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On Islam 2: Pope Francis

[ by Charles Cameron — from the Pope’s apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium ]


Pope Francis has now presented his first Apostolic Exhortation, a 58-page overview of his views on a range of topics, many of which will no doubt be explored in detail elsewhere. Here, I would like simply to quote the two paragraphs he dedicates to relations between the Catholic Church and Islam:

252. Our relationship with the followers of Islam has taken on great importance, since they are now significantly present in many traditionally Christian countries, where they can freely worship and become fully a part of society. We must never forget that they “profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, who will judge humanity on the last day”.[198] The sacred writings of Islam have retained some Christian teachings; Jesus and Mary receive profound veneration and it is admirable to see how Muslims both young and old, men and women, make time for daily prayer and faithfully take part in religious services. Many of them also have a deep conviction that their life, in its entirety, is from God and for God. They also acknowledge the need to respond to God with an ethical commitment and with mercy towards those most in need.

253. In order to sustain dialogue with Islam, suitable training is essential for all involved, not only so that they can be solidly and joyfully grounded in their own identity, but so that they can also acknowledge the values of others, appreciate the concerns underlying their demands and shed light on shared beliefs. We Christians should embrace with affection and respect Muslim immigrants to our countries in the same way that we hope and ask to be received and respected in countries of Islamic tradition. I ask and I humbly entreat those countries to grant Christians freedom to worship and to practice their faith, in light of the freedom which followers of Islam enjoy in Western countries! Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalisations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence.

It will be interesting to see what, say, the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar or Iran’s Supreme Jurisprudent make of the Roman Pontiff defining “authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran” as being opposed to every form of violence, while also addressing the existence of “violent fundamentalism”… but the Pope’s message to his own flock — “to avoid hateful generalisations” — strikes a positive note, and his strongly-worded request —

I ask and I humbly entreat those countries to grant Christians freedom to worship and to practice their faith, in light of the freedom which followers of Islam enjoy in Western countries!

— strikes (in my opinion) just the right diplomatic note from the Christian to the Islamic world…

26 Responses to “On Islam 2: Pope Francis”

  1. Lexington Green Says:

    I have the highest possible reverence and affection for the Pope.  But, one magisterium at a time is plenty.
    The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
     “The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.”47 This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.
    So Francis has the authority to pronounce on what is and is not authentically Catholic doctrine.  
    Yet, he appears to be doffing his Papal mitre and, for some reason, usurping on his own head the fez of the Caliph!
    By what authority does he say this:  “for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence.”  Really? There are Muslims who say otherwise. How does the Pope possess the authority to say such interpretations are not “authentic Islam”?  I would be miffed if a scholar in Qom were to publish a fatwa in the course of which he said that this or that doctrine was “authentic Christianity,” particularly if it contradicted the teaching of my Church!  
    I am afraid this is going to cause more trouble than it is worth.  
    I will leave aside the baseless claim that Allah is the God of the Old or New Testaments.  He is manifestly not.  
    All this is fudged theology in the interest of keeping the peace.  I am afraid the Holy Father is going to end up with fudged theology and no more peace than he would have had if he had spoken empirically instead of diplomatic evasion.  


  2. Lexington Green Says:

    Here is the last Caliph, with his fez:

    The last Caliph

  3. Grurray Says:

    I generally agree. I like Francis personally but I’m concerned he’s settling into an embrace of liberation theology.
    There was also so other interesting things going on at the Vatican yesterday
    He met with Putin, but also celebrated St. Josephat’s relics before thousands of Ukrainian pilgrims.
    The Russians see the Ukrainian Greeks as western agents.
    And just this week Ukraine was supposed to join the EU, but Putin derailed it. 
    There’s bound to be lot going on behind the scenes of the celebrations and photo ops.

  4. cat Says:

    I truly believe the Pope has lost his mind

  5. Ken Hoop Says:

    Lexington Green

    You are aware that Judaism considers that the God of the Old Testament does not include Christ in any part and that therefore Christians worship a false deity? Also that Orthodox Judaism calls Christ a false prophet while Islam exalts Him, though as short of Divine?

