Church Must Affirm Islam as Well as Judaism: Closer Relations between Abrahamic Faiths Could Promote Peace

By Schmitt, John | National Catholic Reporter, January 16, 2004 | Go to article overview

Church Must Affirm Islam as Well as Judaism: Closer Relations between Abrahamic Faiths Could Promote Peace


Schmitt, John, National Catholic Reporter


Pope John Paul II and various Vatican congregations spoke out against an invasion of Iraq before the United States and Britain acted. Their fear? Not only would countless lives be lost, not only would it violate international law, but this action would cause irreparable harm to the interfaith relations that have been nurtured for years.

The attempt to change Catholic attitudes toward Jews began with the Second Vatican Council and Nostra Aetate (1965). Then followed "Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Document" (1974), "Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis" (1985) and "We Remember. A Reflection on the Shoah" (1998). Acknowledging the need to correct past attitudes and hurtful actions bodes well for good Jewish-Christian relations now and into future generations.

But Judaism is not the only monotheistic religion that Christianity has suspected and persecuted. Logic and charity seem to demand that such openness be extended to another Abrahamic faith: Islam.

Islam has been the subject of some statements issued by the pope and the congregations, but there is no major text that asserts the essential ties among Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

In 1986 Pope John Paul II said of the Jewish faith, "We have therefore a relationship with it which we do not have with any other religion." The 2001 document of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, "The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scripture in the Christian Bible," quotes this statement as the current ecclesiastical position:

"God promised to Abraham innumerable descendants through the single son, the privileged inheritor, born of Sarah." Abraham appears 50 times in the document; the second son, Isaac, is named six times. But Ishmael, Abraham's first son, is never mentioned. Focusing on the fulfillment of the promise in the second son is part of the biblical tradition, but to leave the first son unnamed seems incomplete and possibly offensive to those who find their identity in him.

Even the current rent Catechism of the Catholic Church seems to rank Islam lower than Judaism as an Abrahamic faith. Of the Jews, it says, "The Jewish faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God's revelation in the Old Covenant." For Islam, On the other hand, the Catechism simply quotes Vatican II, Lumen Gentium: "The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day."

One wonders if this is the divine view. Does God see Christians and Jews having a close relationship, while Muslims--who worship the same God--are off to the side? Do we recognize that Islam, too, is a response to God's revelation?

Islam clearly sees further revelation beyond ancient Israel by means of its prophet. Judaism (with its bat qol, "daughter of voice," among other things, an expression used for later divine communication) and Christianity (with its Christ, the temporal incarnation of God) have similarly experienced further revelation after ancient Israel. …

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