Monday, September 27, 2010

islam, catholics and st. francis

Just today I got a nice note from one of my Catholic aunts in the mail. It was an article from her Church bulletin: Franciscans Lift Voices Against Tide of Anti-Muslim Rhetoric. The piece makes a number of interesting points. The article parallels the prejudice faced by American Muslims now with the difficulties faced by Catholics in an earlier period.

Pastor Jones' teaching that "Islam is of the Devil" is contrasted with the orthodox Catholic teaching out of Lumen Gentium which after describing the role of the Church and the children of Israel says:
the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Mohamedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind.

The Islamophobia around the Ground Zero mosque is contrasted with Dignitatis Humanae's statement that:
religious groups . . . must be allowed to honor the Supreme God in public worship ... and promote institutions in which members may work together to organize their own lives. ... Religious communities also have the right not to be hindered by legislation or administrative action by the civil authority ... in erecting buildings for religious purposes, and in the acquisition and use of the property they need.

The piece also referred to an interesting anecdote about St. Francis' meeting with the Sultan, al-Malik al-Kamil during the Crusades. "Francis was not able to win the Sultan over to the Gospel of Christ, but returned to Europe impressed by the faith he had experienced among the followers of Islam, convinced that he had met other worshipers of God like himself."

It turns out that the details of the meeting between St. Francis and the Sultan are contested so the story tends to be an inkblot for how the storyteller feels about Muslim-Christian relations. Some accounts talk about St. Francis' mission to convert the infidel Saracen while others (like the statement above) emphasize the mutual respect across religious communities. In fact I would argue that Catholic doctrine generally is somewhat of an "inkblot" in the sense that one could probably identify a number of exclusive statements to counter-balance the above inclusive teachings. Nevertheless, it is nice to know that in contemporary times some voices in the Church are making the former choice instead of the latter.

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