With all of the news stories reporting recent the atrocities being committed by ISIS, Boko Haram and other extremist groups you might be wondering -- Where does the Catholic Church stand in its relationship with Islam?
The Catholic Church is not at war with Islam; rather, she has been engaged in dialog with Islam on many fronts for decades. An important Church document, Christian-Muslim Relations in the United States — Reflections…After Two Decades of Experience, makes the point that, “Even by September 11, 2001, there were ongoing, regularly scheduled dialogues in place co-sponsored by the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Muslim organizations and councils. During these gatherings, Catholics and Muslims dialog, study and pray together – in churches and in mosques; the Catholics attend Maghrib prayers (the 4th Salat/prayer of the day, said at sunset), and the Muslims attend vespers (http://www.usccb.org/seia/borelli.shtml). Additionally, several Catholic universities (BC, Creighton, Fordham and others) have established centers for inter-religious dialog.
One of the best books written on Islam, Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam (ISBN # 978-0195168860) was written by a Catholic priest, Fr. John Esposito, founding director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University. Fr. Esposito is also a former President of the Middle East Studies Association of North America and of the American Council for the Study of Islamic Societies, Vice Chair of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy. This book is important enough that Muslims give it to other Muslims.
The fact that a tiny fraction of Muslims (out of a world population of over one billion) distorts certain teachings of Islam and engages in extremist acts against Western ideology does not negate the fact that Islam is indeed a religion of peace. In fact the word "Islam" means peace. (The Arabic word Islam comes from the same root as the Hebrew word shalom for peace"). Did David Koresh in Waco, TX (4/19/93) represent all of Christianity when he was stock-piling weapons within his compound and having sex with girls as young as 12? He was first born-again as a Baptist, then a member of the Seventh Day Adventist church. Did the Rev. Jim Jones, a pastor of the Disciples of Christ/Christian Church denomination represent all of Christianity when he convinced 909 people to drink cyanide-laced KoolAid® and so bring about their deaths in Guyana on 11/18/78? Surely no-one claims that either one was representative of all Protestantism or even of their respective denominations.
What many Catholics might not know about Islam is that they venerate all the prophets, including John the Baptist and Jesus (they do not believe in his divinity) and have great devotion to the Virgin Mary (Muslims believe – like Catholics and Orthodox Christians – that Mary remained a virgin after the birth of Jesus). They especially revere her under the name of Our Lady of Fatima – Fatima was the name of the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) daughter.
In the Holy Qur’An, Maryam is the only woman mentioned specifically by name. Chapter 19 is even named for her and is one of the “most beautiful” chapters in the Qur’An. Muslims have great devotion to Mary and it is not at all unusual to find Muslims on pilgrimage at many Marian Shrines. When Our Lady appeared in the town of Zeitoun, Egypt (April 2, 1968 and into 1971), those were Muslims who first saw and recognized her. Muslims believe in the virgin birth of Jesus, in her Immaculate Conception, and that it is He (not Muhammad, pbuh) who will come at the end of time to judge the living and the dead.
On March 24, 2010, Sheik Mohammad Nokkari (a Muslim), was able to have the government of Lebanon pass legislature that makes March 25 (the Feast of the Annunciation) a national holiday where schools, the government and other institutions are closed for the day. Sheik Nokkari is a professor of law at St. Joseph University in Beirut. He describes the Virgin Mary as “a tender and uniting mother who is our mother Mary”. He says, “I felt something in my heart telling me that Mary is the one who is going to unite us”. Catholics and Muslims have more in common than most people realize.
Let us (Catholics and Muslims) unite ourselves in prayer to our Blessed Mother Mary, our Sayyida (Lady) and confide ourselves to her maternal, unifying love. Moreover, let us invite our “dear and esteemed Muslim friends” (as Pope Benedict XVI calls them) to our novenas, processions and other festal Marian events and let us receive them in fraternal love. “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love…”