At the close of a compelling, thoroughly documented address (delivered April 2, 2006, at The Legatus Summit, Naples, Florida) entitled, “Islam and Western Democracies,” Cardinal George Pell, the Archbishop of Sydney, posed four salient questions for his erstwhile Muslim interlocutors wishing to engage in meaningful interfaith dialogue:
1) Do they believe that the peaceful suras of the Koran are abrogated by the verses of the sword? (see here, pp. 67-75)
2) Is the program of military expansion (100 years after Muhammad’s death Muslim armies reached Spain and India) to be resumed when possible?
3) Do they believe that democratic majorities of Muslims in Europe would impose Shari’a (Islamic religious) law? (see here)
4) Can we discuss Islamic history (here and here) -- even the hermeneutical problems around the origins of the Koran (see here, here, here, and here) -- without threats of violence?
Media attention was focused almost exclusively on the Cardinal’s statement that, “In my own reading of the Koran, I began to note down invocations to violence. There are so many of them, however, that I abandoned this exercise after 50 or 60 or 70 pages”—an unassailable observation, given, for example that sura (chapter) 9 alone comprises in its entirety a series of timeless war proclamations against Jews, Christians, and pagans (i.e., the latter being Hindus, Buddhists, and Animists)—recording, as per believing Muslims, the “uncreated word” of Allah himself. (See Robert Spencer’s insightful analysis of the detailed Koranic musings and resulting justifications for violence penned [especially p. 4 of this letter] by University of North Carolina [UNC] jihadist, Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar, who tried to slaughter UNC students by running them over with a rented SUV).
These discussions on Koranic incitement to violence by Muslims (I participated in one such brief discussion, here, on the Bill O’Reilly Show, Wednesday May 10, 2006), unfortunately, overshadowed the crux of Cardinal Pell’s speech—framed by his closing questions to Muslims—questions which Muslims must address without equivocation if they are in fact ready for honest dialogue with those of other faiths. Moreover, I would add two “preliminary” questions to the Cardinal’s four if the goal is to transcend the usual Muslim da’wa (i.e., proselytization) sessions and engage in a forthright discussion of the profound differences between Islam’s perception of Judaism and Christianity, and how believers in these two faiths perceive their own religious traditions. Specifically:
i) What are the implications of these Muslim beliefs vis a vis Jews: Koranic verses labeling Jews as malevolent enemies of Islam, and disobedient slayers of their own prophets who suffered justifiable abasement, including, for some, transformation into apes and swine; or the more profoundly hateful oral tradition, preserved in the hadith, which maintains that the perfidious Jews caused Muhammad’s protracted, excruciating death from poisoning, and fomented sectarian strife in early Islam by promoting heresies that threatened the unity of the Muslim community (umma)?
ii) What are the implications of the Muslim belief that “Isa”—the Muslim Jesus—is merely a Muslim prophet whose ultimate “job description” includes the destruction of Christianity (i.e., the canonical hadith that this Muslim Jesus—who was never crucified—the perfidious Jews prodding the Roman’s to kill Isa’s “body double”—will return as a to break the cross, kill the pig, and end the payment of the (humiliating) jizya- “He will fight the people for the cause of Islam. He will break the cross, kill swine, and abolish jizyah. Allah will perish all religions except Islam.”)?
Dr. Habib Malik, in an eloquent address delivered February 3, 2003 at the at the 27th annual Council for Christian Colleges and Universities Presidents Conference decried the platitudinous “least common denominators” paradigm which dominates what he aptly termed the contemporary “dialogue industry”:
We’re all three Abrahamic religions, we’re the three Middle Eastern monothesims, the Isa of the Koran is really the same as the Jesus of the New Testament…. This is politicized dialogue. This is dialogue for the sake of dialogue. Philosophically speaking, this is what Kierkegaard called idle talk, snakke in Danish; what Heidegger called Gerede; what Sartre called bavardage. In other words, if this is dialogue, it’s pathetic… it needs to be transcended, and specifically to concentrate, to focus on the common ethical foundation for most religions can also be very misleading. Because when you get into the nitty-gritty, you find that even in what you supposed were common ethical foundations, there are vast differences, incompatibilities. Suicide bombers is one recent example. Condoned by major authoritative Muslim voices; completely unacceptable by Christianity.
Over three years later Cardinal Pell’s unanswered questions highlight the predictable failure of the feckless “We’re all three Abrahamic religions”, “dialogue for the sake of dialogue” approach to both Muslim-Christian, and Muslim-Jewish dialogue. Until Muslims are willing to address with candor these admittedly wrenching questions, Dr. Malik’s sobering conclusions from his February 2003 speech will remain apposite: "One certainly needs to be open at all times to learn from the Other, including to learn at times that the Other right now has nothing to teach me on a particular issue."
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