  6. larrydunbar Says:

    “as being opposed to every form of violence, while also addressing the existence of “violent fundamentalism””
    But it seems like so far that “violent fundamentalism” has been against other muslims, and the Pope is not addressing that. The Pope is speaking of the relationship between Christians and Islamists. In a civil war you are trying to beat yourself up, and the Pope is just saying, hey, we’ve been there. 

  7. Lexington Green Says:

    Ken, so what?

  8. Lexington Green Says:

    Larry, the Pope does not limit himself to that.  He says what “authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran” are.  I know he can say what authentic Catholicism and a proper reading of the Bible are, since that is his job.  But on what basis does he claim what he does about Islam?  There are strong contrary arguments within Islam, and there are Muslims who assert contrary arguments, i.e. that Islam requires armed jihad against nonbelievers, and they can make a cogent case for these interpretations.  Islam has no magisterium.  Since the end of the Caliphate in 1924, there is no one who is remotely close to being universally recognized as the authoritative interpreter of authentic Islam and an proper reading of the Koran.  So, since there is no recognized authority for this conclusion, at best Francis should have said it differently, hedged it.  And he should probably not inject himself into intra-Ismamic disputes about what their religion means, what is authentic Islam and what is the proper interpretation of the Koran, since he is not authorized or qualified to say those things.  

  9. Charles Cameron Says:

    Lex’s point is the one I was trying to make in my understated British way when I wrote:

    It will be interesting to see what, say, the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar or Iran’s Supreme Jurisprudent make of the Roman Pontiff defining “authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran…”

    I do think those two, and perhaps Qaradawi and the Grand Mufti of the Land of the Two Mosques, represent close analogs to authorities who can speak for Islam, albeit the difference between Shia and Sunni transmissions of authority in doctrinal matters is significant. 
    My guess is that the Pope was not so much trying to make a declaration of Muslim orthodoxy for Muslims as to persuade Catholics to respect Muslims / Islam which abhorring its jihadist variant. The actual phrasing, however — and the Vatican is an old hand at phrasing & signalling — reads like a definition of Islamic orthodoxy, which seems to me to be beyond the remit of the Papacy.

  10. Charles Cameron Says:

    Hi, Grurray:
    It’s my impression that the term “Liberation Theology” refers (properly) to a historical S American blend of “preference for the poor” Catholic social doctrine with Marxist revolution, accompanied by the equivalent blending in action. Popularly, though, the words are used to describe the social doctrine itself. As I currently understand things, Pope Francis endorses the latter but not the former.
    If you’d like to expand on your poits about the Ukraine etc, I know very little and would be happy to learn more… 

  11. Lexington Green Says:

    “My guess is that the Pope was not so much trying to make a declaration of Muslim orthodoxy for Muslims as to persuade Catholics to respect Muslims.”  Right, but he does so by making a pronouncement about Muslims that is, at best, contestable.  It is wrong to say “respect group A because they have characteristic X,” when what you say about X may not be true, or not simply true, or not universally true.  Whoever drafted this section put political expediency ahead of an honest but more complicated statement.  Bad idea in a Papal pronouncement.  Francis is a man of transparent good will, but I wish he ran a tighter ship.  
    Oremus pro beatissimo Papa Francisco.  Dominus conservet eum, et vivificet eum, et beatum faciat eum in terra, et non tradat eum in animam inimicorum eius.  

  12. Lynn C. Rees Says:

    One of the best laugh lines of the GLOBAL WAR ON TERROR!!! was “Islam needs a PROTESTANT REFORMATION™”. This despite how Islam, because of its Atlantic to Pacific reach, was always prone to parochialism outbreaks far from the gaze of whoever was caliph at the time. Many figures in Islamic history schemed to return Islam to its primeval purity centuries before Luther or Calvin or Zwigli. Abbasids, Almoravids, Almohads to Wahabis, multiple explosions of the state-church fusion than some Protestant denominations became are more characteristic of the Islamic World than what has characterized Latin Christendom. The relatively uniform (for the time) doctrine and political independence the Papacy inculcated for the Catholic Church from Ireland to Poland and from Sweden to Calabria from 756-1419 is almost historically unique.

