the Day of Judgment (including belief in Heaven and Hell). In the very first Sura of the Koran, God is called “Sovereign of the Day of Judgment.” Though the Muslim Heaven reveals the essentially carnal nature of the religion (it’s a place of what most of us would call debauchery), they still believe in an eternal reward for the just. Hell, which is described as a place of burning and punishment, manifests divine justice meted out to sinners.
The concept of revelation. The notion that God has revealed Himself to man, and that man must heed that revelation or be the loser — a notion similar to our “without Faith, it is impossible to please God” (Heb 11:6) — is a foundational belief in Islam. For them, that’s what the Koran is. (We will see, however, this last aspect — the necessity of belief in God’s revelations — gets a bit fuzzy in Islam, just as it does in aberrant forms of Christianity.)
Extra-scriptural tradition. In addition to the Koran, which is of the highest authority to Moslems, there is an orally transmitted tradition that serves as an aid in the interpretation of the Koran, as well as a distinct source of revelation, the Sunna . Thus Moslems believe that God’s directly revealed, written revelation is complemented by a tradition handed down orally, and written down only later, a concept analogous to the Catholic view of Apostolic Tradition as passed down by the Church Fathers.
The historical reality of Adam, Abraham, Moses, and other key Old Testament figures, as well as the historical reality of Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and other New Testament figures. The value of this will become obvious in the course of this article. One thing should be mentioned of Our Lord here, however, since we will not develop it later. We Christians call Jesus “the Messias” (the Christ, the “Anointed One”). This word Messias (Messiah) shows up in the Koran in its Arabic form ( Maseeh ) 11 times in reference to Jesus. Muslims give Him the title Isa al-Maseeh , literally “Jesus, the Christ.” However, the Koran does not give any reason why Jesus was anointed (to be Priest, Prophet, and King in fulfillment of the ancient prophesies) or with what (the unction of the divinity — He was God).
The use of human reason that all Adam’s children have from God. Given that man is a rational animal, all men are capable of some degree of logical thought. My personal experience with Moslems is that they are certainly no less rational than adherents of any other false religion. In fact, they seem more readily to accept the principle of non-contradiction than most so-called Christians do.
Basing ourselves on these elements in their religion, we can now proceed to give some reasonable arguments to them to help them see the light of the Faith. Our method will be similar to what it is in apologetics with Protestants. We will strategically use their beliefs against them. Methodically setting someone up in order to refute his beliefs in a religious discussion is something Our Lord Himself did (Mt. 22:41-46).
God’s Mercy and Justice.
As we have stated, the Koran shows that God is both just and merciful. God’s justice is that attribute by which he punishes evil and rewards good. Mercy is a gratuitous tempering of justice. The common liberal idea about a “merciful” God, Who does not punish sin, is a contradiction of the very concept of mercy, which requires the presence of justice. This is the same petard upon which Islam can be hung. The reason is that, for all its protestations of the justice and mercy of God, there is no cogent explanation for these attributes not being contradictory. The reason is that sin, that thing that separates us from God by rejecting His will, is forgiven, but the debt not paid .
Men sin all the time. Adam committed the original sin, an historical fact recorded in the Koran, though not conceived of by Moslems as something passed down. We, the children of Adam, constantly fall into sin. The Koran shows that sin is punishable: Hell is where the wicked are sent after the Day of Judgment; but, as for those who sin and then repent (such as Adam), how was their debt paid? In Islam, it wasn’t. For the Moslem, these attributes of God (justice and mercy) bow down to His Will. If God wills your forgiveness, you are forgiven. If He does not will it, you are not. This denies God’s fundamental holiness, by which He hates sin and must punish it. In Islam, abstract principles like justice and mercy seem only to be external names given to God’s actions, not true attributes of God.
Were a Moslem to ask how man can make up for sin against God, we can tell him that God’s justice was fulfilled by an act of mercy: the redemptive Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. As the Man-God, Jesus paid God the infinite debt of justice we contracted with Him. At the same time, He did it in the very nature (human) which had offended God. The whole act fulfilled God’s justice and was one of great divine compassion and mercy.
