Brief Overview of Church Teaching on Islam

Monday, November 10, 2003



Here are some brief thoughts on Islam based on the Church's teaching from the most recent Ecumenical Council. I intentionally wanted to keep my own commentary concise and to the point because of the sensistive nature of the subject while a war is occurring in the Middle East.
From Lumen Gentium no. 16 of the Second Vatican Council:
16. Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related to the People of God in various ways.[18] There is, first, that people to which the covenants and promises were made, and from which Christ was born according to the flesh (cf. Rom. 9:4-5): in view of the divine choice, they are a people most dear for the sake of the fathers, for the gifts of God are without repentance (cf. Rom. 11:29-29). But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Moslems: 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.
The Muslims hold a place of honor in relation to the Catholic Church as a people who profess to hold the faith of Abraham and who together with us adore the one, merciful God! Muslims do not worship a different God than Catholics. Rather, they worship the one true God, even if we have different perceptions or know different truths about this one true God. The Council continues to clarify this thought:
Nor is God remote from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, since he gives to all men life and breath and all things (cf. Acts 17:25-28), and since the Savior wills all men to be saved (cf. 1 Tim. 2:4). Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience--those too many achieve eternal salvation.[19] Nor shall divine providence deny the assistance necessary for salvation to those who, without any fault of theirs, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God, and who, not without grace, strive to lead a good life.
Though we can rightly say there is no salvation apart from the Church (ex ecclessiam), it is incorrect to say there is no salvation outside of the Church. Muslims often demonstrate signs of the work of God's grace in their lives. Many Muslims are being saved by God, even if they do not know God in the same way Christians know God.
Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is considered by the Church to be a preparation for the Gospel[20] and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life.
Who would deny that the Muslims do well to fast, pray and give alms? What Catholic is not moved to strive for greater Christian holiness when we see images of Muslims bowing together by the hundreds in prayer? How many of us Catholics actually manage to faithfully pray at least five times per day?

We can learn from Islam what it means to seek holiness and unity in everyday life. The Islamic tradition has produced great fruits of scholarship and theological reflection. The modern so-called "fundamentalist" is a rather recent phenomenon, and there are more progressive traditions in Islam, such as the Sufis.

Catholics should not look at Islam as simply a missionary field. We can learn form our Muslim sisters and brothers and should celebrate "whatever good or truth is found among them". In some cases, this goodness and truth is actually preparing the heart of a Muslim for Christ. In other cases, we should consider that the Muslim may be calling each of us Catholics to a deeper conversion in Christ. Recently beatified Blessed Teresa of Calcutta once said that she did not see her mission as one of making Muslims and Hindus into Christians. Rather, she sought to make the Hindu a better Hindu and the Muslim a better Muslim. Our call to mission is not simply to make converts. Our call to mission is a call to enter into diolague with others so that we all learn from one another.
But very often, deceived by the Evil One, men have become vain in their reasonings, have exchanged the truth of God for a lie and served the world rather than the Creator (cf. Rom. 1:21 and 25). Or else, living and dying in this world without God, they are exposed to ultimate despair. Hence to procure the glory of God and the salvation of all these, the Church, mindful of the Lord's command, "preach the Gospel to every creature" (Mk. 16:16) takes zealous care to foster the missions
The Church recognizes that there is such a thing as erroneous religious views and practices. Terrorism is evil because it takes the lives of innocent people made in the image of God. Our call to mission is partly a call to go forth and challenge injustice wherever it occurs. However, religious groups outside of Catholicism do not have a monopoly on sin. We Catholics can be decieved by the Evil One. There are few catholics today who would seriously argue that the crusades or the inquisitions, witch burnings, colonialism or slavery were the proper conduct of Christians. We must avoid a one-sided critique of Islam, and be open to confessing and showing contirition for our faults even as we challenge ourselves and others to act righteously. We can share the Gospel freely with others as good news, but must never seek to force it on others. If done in the spirit of dialogue, with an openess to learning from others, the Gospel message will be communicated not only in word, but deed. The truth Christianity seeks to convey will be expressed more clearly.

In an age of war between Arabs and Western worldly powers, Christians and Muslims who place their trust in Allah, the merciful and compassionate One, must lead the way in promoting peaceful co-existence by prayer for one another and dialogue. We must avoid infalmmatory stereotypes and charges of damnation, and try to learn "whatever is good and true" from one another. Jesus taught humility, and a Christian who cannot be humble enough to learn from a Muslim is not worthy of the name "Christian".

Peace and Blessings!

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posted by Jcecil3 9:24 AM

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