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There Is No Pope in Islam

March 5, AD2015

Some time ago I posted on Facebook this criticism of that ubiquitous “Coexist” bumper sticker with the comment, “I need this in magnet form for my car.”

A friend (who, I believe, identifies as atheist/agnostic) replied, “I don’t agree that Muslims are out to get everyone else. I find that suggestion pretty offensive actually.” Upon deeper reflection, my response would be as follows:

I don’t believe that all Muslims “are out to get everyone else.” I would not presume to speak for every single person on the planet who identifies as a Muslim. I do believe, however, that some Muslims are out to get everyone else (if “everyone else” is defined as “everyone who doesn’t follow the ways they consider to be correct”).

The response I most often hear when I express my concern is either that (a) Islam is a religion of peace and does not promote violence, and/or (b) only extremist Muslims believe that non-believers should be killed.

However, the problem with this viewpoint is that Islam is only a religion of peace depending on who is doing the interpreting. Unlike Catholicism, there is no pope in Islam. There is no one person a Muslim can point to and say, “This is the definitive teaching of Islam. Anyone who does not hold to this teaching is not in conformity with the Islamic faith; they are practicing something different.”

A few years ago, President Obama spoke at St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai, and was asked for his take on jihad. Obama replied that jihad “has different meanings in Islam and is subject to different interpretations.”

The President is absolutely correct. In fact, there’s no shortage of differing opinions and interpretations on this subject. The page on the Islamic concept of tattarrus – the killing of non-combatants – at ReligiousTolerance.org acknowledges that “Opinion appears to be divided among Muslim commentators and theologians. Fatwas (religious rulings by qualified Muslim clerics) differ.”

The site recognizes that a similar difference of opinion exists regarding jihad. While it’s quick to list the passages of the Qur’an that promote peace and forgiveness, it fails to address more problematic passages, such as ones discussed in the Catholic Answers article Endless Jihad: The Truth about Islam and Violence:

The attitude of Islam toward using violence against non-Muslims is clear. Regarding pagans, the Quran says, “Slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them. If they repent and take to prayer and render the alms levy, allow them to go their way. God is forgiving and merciful” (Surah 9:5). This amounts to giving pagans a convert-or-die choice.

Regarding violence against Jews and Christians, the Quran says, “Fight against those to whom the Scriptures were given as believe in neither God nor the last day, who do not forbid what God and his messenger have forbidden, and who do not embrace the true faith, until they pay tribute out of hand and are utterly subdued” (Surah 9:29). In other words, violence is to be used against Jews and Christians unless they are willing to pay a special tax and live in subjection to Muslims as second-class citizens. For them the choice is convert, die, or live in subjection.

The Quran also has stern words for Muslims who would be slow and reluctant to attack unbelievers: “Believers, why is it that when you are told: ‘March in the cause of God,’ you linger slothfully in the land? Are you content with this life in preference to the life to come? . . . If you do not go to war, he [God] will punish you sternly, and will replace you by other men” (Surah 9:38-39).

And, of course, there is the promise of reward in the afterlife for waging jihad in this one: “Believers! Shall I point out to you a profitable course that will save you from a woeful scourge? Have faith in God and his messenger, and fight for God’s cause with your wealth and with your persons. . . . He will forgive you your sins and admit you to gardens watered by running streams; he will lodge you in pleasant mansions in the gardens of Eden. This is the supreme triumph” (Surah 61:10-12).

David French, in an article at Patheos.com, writes that there is no “true Islam.” So how can anyone, myself included, definitively say that “Muslims think so-and-so,” or “Islam teaches X and not Y” when it’s all open to individual interpretation?  A Muslim can interpret the Qur’an to say that it’s acceptable to kill non-Muslims, or that it’s unacceptable to kill non-Muslims, and there’s no ultimate authority to tell that person, “No, your interpretation is wrong and is not a reflection of true Islamic teaching.”

Going back to the “Coexist” refutation, I don’t believe that the author’s intent was to say that every single Muslim on the planet would eradicate all non-Muslims if given the chance. The difficulty lies in that enough of them do (e.g., ISIS, Al Qaeda) to make peaceful “coexistence” a pipe dream.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

JoAnna was baptized, raised, and married in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America but converted to Catholicism in May 2003, on G.K. Chesterton's birthday. She has six terrific kids here on earth, four saints in heaven praying for her, and a wonderful husband who supports her in all things. She enjoys defending the Catholic faith online (in between her duties as chief cook and bottle washer for La Casa Wahlund, and her role as Senior Editor of Catholic Stand). She blogs at www.catholicworkingmother.com and more sporadically at http://a-star-of-hope.blogspot.com.

