Common Ground with Islam? Islam appears not to have much of importance in common with Christianity.
When people do not govern their religious fervor with reason, the result is often a descent into fanaticism with its excesses. Therefore, I feel it necessary to put forth this disclaimer at the start: This essay is not intended to be inflammatory of people’s religious passions, but the truth is the truth.
I submitted this short piece to another Christian website several months ago in the form of a letter to the editor. With some not so minor modifications, I offer it here.
One of the areas that bothered me the most about (the late) Pope John Paul II‘s papacy was his ill-conceived (and unrealistic) attempts at finding common ground with Muslims. Jesus came to the earth in fulfillment of the Scriptures (the prophecies of the Old Testament). The Muslims, who deny Christ’s divinity and salvific mission, are not worshipping the same deity that we Christians are worshipping.
What John Paul II did not know, or at least did not give any evidence of knowing, was that Muslims in practice basically have two sets of ethics. It is wrong for a Muslim to murder, rape, steal from, kidnap, terrorize, lie about, etc. another Muslim. In practice, it is not ethically wrong for a Muslim to do those terrible acts against an “infidel” (non-Muslim). A cursory survey of Muslim history confirms this (start with the Arab conquests of the 7th century of non-Muslim countries, and continue through the Crusades (truces repeatedly broken, atrocities) and the Muslim conquest of northern India (concurrent with the Crusades, with its wanton killings and destruction of Hindu temples) and look at the Ottoman Empire’s treatment of its subject peoples who were not Muslims.)
On the other hand, we, Christians, have a single set of ethical principles that informs us that it is morally wrong to harm anyone, Christian or non-Christian. One of the greatest things a Christian can do is to lay down his life for God, or for his fellow man. This seems not to be the case for Muslims. Sadly, for an increasing number of Muslims across the globe today, it appears that the loftier objective is to kill for their religion. It is therefore very difficult to see how a common ground can be found with Muslims.
Pope John Paul II struck me as being too normative, too theoretical, and too much in an ivory tower in some of his views and pronouncements. If he had had a greater appreciation of the real contempt that Muslims feel towards non-Muslims, he may have attempted a more pragmatic engagement with Islam. It is hard to say. But one thing is clear. The late Pope rarely, if ever, condemned the persecutions of Christians in Muslim lands. His justification, or rationalization, for this was his fear that any such condemnations would lead to greater persecutions. Sadly, throughout his long pontificate, the persecutions of Christians in Muslim countries intensified, and the plight of Christians and other religious minorities worsened.