This leads us to the subject of sacrifice. In the whole history of God’s faithful people, from Adam to Jesus, sacrifice was an integral part of the worship of God. The temple of Jerusalem, considered holy to the Moslems, was primarily a place to offer sacrifice to God. This is a fact of history provable not only by the historical witness of the Old Testament, but by extra-Biblical histories as well, such as Josephus’ Jewish Wars and other sources. In the ‘ id al-adha , or feast of sacrifice, done as part of the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca), Moslems offer up animal sacrifices. While they have no priesthood (their “imams” are strictly prayer leaders, and there are other categories of preachers and teachers), this cult of sacrifice seems to be a vestige of their Arabian paganism (which had many such sacrifices). Possibly, too, it is a result of their exposure to the Jews of the Arabian Peninsula. (There were many Jews in Mecca during Muhammad’s lifetime. The fingerprint of Talmudic Judaism is detectable in the Koran.)
Whatever may be the historical causes for the cult of animal sacrifice in Islam, its existence is one more illustration of a contradiction inherent in the system. Sacrifices which please God (such as that of Abel, which is recorded in the Koran) are, at least in part, to atone for sin. The Old Testament, which enjoined animal sacrifice, clearly pointed to another sacrifice, much greater, which would pay for the sins of the world. That was the Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. 3
This leads us to consider the effects of sin and how to be freed of its logical end, separation from God: Hell.
A more basic question, given especially Islam’s emphasis on Judgment Day, is this: How do you avoid Hell and go to Heaven? The Koran lays down, in certain passages, that non-Moslems cannot be saved, since the true faith (Islam), is necessary for salvation. “Those that deny Our revelations We will burn in fire. No sooner will their skins be consumed than We shall give them other skins, so that they may truly taste the scourge. Surely God is mighty and wise” (Sura 4:46). However, there are places where Jews and Christians are spoken of as “righteous.” In this passage, even the gnostic Sabeans 4 are portrayed in a good light: “Believers, Jews, Sabeans and Christians — whoever believes in God and the Last Day and does what is right — shall have nothing to fear or to regret” (Sura 4:69). These two verses just cited are not the only ones that show this contradiction. Similar passages abound.
In some passages, Jews and Christians are told not to exceed the “bounds of truth” in their religion. The Gospel and the Torah, which came from God, after all, teach the truth. But what were the bounds of truth in Christianity and Judaism beyond which one would damn himself? That is not mentioned. Neither does Muhammad seem to mind that Judaism and Christianity, even in their most “generic” meanings, are mutually exclusive.
So what does one have to do to be saved? If Faith, one of the “five pillars of Islam” is negotiable, sometimes shown as necessary, sometimes not, then there is no certitude of the requirements of salvation. God, in his bottomless mercy may dispense an infidel (like me) from hell, but then again, He may not. Such is not a merciful teaching at all, since it obscures the way to the most important thing: how to arrive at our final end.
Religious Truth / Authority
Muhammad was the leader of a community of men. That community consisted of the “believers.” Not only was he a prophet, but he was a civil ruler, top general, and head of business and finance. (The settled Arabs, like him, tended to be traders. He was a businessman before he became a prophet.) This concept of authority, where the church is the state and the military and the controller of trade still exists to some extent in the dar al Islam (Islamic lands). Aside from being the “seal of the prophets” and therefore the last in a long line of prophets from Adam, he was also the civil leader. But whoever succeeded him would not have the same religious authority as he. They would rule the community, but not be prophets.
