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Column Beurskens: Dialogue with Islam

Not so long ago I was at a birthday-party, when the wife of the painter remarked that Allah is the same God as our God after all, upon which the theology-professor veered up and said that this most certainly wasn’t true. In the vain hope that he only spoke about another image of God Muslims might have, I asked just to be sure. No, another God is Allah.

Bishop Muskens of the Dutch diocese of Breda says that Islam should reflect on its violent side and in Islamic countries there is no freedom of religion. He believes, that in the end only two religions will remain, Christianity and Buddhism. How the bishop can think that Islam is on the retreat and even on the brink of disappearing, while at the same time in his diocese also one after the other mosque arises and one after the other church closes, is an enigma, but here probably hope is the father of thought, as we say in Dutch. Important is why this hope exists. New is that there are voices in the church again, which claim that there are essential weaving-faults in Islam, because of which communication with it is impossible. Islam is wrong in its essence, as the great Nicholas of Cusa already said, and the crusaders.

Contrary to this the Second Vatican Council speaks with great reverence about Islam. It names the differences, but it also sees similarities. And of course -as the Council states- all of us are searching for the One and Only God, who is closer to us than our jugular vein, as the Koran says.

The differences lie mostly in the divinity of Jesus. The Koran takes up arms against those who add partners to God. God is one and He most certainly does not have a son. That’s why there is no room for the Trinity as well, which of course becomes quite unavoidable when Jesus is God. Also the fact, that Jesus died for our sins and by his death on the cross redeems us, is strange for the Muslim. Man after all is responsible for his own deeds. On the other hand Allah Himself is endlessly full of grace and mercy. He loves people and they always can return to him. The gates of heaven are at one time open, at one time closed, but there is one gate, guarded by a special angel, that is always open, that of repentance and forgiveness. And considering man himself ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’, yes, but better is the one who forgives. He who does so is party of the greatest. God doesn’t pose too heavy a burden on the shoulders of man, and Mohammed says his faith is an easy and a simple one.

For a catholic the Koran initially can well be read as if it were an old-Testament prophet. After that gradually new perspectives open themselves. The sometimes seemingly violent language must be read allegorically, as has been done by so many with the Bible. For example fighting against unbelievers is about unbelief in ourselves. And as for militant language Jesus himself is not to be ignored either. Jihad, the crusade against evil and for love in ourselves, is also continually present in the Gospel. Jesus, son of Mary, is being named dozens of times in the Koran, often in the same breath as Abraham and Moses. The Mother of God is the woman which is called by her own name most in the Koran, and always with great reverence.

It is striking the Koran doesn’t seem to have much of a problem with the resurrection of Jesus, so essential to Christianity. Many prophets did have a direct relation with God, and then death might not be that much of a barrier anymore. No, it is what ‘the people of the Book’ later said about Jesus, for example the Council of Chalcedon, not so long before he lived, that is what Mohammed bothers.

Bishop Muskens lived together with Islam in Indonesia, which constitutes a majority there. If one listens to Protestants in Northern-Ireland one will hear many horror-stories about Catholics and also the other way around, but that is not the fault of Jesus. It doesn’t have a dogmatic cause en it isn’t a consequence of a weaving-fault in doctrine. Consequently Islam as well shouldn’t be judged on ìts black pages -which first and foremost are being written by contemporary terrorism-, like we shouldn’t judge the catholic church on ìts black pages. Black pages are always being written by people in cooperation with the devil or Iblis, never by Mohammed or Jesus.

There is not a hair’s breadth of difference between the criticism of John Paul the Second on western society and the first imam one cares to pick. The struggle of Islam in our times is not with the Christian churches, but with Western culture and Western thought. This fact makes crusader themes nowadays utterly obsolete. The churches in the West have allowed themselves to be pushed into a corner and often don’t manage to give off more than some spiritless moralizing in the margins. The problem, that they hardly experience a dimension between themselves and Western thought is a paralyzing handicap for them, in the process of which by lack of prophetic forces they are in the course of perishing. Not really of course, because the message of Jesus is too strong for that and the power of survival of the church too great.

The point of contact of a dialogue with Islam lies in its criticism on Western thought, which according to Islam is living through its autumnal phase. Most certainly it is in the course of something like a paradigmashift, a turning point, as we have seen for example between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The dialogue with Islam can help us to find our own essence again, but statements like those of Bishop Muskens don’t help to encourage this dialogue.