Islam and Christian Realism

Published October 25, 2023

The Catholic Thing

Most Westerners were shocked by the savagery of Hamas’s recent attacks on Israel and the systematic murder of Israeli citizens by Hamas terrorists That wickedness was compounded by blaming Israel for a catastrophic missile strike on a Gaza hospital, when the evidence now shows that the hundreds dead were actually killed by one of Hamas’s own rockets. But maybe the most stunning media images involved the millions of people in the Arab world and many Western capitals celebrating the Hamas violence.

Since Vatican II, Catholics and many other Christians have placed a premium on interfaith dialogue and cooperation, especially with Judaism, but also with Islam. The results—as a I saw firsthand in the years I served as a diocesan interfaith officer—have often been deeply rewarding. But it’s worth remembering that while Christianity has its roots in Judaism, our relationship with Islam is a very different matter. Hence the following thoughts might be worth considering:

Islam and the Word of God:

Whoever knows the Old and New Testaments, and then reads the Koran, clearly sees the process by which it completely reduces Divine Revelation [emphasis in original]. It is impossible not to note the movement away from what God said about Himself, first in the Old Testament through the Prophets, and then finally in the New Testament through His Son. In Islam, all the richness of God’s self-revelation, which constitutes the heritage of the Old and New Testaments, has definitely been set aside.

Some of the most beautiful names in the human language are given to the God of the Koran, but He is ultimately a God outside of the world, a God who is only Majesty, never Emmanuel, God-with-us. Islam is not a religion of redemption . . .

For this reason, not only the theology but also the anthropology of Islam is very distant from Christianity.

—St. John Paul II, from Crossing the Threshold of Hope

Islam and conflict:

The world, as [the scholar Bat Ye’or] brilliantly shows, is divided into two regions: the dar al-Islam and the dar al-harb; in other words, the “domain of Islam” and “the domain of war.” The world is no longer divided into nations, peoples, and tribes. Rather, they are all located en bloc in the world of war, where war is the only possible relationship with the outside world. The earth belongs to Allah, and all its inhabitants must acknowledge this reality; to achieve this goal there is but one method: war. War, then, is clearly an institution, not just an incidental or fortuitous institution, but a constituent part of the thought, organization, and structures of this world. Peace with this world of war is impossible. Of course, it is sometimes necessary to call a halt; there are circumstances where it is better not to make war. The Koran makes provision for this. But this changes nothing: [For Islam,] war remains an institution, which means that it must resume as soon as circumstances permit.

I have greatly stressed the characteristics of this war, because there is so much talk nowadays of the tolerance and fundamental pacifism of Islam that it is necessary to recall its nature, which is fundamentally warlike.

the late Jacques Ellul, distinguished French Protestant theologian and social critic, from his foreword to The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude by Bat Ye’or

Islam, politics, and culture:

The two religions with a “political” dimension did not acquire it in the same way. Christianity gained ground in the ancient world against the power of the Roman Empire, which had persecuted Christians for almost three centuries before itself adopting the Christian religion. Islam, after a brief period of trials, triumphed during the lifetime of its founder. It then conquered, by warfare, the right to operate in peace, and even the right to dictate conditions of survival to the adepts of other religions “of the Book.” In modern terms, we might say that Christianity conquered the state through civil society; Islam, to the contrary, conquered civil society through the state [emphasis in original].

Thus from the start, Christianity set itself outside the political domain, and its founding texts bear witness to a mistrust of things political. . . .For Islam, the separation of the political and the religious has no right to exist. It is even shocking, for it appears as an abandonment of human affairs to the power of evil or a relegation of God to a place outside his proper sphere. The ideal city must be here below. In principle, it already exists: It is the Muslim city.

Ratzinger Prize laureate and professor emeritus of medieval and Arabic philosophy at the Sorbonne, Rémi Brague, from The Law of God: The Philosophical History of an Idea

Islam, despite claims of a common ancestry with Judaism and Christianity stemming from Abraham, and despite its formal respect for Jesus and Mary, has very little in common with Christian faith. Islam denies the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Redemption. It denies the accuracy of the Gospels. And it denies the origins and purpose of the Church. In fact, Islam acknowledges Judaism and Christianity purely as aberrations in its own syncretic story.

Today, Christians in Muslim-dominated states like Sudan, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Bangladesh, and Indonesia face everything from marginalization and harassment to outright violence. The reason is simple. For all of Islam’s strengths, anti-Jewish and anti-Christian prejudice has a long and often bitter history in Islam, despite claims to the contrary.

This doesn’t license a similar prejudice on our part. But it does demand that we bring realism, courage, firmness, and an accurate memory to our modern encounter with Islam—both in the Middle East and here at home. In the light of the Gospel, Mohammed is not a true prophet, and the Koran is not the Word of God. As Jesus himself said, only he is the way to the Father. And Muslims do not finally know him. Without our active witness to the Islamic world, they never will. 

Francis X. Maier is a Senior Fellow in the Catholic Studies Program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Mr. Maier’s work focuses on the intersection of Christian faith, culture, and public life, with special attention to lay formation and action.

Most Read

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Sign up to receive EPPC's biweekly e-newsletter of selected publications, news, and events.

Upcoming Event |

Roger Scruton: America


Your support impacts the debate on critical issues of public policy.

Donate today

More in Catholic Studies