The question of succession to Muhammad caused great strife in the early Islamic community. In fact, to this day there persist sects, the most well known being the Shiites, that contest the legitimacy of Mohammed’s immediate successors (“Caliphs,” from the Arabic Khalifa the word for “successor”) up until Ali. Sunnite Moslems (the vast majority) 5 claim Al-Khulafa Arrashidun , “the Rightly-Guided Caliphs,” Abu Bakr, Omar, and Othman, and Ali were all the proper successors of Muhammad. (Shiites reject the term “Caliph,” preferring instead Imam .) Ali was, in the Shiite reckoning, the second Imam. (This Ali was Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, as he was married to Fatima, the Prophet’s daughter.) Without Muhammad, whose authority in religious questions was unimpeachable, there was a problem. Aside from the question of who would act as the civil leader of the community (a question of less import to us), the issue of who would teach, interpret, and solve problems of a religious nature became an issue, if not immediately, at least within a few years. There is no Mohammedan “papacy” to render dogmatic decisions.
This becomes even more complicated when we consider that the Koran is not the only authority to a Muslim. In addition, there is the Sunna , or “custom” of the Prophet, contained in the various hadiths , orally-transmitted sayings and episodes from the life of Muhammad and his immediate followers. There are many things which regulate the life of Moslems which are spoken of in general in the Koran, but specified in the hadith . (For instance, the duty of As-salat , prayer, is mentioned in the Koran, but the specific practice of praying five times according to a set formula is only given in the hadith .) These oral traditions eventually came to be written down, the earliest dating from 150 to 200 years after Muhammad’s death. In their composition are contained the chain of narrators ( isnad ) and the text of the saying or deed ( matn ). According to what became an elaborate science, the chain of narrators establishes whether or not a hadith is reliable. Al-Bukhari (+870), whose catalogue is recognized as “the Authentic Collection” gathered over 600,000 reports, but kept only 7,397 as genuine.
These traditions which comprise the Sunna have a virtual infallibility which can, believe it or not, outrank the Koran (the only book Muslims consider directly inspired). 6 One hadith attributed to Muhammad is: “The Sunna can dispense with the Koran , but not the Koran with the Sunna .”
Given the fact that both the Koran and the Sunna are inspired guides for the Moslem (at least for the Sunnites, the Shiites have their own hadiths ), and given the fact that they can appear to contradict each other, one would think that there would be some kind of authority recognized which can settle a disputed question. However, there is none. As we said, there is no Moslem papacy. Therefore, major dogmatic issues (such as the freedom of the will) which can and do divide Moslems into opposing schools, have no one to settle the issue. In this, Islam resembles Protestantism: Infallible books are interpreted by fallible men, leading to a religious system in which doctrine is quite flexible. But, if you don’t believe it, you’re an infidel!
The true religion, from the time of Adam until now, always had a formally recognized infallible teacher to pass on the truths of the Faith.
Who ever believed it?
The rule of faith, the idea of truth in religion, can be approached from another angle. When St. Augustine argued against the Manichean heretics, he attempted to use the Bible. They replied that the Catholics had corrupted the Scriptures to suit their own purposes. St. Augustine then asked them to present the uncorrupted version. Of course, they could not, as the whole thing was a lot of junk they had just made up. So, too, with Islam. They claim the Torah and the Gospel were given to the Jews and Christians, but these “people of the book” had corrupted their book. But prior to the Koran, there are no sources of this Moslem version of God’s revelation. If God is truly merciful, then He must have made His truth available to all men at all times. If those people are literate, they will write it down. We have the ancient records of the religion of Adam, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and all of God’s holy servants. There simply are no records of their version preexisting our version. One has to take Muhammad’s word for it that the texts were corrupted.
One last subject should be mentioned. One of the ancient “selling points” of Islam was its simplicity. In the early years of the Arab conquest, as the Holy Land, Syria, and Egypt were being overrun by Omar’s forces, the simple monotheism of Muhammad was presented as a sensible alternative to a religion which somehow complicated God, making Him a Trinity, “mixing” Him with human nature in the Incarnation. The region was ripe for this sort of false proselytism, for it was rife with heresy. Aryans, Nestorians, Monophysites, and adherents of other heresies (chiefly denying one or more points of
Trinitarian or Christological dogma) were everywhere. Both intellectually and spiritually, these heresies had paved the way for Islam.
