Telling the Truth About Islam

Why has it become so maddeningly difficult to make judgments about other people? About the actions especially of people who want to kill us? Indeed, whose stated aim is to bring the Great Satan (i.e., America) to its knees, and then to cut off its collective head? Is it too much of a stretch to imagine bearded men who bellow “Allahu Akbar!” (that blood-curdling “God is the Greatest!” jihadist jingle), just moments before blowing up busloads of women and children, as being animated by a passion for radical Islam? Yet such is the mindset of so many opinion-makers in the media today that they simply will not make the connection.

The problem is not recent. When Newsweek’s Evan Thomas weighed in some years back following the Fort Hood massacre, in which a Muslim by the name of Nidal Hasan murdered a dozen or more people, he positively recoiled from having to identify the obvious origins of Maj. Hasan’s homicidal rampage. “I cringe that he’s a Muslim,” reported Thomas.  “I think he’s probably just a nut case.”

The government apparently agreed, calling the multiple terrorist killings a case of “workplace violence.” This notwithstanding Nidal’s own insistence that he be regarded as a solider in the growing Army of Allah, intent on targeting American soldiers in the name of holy jihad.

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That so many journalists and reporters exhibit their skills in traversing these minefields is no doubt due to the long practice they’ve had in perfecting the art of selective suppression. Of which the earliest and still most egregious example is the front-page headline that ran in the New York Times following the arrest of one Mohammed Salameh for his involvement in the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center: “Jersey City Man Is Charged in Bombing of Trade Center.”

Imagine a comparable headline reporting the capture, say, of Adolph Hitler, architect of the Final Solution, in which the editors are at pains to avoid any reference to his passion for Nazi ideology, lest it leave in its readers’ minds the invidious impression that ideas have consequences. “Ex-Bavarian Paper-Hanger Arrested for War Crimes.” Would that about cover it?

Perhaps we’re expecting rather a lot from the secular sages in mainstream media. Why should their standards be any higher than the public to whom they pander? Maybe not. But when it comes to the Catholic Church, aren’t the standards supposed to be high? I mean, by the Church’s own admission, she is the keeper of the tablets. And so when Churchmen fall short of the very standards God himself sets—in the authoritative accents of whose Name they speak—the resulting crash of credibility is pretty hard to contain.

Have I someone in mind here? Yes, I do. A whole panoply of people, in fact, who work for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB)—which, incidentally, has enjoyed a shelf life far in excess of whatever usefulness it might once have exercised on behalf of individual bishops. So let’s get rid of it. By year’s end perhaps? What a nice Christmas present that would be to give to the Bishops, who are quite beleaguered enough without the added encumbrance of a national conference co-opting their job as Shepherds of souls.

In the meantime, the paper trail from some of the Conference’s more recent statements do not invite confidence in its capacity either to lead or to think. For example, back in August, a USCCB Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs (CEIA), chaired by Auxiliary Bishop Dennis J. Madden from Baltimore, released a brief statement on the urgency of continuing the dialogue with our Muslim brothers and sisters. What we need here, he seemed to be saying, is more sweetness and light. And the upshot, of course, is that since we’re all equipped with an equal set of credentials already (after all, asked the authors of the statement, had not “Both Jesus and Muhammad loved and cared for all whom they met, especially the poor and oppressed”?), there’s really nothing to keep us from building still more “networks of dialogue that can overcome ignorance, extremism, and discrimination and so lead to friendship and trust with Muslims.”

Have they completely lost their bureaucratic minds? Do the authors of such feel-good flapdoodle really not know anything about the religion of Islam? Forget the so-called silent Muslim majority we pretend to ourselves represents the lion’s share of Islam. The fact is, Islam remains fundamentally and unmistakably a religion of violence. The murderousness of Muslim theology is not an accidental or episodic affair, such as from time to time overcomes the better angels of their nature. It is entirely intrinsic to the beliefs all Muslims profess.

