Muslims: Nuancing the Good and Bad

defend the truth, knight, soldier, church militant, soldier for christ

knightAbout a month ago, during the Euro Cup, I was impressed reading a few pieces in the press about Mesut Özil, an extremely talented Muslim soccer player who often opens his palms in prayer during stoppages in play and reads the Koran before matches. I saw a quote from him saying, “I’d rather not play football again than to not fast in Ramadan,” even though I later found out that during the Euro Cup he took advantage of the dispensation to move fast days if you’re traveling. For those of you who don’t watch soccer, Özil is likely the best playmaker in the world right now, creating more scoring opportunities than any other player in the five major European leagues last year, and breaking the 1 year record in that regard for the English Premiere League by a clean dozen.

Özil even shows certain acts of charity he links back to his Muslim faith and family upbringing like paying for operations for 23 sick children after the World Cup in Brazil and regularly paying for disabled children to come watch his games in London. I believe him 100% when he talks about how positive influence Islam is had on his life. In fact, I’d considered writing a whole article on him titled “The Muslim Tim Tebow.”

Even though I’d love for him to convert to Catholicism, I can see him fitting perfectly into what Vatican II said about Muslims:

The Church regards with esteem also the Muslims. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting. (Nostra Aetate 3)

(FYI: Özil plays for Arsenal in league play and Germany in international competitions because he grew up there to Turkish parents. If you haven’t guessed from my comments or my last name, I cheer for Germany in international soccer – Canada barely has a team. On the other hand, I don’t have enough time or interest to watch league soccer)

Then, this week we hear about two other Muslims who broke into a church in Normandy, stopping Mass, taking the people hostage, pulling the priest aside, make Father kneel down, slicing into Pere Jacques Hamel’s throat, screaming in Arabic, proclaiming their loyalty to the Islamic State, and videotaping it all, just to glorify how they see Islam. Even though they qualify for most of what that paragraph from Vatican II about Muslims says, they fail due to the last line of morality and worshiping God through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.

These are two radically different views of Islam and it’s foolhardy to claim all Muslims fit into the first group or all Muslims fit into the second group. I think we need a nuanced view that neither condemns all Muslims as Islamists nor assumes that there are no Islamists. I use “Islamist” because that seems to be the clearest distinction for those Muslims who believe in a radical ideology that is violent towards the west and even other Muslims who disagree.

Since the murder in France, a friend shared a video of Tariq Ramadan, a Muslim apologist, pointing out that the majority of Muslims don’t support it. I think that’s great. Yet the problem is there are a large number that do. In fact Pew said that somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of worldwide Muslims support suicide bombing which is a decent base level for distinguishing the Islamist philosophy from peaceful and charitable Muslims. Assuming that standard, there are between 150,000,000 and 300,000,000 Islamists worldwide. You cannot just ignore a violent ideology so prevalent.

We have to see that there are good and bad Muslims just like there are good and bad Christians. I’m about halfway through reading the Koran (I’d planned to read it through earlier this year then other things came up and it fell down my priority list), and I can see where these two interpretations of Islam might come from. Despite good and bad Christians, I don’t use “Christianist” because any Christian group would have to claim violence in spite of being Christian while Muslims can claim violence because they are Muslims. Tariq Ramadan, in the video cited above, claims that most Muslims “Say this [terrorism or ISIS] has nothing do with our religion.” I’m glad they do, Mr. Ramadan, but I don’t see how you can claim it is not possible to link it to your religion when the violent acts of Mohammed are so well known and you have no central authority to say that Islamists interpret the Koran wrong. In fact, a well-reasoned article a year ago from The Atlantic pointed out how vigilant, almost scrupulous, ISIS was in following the Koran and early Muslim tradition.

We need to look at how Muslim apologists like Mr. Ramadan approach violence in the name of their religion vs. how Christian apologists like myself approach violence in the name of their religion. The Christian apologists use reason to show how the Bible doesn’t really mean what this rogue violent Christian had interpreted to mean while the Muslim apologists seem to just dogmatically say that the violent Muslim has nothing do with Islam. For example after the shooting at a Planned Parenthood, I wrote about how this goes against all pro-life principles. If a Muslim apologist explained why violence like that committed against Fr Jacques Hamel is not the correct interpretation of the Koran showing other verses using reason and good rules of interpretation, they would not only help Christians to separate Islamists from good Muslims but they would help Muslims avoid Islamism.

