With the rise of ISIS and the recent terrorist attacks in Paris back in November, many people have been curious to understand more about Islam and how we as Catholics respond are to it. I thought I would use my column this week and next to give a little background about Islam and attempt to offer a Catholic response to the phenomenon of Islamic terrorism.
As we know, Islam, along with Christianity and Judaism, are the three major monotheistic religions of the world, each of which find origin in Judaism and the God of Abraham. Islam, whose followers are known as Muslims, is one of the world’s largest and fasted growing religions. It stems from the prophet Mohammed, born around 570 A.D, who is considered by Muslims to be the last in a long chain of prophets to preach unconditional submission to God. Mohammed’s mission was to teach Islam not only to his own Arab people, but to all of humanity. Islam is radically centered on God and Mohammed’s role is only to convey God’s final revelation. Muslims would be considered “servant-worshippers” of God.
Today, there are two main groups within Islam: Sunni, which makes up 85-90% of the world’s Muslim population, and Shia (also known as Shiites). These two separate groups formed around a dispute in leadership succession soon after the death of Mohammed in 632 A.D. The primary source of Islamic faith comes from the Qur’an, which is believed to contain the revealed statements of God himself, exactly as they were communicated to Mohammed through the angel Gabriel. These revelations to Mohammed did not occur all at once, but over the course of 23 years. The Qur’an teaches that the Jews falsified the original text of the Torah and hid some of its passages; and that both Jews and Christians concealed passages in the Scriptures that contained evidence of the truth of Mohammed’s mission.
Allah is the name given to the one God of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed. While Jesus is honored as a great prophet, he is not believed to be the Son of God.
One important difference between Christianity and Islam is Islam’s rejection of the belief in God as Trinity, and the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus of Nazareth for humanity’s salvation. Muslims see this as moving too far in the direction of polytheism and idolatry. From the Islamic perspective, one is able to know God adequately through his attributes and through his creation. Another significant difference is that while Muslims believe that God manifests his will and directs the lives of humanity, he does not communicate his own self in the profound way Christianity conceives of him. Such self-communication, according to Islam, is not consistent with God’s transcendence. Islam also rejects the idea of redemption, believing that bearing the sin of another is not consistent with God’s justice.
According to our Christian faith, God elevates the human person to communion with himself. In a special way, God makes himself accessible to us. God formed a covenant with his Chosen People (the Hebrews), from whom come the Jews, with the ultimate intention of one day bringing all of humanity, through them, into communion with himself. In the person of Jesus, God fully reveals himself to us as love – love in which one gives of one self, and forgives. For us, belief in God as Trinity in no way lessens the oneness and unity of God. Our Creed affirms this.
Next week I will speak a bit more about the differences between our Faith and Islam, and the notion of jihad.