How could it be otherwise when its founding document, the Koran, is replete with what can only be described as the poisonous rhetoric of hatred and intolerance? If we are reviled by so much of the Muslim world, it is because the children of the Prophet have been carefully coached to regard everything in the West (except our technology) as loathsome and therefore deserving of destruction.

Prophet, make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites and deal rigorously with them. Hell shall be their home: an evil fate.   (Koran 9:73)

Believers, make war on the infidels who dwell around you. Deal firmly with them.   Know that God is with the righteous. (Koran 9:123)

Is this the message of Shalom? Do we now get to walk hand in hand into the sunset singing Kumbaya?   And there is more. Think of all those timorous souls who still hesitate to strike out at the infidel in their midst. God help them. Islam is utterly unforgiving. Not only of those who happen not to be Muslim, but of their own kind who decline the use of the sword with which to smite the enemies of Allah. Indeed, the penalty for those who dare to deviate from the purity of Muslim doctrine is death. The apostate having placed himself beyond the pale, the task of taking him out becomes a matter of simple justice. When that crazy Ayatollah Khomeini ordered the death of the writer Salman Rushdie in reprisal for his literary sins, there was no outcry from the Muslim world. For those who read and revere the Koran, such things make perfect sense.

So while the disagreements we have with the Islamic world continue to fester in all sorts of politically and militarily unpleasant ways, the root cause behind every dispute is always the same. It is the fact that we inhabit two diametrically opposed universes of faith. “Whoever knows the Old and New Testaments, and then reads the Koran,” wrote Pope Saint John-Paul II in Crossing The Threshold Of Hope, “clearly sees the process by which it completely reduces Divine Revelation” (italics in the original). And while it is true, as the pope goes on to say, that among the “most beautiful names in the human language are given to the God of the Koran,” it cannot finally satisfy because such a God, “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” (again, italics in the original).

It is very instructive, I think, and not a little duplicitous, that while the statement issued by the NCCB cites this remarkable book written by the late Pope, indeed, praising its author for acknowledging the prayerfulness of Muslims, it includes none of the sentences quoted above. Such omissions, it seems to me, mutilate its larger message.

So what have we got here but two peoples intractably divided along theological lines. Open the Koran anywhere and see how it bristles with contempt on nearly every page for those whom Allah himself is already bent on “mocking,” “cursing,” “shaming,” “punishing,” “scourging,” “judging,” “burning,” “annihilating.” In upholding the truth of the text divinely dictated through the mouth of the holy Prophet, Islam can do no less than unleash the dogs of war.

Have we the courage to say so? Will our leaders insist, in the teeth of the bloody terrorists who commit evil acts licensed by their religion, that not only are they to be held accountable for what they do, but also for the ideas that justify what they do? “Not to act in accordance with reason,” wrote Pope Benedict in his now famous Regensburg Address (September 12, 2006), “is contrary to God’s nature.” In reminding us of the evils of irrational violence, most particularly in the name of religion, he had dared to put the question in a way that forces Islam to face the dilemma in which it now finds itself. If it be the case that Muslim teaching empties even the Godhead itself of reason, and thus the unfettered exercise of Allah’s all-powerful will trumps even the Logos itself, then if follows that sheer irrationality becomes a category inscribed at the heart of the religion of Islam. There are a billion or more people on the planet at this moment who believe that, as Benedict put it, “God himself is not bound even by his own word, and that were it God’s will, we would even have to practice idolatry.” Can we honestly hold dialogue with these people? It will take heaps of grace to move that discussion along. The grace of conversion.

(Photo credit: Akhtar Soomro / REUTERS)


  • Regis Martin

    Regis Martin is Professor of Theology and Faculty Associate with the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. He earned a licentiate and a doctorate in sacred theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. Martin is the author of a number of books, including Still Point: Loss, Longing, and Our Search for God (2012) and The Beggar’s Banquet (Emmaus Road). His most recent book, published by Scepter, is called Looking for Lazarus: A Preview of the Resurrection.

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