Here lies the nub of the problem. Christianity has accepted the help of philosophy and reason to understand itself: John Paul II wrote a whole encyclical on how both faith and reason help us understand truth (Fides et Ratio), especially when used together. Islam on the other hand has, for the most part, rejected reason as an aid to understand the Koran and has decided on a literalist and unphilosophic interpretation of the Koran. As Christians we can talk about the literary forms in the Bible or understand what the author intended to mean with a more limited vocabulary. For example when we read, “The LORD is my rock, and my fortress,” (Psalm 18:2) we can understand that God is not a literal rock or fortress but this is a poetic way of saying that God is secure and that God protects us. For Muslims, however the Koran is eternal as God’s very thoughts so using such analysis is very difficult.

Surely, many modern Muslims in the Western world, especially scholars like Tariq Ramadan who teaches at Oxford, use reason to understand the Koran. That way they can understand what the dark passages of the Koran mean just like we understand dark passages of the Bible like 1 Samuel 15 where it appears that God commands genocide. Applying such reason to the Koran would be a great step forward: helping decrease Islamist influence, facilitating peace between the two cultures, allowing a rational dialogue of faith, and helping Muslims practice virtue. (There may be some conversions to Christianity – when you apply reason to the Koran and the Bible, the Bible stands up much better – but if we want Muslim cooperation let’s focus on converting Islamists from violence first.)

Let’s all pray for peace between Christians and Muslims, and let’s help Muslims use reason to win over the Islamists from their violent ideology. If we don’t win them over from such an ideology, I fear incidents like those tragic ones with Fr Jacques Hamel will become an all-too-common occurrence.

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33 thoughts on “Muslims: Nuancing the Good and Bad”

  1. Having lived in a heavily Muslim part of the southern Philippines for almost fifteen years, I can say that this article, while quite good, should have a question mark after the title. The biggest problem non-Muslims have with the religion is the quiet assent of a very large number of its members to the actions of the radicals. This is simply not present in any other religion. It is also responsible for the largest part of the perceived prejudice against Muslims as outsiders have little means of distinguishing good from bad. This is true even when considering those who seem to be in the mainstream of society.

  2. Good read

    Must remember timeline too –
    Old Testament – thousands of years before Christ
    Christ & New Testament – Love & Mercy
    Quran (hundreds of yrs after Christ) – Fight kill ambush & terrorize unbelievers

    1. Yup. And, as the inscription on the DomeoftheRock says, ‘God has no associate’ (son). The author would like us to ignore little Islamic musings such as this.
      But then, his children and grandchildren will not risk living in Dhminitude.
      A luxury 21st century Catholic fathers do not have.

  3. If someone could explain to me from a Catholic perspective how it is that Islam is not inherently evil, I would appreciate it. Yes, most Muslims are peace-loving and good people; however, a Catholic would have to see the religion itself as a delusion used by Satan to keep literally billions of people from knowing Jesus Christ and accepting him as the Messiah, the Son of God, and the 2nd person of the Holy Trinity. Two principles at the core of Islam are a) that God can have no son and therefore Jesus was not his son; and b) man is not made in the image and likeness of God and can never partake in his divinity. To even suggest either of these things is considered blasphemy in Islam. St. John told us that he who denies that Jesus is the Son of God is anti-Christ.

    1. Every religion other than Catholicism has issues: it has parts that are true and parts that aren’t. Muslims have 1 God, believe in the OT, call Jesus at least a prophet, etc. A polytheistic pagan religion (think Greek mythology or worse) has none of these.

    2. So, Father, how do you answer my question? Do you consider Islam to be basically evil or basically good?

      Good but not fully so?

      Evil but not fully so?

      It seems obvious to me that Islam is a gravely evil deception used by Satan to prevent billions of people from acknowledging Jesus Christ as the Savior of the World, the Son of God, the Word Made Flesh, and the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. It also seems obvious to me that Muhammad was a false prophet whose central premise was the denial that Jesus is the Son of God, which makes him an anti-Christ.

      Yes, there are good and true aspects of Islam (e.g., admonitions to care for other Muslims who are poor, or widows and orphans), but that’s just how the Devil works, no? While there are many good and peaceful people who are Muslims, it seems to me that all followers of Islam are suffering under a dangerous delusion that puts their eternal salvation in grave danger.

      Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth, and the life”; no one comes to the Father but through Him. In my view, it is the solemn duty of every Christian to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Muslims and to work unceasingly for their conversion.”

    3. Well, I wonder if you are missing the point of my question. My point is to push you to consider whether “there is nuance” is the right answer with regard to Islam – or whether that is a good enough answer.

      Some things are objectively evil. They are evil always and in every circumstance. Nothing can ever make them good. For example, can we agree that Satanism – worship of the Evil One – is objectively evil? Would we ever say “there is nuance” about whether the worship of Satan is good or evil? No.

      In my view, it seems pretty clear that Islam is objectively evil: there is no nuance. That’s not the same as saying that all Muslims are evil, or that they are morally culpable for all of the evil in Islam. Of course, there are some aspects of the good, the true and the beautiful to be found in Islam, but that’s how the Evil One works his deception, is it not?

    4. Again, are you contending that a belief system – such as Satanism – can never be classified be objectively / intrinsically / inherently evil? Because if Satanism can be classified as objectively / intrinsically/ inherently evil, then other belief systems could also be; the answer simply depends on what factors you apply to determine whether that is the case.

      I am pushing this issue because I really do need to be educated if I am wrong. I think I understand the aspect of moral theology that designates certain human actions as intrinsically evil (See, e.g., Veritatis Splendor, 79-80). I realize that a belief system is not a person and has no soul. It cannot be held “responsible” for sin in the sense that a human being can. But how does the fact that some human actions are designated as intrinsically evil preclude classifying a belief system as intrinsically evil?


    5. BXVI,
      You are sparing with one who was/is able to engage in enough theological gymnastics to follow the criminal Maciel. This is a huge red flag on someone’s judgement abilities.
      But I digress.
      Islam, condemned by the great saints and popes as heresy, is a violent, theocratic form of government. It seeks the destruction or, at best, the Dhiminitude of all non-Muslims. The author knows this but will not say it.
      Seventeen centuries of blood and murder and the belief that women are somewhere between human and animal in the pecking order of things, speaks volumes more than “nuance”.
      And that, however unpleasant to the author, is spot on true.

    6. ” Every religion other than Catholicism has issues : …”

      And this hubris, Fr Matt, is why almost 7 out of 10 left.

  4. A wonderful essay Father BUT, if you do a bit more research on Islam you will find that philosophy and reason are concepts that are not on the table when discussing Islam and the Koran with Muslims. Allah does not have to be a rationale God, according to Muslims, because He is God – He can be both rationale and irrational simply because He is God and He can do whatever He wants.

    1. “Even the Christian ones.” So are you a deist? Or are you really an agnostic? Please enlighten us.

  5. Fr M-This article is excellent and should be required reading for every Catholic, every government bureaucrat, and every Democrat. thank you for all the work that went into this. It is beyond irony that non-violent Mohammedans in Mohammedan countries are now fighting with and killing the violent Mohammedans. It would be hard to imagine liberal and dissenting Catholics killing good Catholics. Thank you and keep up this fine work. Guy McClung

    1. “It is beyond irony that non-violent Mohammedans in Mohammedan countries are now fighting with and killing the violent Mohammedans. “
      Not at all, Guy – it’s always the neighbors we hate most. As Pascal says: “Why do you want to kill me?” and the answer is, “Because you live on the other side of the river.”
      And you might have considered Protestants killing Catholics (and vice versa) as a more appropriate metaphor then Lib Caths killing Trad Caths. (In my opinion.)

    2. Toad, you seem to use hate properly here. It is misappropriated in American life and used against anyone who simply disagrees. I suspect that the violence we see form ISIS contains more calm obedience that strong emotional hate. However, “the other side of the water” is really not about proximity.

  6. I read an interesting article a while ago that tried to explain why there is such a difference between Islam and Christianity – especially in the area of violence. Basically, it came down to hermeneutics.

    In Islam, the Koran is considered to be the *literal* Word of God. Mohammed is claimed to have been told by God what to write down and he wrote it. Essentially, Mohammed was a stenographer. Since it is considered to be the literal Word of God, no one has the right to apply any kind of interpretation to what was written.