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  • SnowCherryBlossoms

    The attacks are not going to stop until we stop them and deal with Islam. America is the Great Satan, remember?

  • Ltibi

    Mohound did not appoint a successor, nor did he have a plan for how his successors would be chosen. According to Islam, he was the last prophet, leaving no one in charge or able to interpret the Koran. They began in turmoil and will remain so.

  • susan d

    Very good points. Thank you, and keep up the good work you have begun in Christ!

  • Guy McClung

    For the absolute best response to the view that “most of them are peaceful” check out Brigitte Gabriel’s words re: the irrelavance of the “peaceful majority” in stopping holocausts, genocide, and tyranny:

    Brigitte Gabriel—–www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ry3NzkAOo3s

    Jun 18, 2014 –

    • SnowCherryBlossoms

      Absolutely fantastic!

  • Cyber Liberty

    Protestants don’t have a Pope either, and they aren’t going around killing people like the Muslims do.

    • Marco Polo

      I believe that the author’s main subject is Islam, not the 33,000 protestant sects.

    • Cyber Liberty

      I agree with you 100%. The only reason I mentioned it is sometimes articles in Catholic publications read like Protestants don’t exist at all, all 33,000 sects.

    • Marco Polo

      And most protestant articles/writers/backwoods bible-bangers treat the Catholic Church as a Den of Satan.

    • Cyber Liberty

      Your comment is why I rarely read any of them.

    • Thomas Sharpe

      – that’s because Protestants are followers of Christ
      (who forgot what they were protesting, did the everybody’s a their own Magisterium thing and are now split with into thousands of denominations…),

      Protestants are certainly not emulating Mohammad.

    • Cyber Liberty

      I agree. Yours was the answer I was looking for, not “Protestants suck!” or “Catholics suck!”

      Thanks kindly, Thomas.

    • Thomas Sharpe

      You’re welcome. As a Catholic I often hear sermons by Evangelical Ministers and exclaim “Oh! How I wish! I could Hear a sermon like that at Mass-

      God works in Mysterious ways.
      However I Know, and I know for sure, Jesus is Present in the Eucharist-
      – and so I’m there

  • james

    What you would expect from a child at 14 years is nowhere near what you require of someone half
    that age. It is the last major religion to form. It is in its infancy compared to Judaism, Buddhism
    then Christianity, It is a religion whose own “reformation” began immediately after the death of their founder – and such is the temper of those who live in deserts that rivalry is a blood sport based on
    revenge. Islam was a sleeping dog before oil was discovered, coveted then exploited by the west.
    100 years ago. The lack of healthy moral values that an industrial, sophisticated society spread throughout the middle east went a long way to degrade their tolerance as did the colonials who reshaped, renamed and even repopulated their ancient boundaries. What we are seeing is the
    result of ignorance on our part and exasperation on theirs. I think the 1400 year feud between
    the Sunni and Shiites will start to abate after the lawless barbarians (ISIS) who are neither are
    crushed. The true practice of that faith belongs to the Sufi’ whose joy and whirling dervishes have
    brought on persecution by the others. We Americans are still a light on a hill, our separate but
    equal take on religion will guide them on their way to better practice a faith ill suited for a pontiff.

    • Protestant religions are even newer than Islam, and yet they manage to exist without mass killings and violence.

    • james

      Catholics in America were persecuted by Protestants even into the 20th century.
      They were discriminated against in unique ways. In one major city near me the
      oldest Catholic church (1834) when built was not allowed to face Main St. neither
      was the Cathedral which was forced to face north. In my little town the KKK burnt
      a cross in the early 20’s when the Catholics took over an old Congregational building
      for worship. And there was a lot of killing going on by both sides in the 100 years
      following Luther’s schism. Now we talk and hold joint services and are actively
      striving to be one again. I think this will happen with Islam too. I can’t imagine them
      not eventually looking at themselves and seeing how the rest of world sees them.

    • You think they don’t already know?

    • james

      I think they don’r really care at this point but ISIS has held up a very dark
      mirror and there’s no turning away from the reality of what their religion has
      become.

    • Ltibi

      “Islam was a sleeping dog before oil was discovered”? If you can show that oil was discovered in the seventh century, your statements might have some credence. The first militant act of islam was the slaughter of the Jews in Medina in 627, before mohound died in 632.

    • james

      Islam was a sleeping dog (in the modern era) before oil was discovered. Is that better ?