  13. zen Says:

    I would like to hear Tim Furnish weigh in on this, but I think Khameini is much more a temporal than spiritual authority in Shia Islam because there are a number of grand ayatollahs who are formidable marjas  ” objects of emulation”, starting with Iraq’s Sistani, who are more senior, more learned and more respected for their piety among the senior clerics of Shia Islam than Khameini. This is not to say the supreme jurisprudent does not have more power, he does but to use a Roman analogy, imperium and auctoritas are not the same and do not get weighed on the same scales

  14. Kumail Says:

    I think Pope Francis’ entreatment to Muslims will have no effect on Islamists who are quite accustomed to enjoying Western secularism that frees them from potentially assertive theological aspects of Christianity as they go to the West looking for material gain and political freedom but who nonetheless want to impose obnoxious, highly unilateral religiously-derived political, cultural and social dogmas on Christians and other minorities in their home countries. 
    I speculate this is because Islamists regard the power of secularism in Western society not as an indication of cultural or moral sophistication but as evidence of Christianity’s inherent inferiority and general societal degradation. They instinctively see minority rights and religious freedom as a moral vacuum in which Islam may spread and not as an integral value system worth emulating. Given the prevalence and popularity of these views it is no surprise that secularism is an embattled concept in the Muslim World, if that, and religiously motivated discrimination and violence against minorities is widespread. 
    The Islamist infused state of Saudi Arabia — the cradle of Islam — after all does not allow churches or open worship (let alone missionary activity). And this is probably the closest ally the US has in the Muslim World. Interestingly the KSA stands in stark contrast to the UK that allows Islamist organizations such as the Hizbur Tahrir to operate and preach openly even though they are banned in much of the Muslim world for their disruptive religious doctrines which — ironically — include militarily confronting the West itself.

  15. larrydunbar Says:

    “But on what basis does he claim what he does about Islam?”


    You got me there. I have no idea. If Muslims believe Jesus Christ was a fellow Muslim, may be the Pope was talking also as a fellow Muslim. I mean are we not talking about two of the 3 Abrahamic monotheistic religions, or how does that work anyway? After all, there is a certain part of Islam that is very much into change, in a very fundamentalist way.

  16. Scott Says:


    Liberation theology has expanded from its original S. American / marxist roots to take in the cause of all oppressed peoples.  It has also become a rallying point for those who see themselves as oppressed (feminists, American minorities).  Here’s a good source:

    I like the Pope’s focus on justice.  I don’t agree with his stance on Islam, but then again, I’m a Protestant so it’s hardly the case that he and I would agree on everything anyway. 

  17. Grurray Says:

    Charles, happy belated birthday.
    I’m glad of the Pope’s good intentions to protect the downtrodden and outcast. I’m not sure I support the vehicle of his efforts. My experience and observation of liberation theology is that it really is trying to liberate people from the middle class. Out of the frying pan and into the fire is not something I want to see.
    This gets tricky but here goes.
    Putin has recently been using the Orthodox church to expand his influence to Russia’s south and east. The main place it seems to be working is Ukraine judging by his victory this week preventing them from closer ties with the EU.
    The Ukrainian Greek Catholics (or Byzantines as they are known around here) are an Eastern Rite church. Litugically separate but in full communion with the Holy See, these are churches that stayed loyal to the Pope after the Great Schism. The Eastern churches are increasingly important to Rome because tensions and persecution in the Middle East and Southeast Europe has drawn them closer to the fold while Western Europe has hopelessly drifted away.
    The Ukraine is a country divided with ethnic Russians dominating the east and western oriented Ukranians in the west. Along the same lines, the Orthodox Catholic church suppported by Russia is strong in the east and the Greek Catholics are dominant in the west. The Catholic University in Kiev has a business school that is one of the major advocates of European integration (and maintains close ties with the Ukrainian community here in Chicago). The ethnic Russians who include the thug-president want to stay away from Europe. 
    It might be a coincidence that Putin, Francis, St. Josaphat, the apostolic document, and the EU all came together in one week, but I doubt it. Putin is working every angle here – flicking and parrying around Russian spheres of influence, Syria, EU, religion (really makes Obama look like an amateur in comparison). 
    Pope Francis is certainly aware of this. There is a substantial Ukrainian Catholic minority in Argentina and the Patriarch served for a time in Buenos Aires. By all accounts Francis has a great affinity towards them.
    He must be working some angles of his own.
    So I’m reserving judgement on the Pope because now it seems there is more here meets the eye. More than just a simple man of the poor. There appears to be some complicated maneuvering going on and, frankly, Francis seems to be negotiating the twists and turns well so far.


