Sadly, it was recently necessary for Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I., Archbishop of Chicago, and Dr. Zaker Sahloul, Chair of the Council of Islamic Organizations to issue a joint statement entitled, “Muslim-Catholic Partners Lament Burning of Qu’ran.” It declared that they “stand in solidarity with people from many faiths in lamenting the intention and approval, as well as the act of burning the sacred scripture of Muslims, the Holy Qu’ran.”
Mosques have been defaced and the Quran was burned in a number of cities, including Chicago. In New York, a cab driver was asked by his passenger if he was a Muslim and, after he said yes, the cabby was stabbed in the neck. Beyond these obvious acts of hate and violence, there is a wider fear of Islam and at the presence of Muslims in America. A Pew Research Center poll found that more Americans view Islam unfavorably than favorably.
Like others, the minds of Catholics are influenced by the media and dominant cultural figures. What sets us apart is our relationship to the Church – a world-wide community of over a billion persons. An essential part of being a member of our community is a commitment to allow our hearts and minds to be formed by the teachings of the Church. Often enough, the wisdom of the Church differs from contemporary opinion. It is precisely in those situations that we can most benefit from Catholic teaching. There is a freedom in not being trapped by the ideas of one particular time and one place, but rather being informed by a universal Church with a multi-thousand year tradition.
In light of cultural trends, Catholics should consider with care the authoritative teaching of the Church regarding Islam and Muslims. Absolutely essential is to consider the instruction of the Second Vatican Council in Nostra Aetate, which reads in part,
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 desserts 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.
If the Church regards the followers of Islam, the Muslim people, with “esteem,” can I as a Catholic do any less?
(For a helpful listing of relevant statements of the Magisterium, see those excerpted at www.usccb.org/seia/textsislam.shtml. Of particular interest are the addresses of Pope John Paul II, who refers to “Dear Muslims, my brothers”. For a theological treatment of Catholic teaching on Islam, see Fr. Thomas Baima’s excellent article, “Remembering September 11th” available at www.cadeio.org. An abridged version of this text also appears in the September 12 issue of the Catholic New World.)