    The Bible, on the other hand, was written by men who were *inspired* by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, what was written was not directly dictated and has, as a result, the nuances and colloquialism of the day. So, as the article suggests, there is a lot of interpretation applied to what is written in the Bible. That leaves the door open for both faith and reason.

    Violence is different, though. No Christian can kill an abortionist and hold up the Bible showing a passage that justifies such a killing. It would take a serious amount of spin to get even *close* to such a justification.

    The Koran, on the other hand, is replete with passages encouraging the slaughter of those who do not agree with Islam. No spin is required and nothing can change the interpretation supporting such violence. That can be witnessed by how many Muslims cheer and celebrate when an Islamist kills a bunch of innocent people in the name of Islam. No, not every Muslim is violent but a huge number of them support the violence in the name of Islam.

    For the life of me, though, I still cannot understand why St. John Paul II kissed the Koran. That just seems so wrong to me 🙁

    1. Hitchens was an idiot as well as an atheist. A better statement is “Human decency, like free-will,
      is a gift God gave to man.”

    2. Calling a highly intelligent and articulate man an “idiot,” simply because his views differ from yours – tells us considerably more about you, Gus – than it does about Hitchens.

    3. Hitchens was surely intelligent, but indeed he was an idiot is its most profound etymological sense- and his statement is backwards- your comment to Gus tells us more about you than about Gus. In fact, you only can’t recognize that Hitchens is an idiot because you agree with him. Human decency does not precede religion but if follows formation, not necessarily religion. The saints were not decent before their formation and neither is anyone else, it doesn’t work that way and Hitchens couldn’t see that plain and simple fact.

    4. Why should you assume I agree with Hitchens, Steven? In fact, I don’t.
      To declare there is no God is, in my opinion, just as arrogant and presumptuous as declaring that there is one. He was yet another one of those people who know it all – and constantly bloviate about it. You might know one or two, yourself.

    5. Steven Jonathan

      Of course no one who is not Catholic is in agreement with any of his fellow rebellious- that is for sure, what most non-believers have in common is that they don’t believe and the each have their own subjective interpretation of reality, this is the actual definition of an idiot, one who is outside the norms of reality and isolated by arrogant self-reference, like the vast majority of PhD’s in the world and sadly most of their students. It is arrogant to proclaim there is no god, and in general an act of humility to submit to the Creator- so your charge of arrogance to believers is in general mis-attributed and a simple matter of false equivalence, but that is not to say that many of us are not arrogant, we are, but that goes against what our Creator wants for us. If I am arrogant and bloviate it is a flaw and detracts from God’s plan for me and the beauty of the human side of the Catholic Church/ .

    6. Hitchens was a brilliant polemicist. Not always right but no one is! While I do not agree with his statement above, nor his atheism, he was very well versed in Christian thought. I remember hearing about a show he was on, radio or tv, with an airy-fairy Christian woman who had all but written Jesus out of Christianity. Hitchens asked her “If you do not believe that Christ died for your sins in what meaningful way are you a Christian?” Now that is an insightful Christian question!

    7. What does it tell you Toad? There are many highly intelligent and articulate people who are idiots in the sense that they are ignorant and narrow minded. Hitchens’ refusal to accept the existence of God, makes him an idiot, as with all atheists. You say, “To declare there is no God is, in my opinion, just as arrogant
      and presumptuous as declaring that there is one.” Yet to declare ‘there is no God’ is to deny the evidence that is all around us whereas to declare ‘God exists’ is being open minded to the reality that man’s intelligence is extremely limited and
      that the theory of intelligent creation may be way more valid than the theory
      of evolution. .

      You have said you “believe in” the big bang theory, yet no one can explain the causation behind the big bang. Even Hawking’s explanation is weak to the point that it is grasping at straws. You’ve also said you “believe in” the theory of evolution, yet as I have pointed out to you it cannot explain the development of the human brain.

      You commented to Steven that Hitchens was “yet another one of those people who know it all – and constantly bloviate about it,” yet you felt no compunction in criticizing my criticism of him. You remind me of a professor I once had who took extreme delight in playing devil’s advocate. When one day I had was able to
      have a heart to heart talk with him I discovered that it was not a role that he
      was playing. All his years spent learning in academia had left him confused.
      He was still searching for an answer to the most basic question of all: why am I here.

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