But the claim still survives. Moslems boast of the simplicity of their religion. I have heard it several times. Once, in a conversation with a Moslem who objected to the “complexity” of the dogmas of the Trinity and the Incarnation, I asked him this question: “Do you completely comprehend God?”
“No,” came the response.
“Then there could be mysteries hidden in God which you cannot know unless God Himself chooses to reveal them to you, right?”
At that point, the argument focused on whose revelation was the authentic one, but at least he admitted that a mystery, such as a plurality of Persons in a unity of Substance, can be hidden in God for Him to reveal at His own pleasure. This He actually did in the Gospel.
Our Lady of Fatima — and Lady Fatima
There are many who believe — and I am one of them — that there will be a large conversion of Moslems when the commands of Our Lord and Our Lady are heeded vis-à-vis the Fatima revelations. The reasons for this optimism are based on the providential name of the village:
“Here let us point out, that if we can believe the words of an ancient ballad, Fatima owes its clearly Arabic name to an episode in the reconquest of Portugal which took place in this era. Fatima, the daughter of a powerful Moslem prince of Alcacer do Sal, was captured by a Crusader, Gonçalo Hermingues. When the Christian knight asked for her hand in marriage, she converted and was baptized under the name Oureana, from which the village of Ourem took its name. <<But the beautiful princess died young, and Don Gonçalo, in his distress, gave his life to God in the Cistercian abbey of Alcobaça.>> Not long after, the abbey founded a small priory in the neighboring mountains; Brother Gonçalo was sent there and took with him the remains of his dear Fatima. The place took and kept her name.” (The Whole Truth About Fatima, Vol. 1, Science and the Facts , by Frère Michel de la Sainte Trinité.)
The very village where Our Blessed Lady appeared bears the name of a girl named after Muhammad’s daughter, one who converted to the true Faith. Whether or not such a mass conversion will happen is in God’s hands. However, we should pray and work for the conversion of as many as possible. The Church has given us the following beautiful formulas for this end:
“O Jesus, true God and true Man, Redeemer of the whole world. We beseech Thee by the Immaculate Heart of Mary, turn Thy merciful eyes on those peoples who for so many centuries have lived under the yoke of Islam. Oh, pardon them whatever in scorn of Thy most holy Name and of Christianity, they have done to injure Thy chosen people. With one ray of Thy light disperse the darkness in which they are involved, and in the Baptism of regeneration open to them the treasures of Thy Heart, that in the confession of the true Faith they may adore and glorify Thee, the eternal Word, made Man for our salvation together with the Father and the Holy Ghost. Amen (The Raccolta ).
“…Be Thou King of those who are deceived by erroneous opinions, or whom discord keeps aloof, and call them back to the harbor of truth and unity of faith, so that soon there may be but one flock and one shepherd. Be Thou King of all those who are still involved in the darkness of idolatry or of Islamism, and refuse not to draw them all into the light and kingdom of God…” (Act of Consecration of the Human Race to the Sacred Heart of Jesus , by Pope Leo XIII).
1 For the simple matter that a heretic is generally defined as someone who still professes to be a Christian while rejecting one or more of the Church’s teachings. Moslems do not profess to be Christian.
2 All Koranic quotes are from The Koran translated by the Iraqi N.J. Dawood, originally published in 1956 and many times revised by the author up to the 1999 reprint, which we use in a Penguin Classics edition. A “Sura” or “Surah” is a chapter of the Koran, roughly analogous to a “book” of our Bible.
3 See, e.g., Isaias 53 for an explicit Old Testament prophesy of the redemptive suffering of the Messias.
4 A strange sect found on the Arabian Peninsula who evolved from pagans to dualists to monotheists. They have great veneration for St. John the Baptist, but blaspheme Our Lord as being a deceiver.
5 Sunnites number about 940,000,000; Shiites about 120,000,000.
6 The Moslem concept of inspiration goes far beyond the Catholic concept. The common belief is that the Koran is uncreated .