  18. Arvid Says:


    The east of Ukraine is inhabitated by Russian-speaking Ukrainians.Ethnic Russians are minority in every eastern oblast. 

  19. Grurray Says:


    I should have mentioned the Eastern Partners EU summit.
    The striking thing is how religion is a vital part of what ia going on, but it is given no consideration by our policy makers and leaders..
    Arvid thanks for the clarification. The point is  Russians (or merely Russian speakers) are orieinted towards Putin.

  20. Grurray Says:

    Thanks in no small part to Putin’s outreach to and exploitation of the Orthodox church

  21. Charles Cameron Says:


    Liberation theology has expanded from its original S. American / Marxist roots to take in the cause of all oppressed peoples.

    It’s my impression that the expansion was of the social teaching of caring for the poor, with the Marxist ideological part dropped, and that Pope Francis even back in the day supported those of his clergy who took the care of the poor seriously (in ways the regime did not much like at all) while clearly also distancing the church from the version of liberation theology which contained the Marxist ideological mix.
    I confess, though, it’s not an area I’ve studied much, and you’re wecome to educate me if I’m missing the point : )

  22. Charles Cameron Says:

    Grurray and all: 
    There’s a lot more going on here in the comments section than I can keep up with (a good sign — keep it going!) but I can’t resist commenting on the name of Josaphat.
    One part of the constellation you mention, I suspect, is the fact that “Barlaam and Josaphat” were commemorated in the Roman Martyrology on 27 November each year.  That’s always delighted me because Josaphat aka Ioasaph aka Iodasaph aka Budhasaf aka Bodhisattva is clearly the Buddha — the prince who leaves worldly things to find spiritual treaures — in a tale that can be traced from India via Islam to Christendom.  What with my interest in comparative religions and November 27th being my birthday, celebrating my arrival here on the (very minor) feast of Josaphat / Buddha has long seemed quirkily appropriate to me, although I’d forgotten it this year until you reminded me!  
    I used to collect versions of the Barlaam and Josaphat story at one point, starting with (the eponymous) St John Damascene’s version in the Loeb Classical edition — the story of their tale is a fascinating byway in inter-religious history.
    http://rbedrosian.com/Downloads4/Cony_1896_Folklore_Barlaam.pdf< http://discoverarchive.vanderbilt.edu/bitstream/handle/1803/4131/BARLAAM%20AND%20JOSAPHAT.pdf

  23. Grurray Says:

    Charles that is so cool.  I had never heard of that connection. It’s really getting interesting now.

  24. Charles Cameron Says:

    Ah — sadly, my St Josaphat apparently isn’t the Ukrainian one (St Josaphat Kuntsevych) the papal event was about.  The latter was “a Ukrainian Greek-Catholic bishop from the 17th Century, beatified by the Catholic Church in 1643, and canonized by Pius IX in 1867.” Or maybe that’s all to the good — more saints, less trouble?
    I’m not altogether sure that more saints aren’t more trouble, though — maybe good trouble. What do you (y’all) think?

  25. larrydunbar Says:

    “What do you (y’all) think?”

    Thinking east/west is as important as north/south, at least in the context of Syria.

  26. Lexington Green Says:

    Saints are trouble.  They are disruptive.  They are supposed to be.  In a good way, yes.  But people don’t like to be shown that they need to amend their behavior.  That’s hard.  Someone said the best catechism is the lives of the saints, which is true.  Examples, inductive teaching, rather than principles and deductive thinking. I will add my own corollary, that modern saints, for who we have reliable records and testimony, are best of all.  

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