In recent weeks, there has been a lot of reporting about what Pope Francis said about Islam. Many articles, even from supposedly respectable establishments, blatantly misquoted him (as has become almost the norm), to pretend that he claimed the Koran is “prophetic”.
Obviously, these misquotations are ridiculous and frustrating, but what our pope actually did say is actually, in my opinion, far more concerning.
Let me be clear before I go any further. I am going to criticise Pope Francis. Pope Francis is the legitimate pope, the successor of St. Peter, and he has my respect and loyalty as a Catholic. But all popes can be, and are, wrong about some things when they are not speaking ex-cathedra, on behalf of the Church.
For the sake of the truth, and those who would be harmed by falsehood, it must be said: Pope Francis is very wrong in some of his statements on Islam.
One particular quote, from Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, illustrates the essence of some of his recent comments:
“Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalisations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence.”
What is Authentic Islam?
It’s a little odd to think about, isn’t it? The pope is entrusted with divine authority over Catholic doctrine, but since when can he declare the authentic version of a false religion?
Now, I don’t believe that the pope used the word ‘authentic’ in this quote to mean what is actually true about Islam. In that sense, we know that the Koran contains many false teachings, Muhammad is not a prophet, and Islam is a heresy. That is obvious enough in the many fundamental contradictions between Islam and Christianity (for example, Islam denies Jesus’ divinity, and His death and resurrection). Pope Francis would certainly not disagree with this, even though he might not use the word heresy.
What Pope Francis most likely meant is that one who reads the Koran and the authoritative Muslim writings, and honestly believes them, should be opposed to every form of violence, or that what Muhammad intended to teach was opposed to every form of violence.
This, however, is also completely false.
First of all, not even Christianity is opposed to all forms of violence. The Church not only largely supports just war theory, but also understands the obligation to defend the innocent, especially for those in positions of care over others. This applies very widely, from national governments to parents who must protect their children.
But the error in this statement goes further than a technicality. The evidence is abundant and clear – from Islam’s own authorities – that Muhammad was a violent man, taught and commanded his followers to do violence, and that both he and his companions were violent in the same ways that modern Islamic terrorists are.
According to the Koran and hadith (Muslims’ approved histories of Muhammad’s life), Muhammad personally beheaded the men of a Jewish village. He ordered attacks on peaceful caravans. He led military invasions of cities and nations. He tortured a man for money. He kept slaves, and on at least one occasion raped one of them. He even delivered a revelation to his followers (claiming it was from God), telling them they were allowed to rape their female captives (Koran 4:24).
All these things come, not from “islamophobic” sources, but from Islam’s own most authoritative writings. And all these things were done by the man who for Islam is the highest example of human conduct (Koran 33:21).
Witness of the Saints
Further, the various saints who wrote about Islam throughout the centuries were well aware of its violent teachings, and not afraid to point it out. For example, in Summa Contra Gentiles, St. Thomas Aquinas delivered a crushing rebuke against Muhammad:
“He did not bring forth any signs produced in a supernatural way, which alone fittingly gives witness to divine inspiration; for a visible action that can be only divine reveals an invisibly inspired teacher of truth. On the contrary, Mohammed said that he was sent in the power of his arms – which are signs not lacking even to robbers and tyrants.”
Similarly, St. Juan de Ribera said of Muhammad:
“…he introduced and promulgated his message with robberies, murders, and blood-shedding, destroying those who did not want to receive it, and with the same means his ministers conserve this today…”
Obviously not all Muslims act like this. Here in Canada, we all have friends and neighbors who are Muslims and are perfectly peaceful, good people. I certainly do. I can only assume Pope Francis is looking at people like this to judge Islam, and getting a favourable impression. It’s quite natural to get that impression, living in the western world.
But, the question must be asked, do the values of those ‘nice’ Muslims sound like the authentic values of Muhammad? Or, do they sound more like the values of the modern, western world, a mix of Christian and secular moral influences?
On the other hand, when we look at ISIS, we can look at almost any atrocity they committed, and see that Muhammad acted in a similar way.
Why this Needs to be Corrected
One of the reasons I respect Pope Francis is that I truly believe he tries to always act with great love. In this way he tries to be Christ-like. His statements about Islam are certainly a manifestation of that. He doesn’t want Muslims to be offended or hurt. He wants us to come together and work out our differences with dialog, and to live in peace.
However, what I think is missing in his statements is our Lord’s radical and fearless honesty. He certainly did not seek to harm anyone, nor offend anyone unnecessarily. But neither did he shy away from naming the Pharisees a brood of vipers (Matthew 12:34), and publicly humiliating them, along with the Sadducees.
Why did Jesus do this? Certainly not for the sake of attacking them or their followers, but to warn them to turn away from false teachings and follow him. And in the same way in this day and age, the vicar of Christ should not be afraid to forcefully warn people away from heresy, that they may follow him.
This is why I believe Pope Francis should not have said what he did, and why I feel the duty to speak out. Because people are being drawn into the fold of Islam, away from the true faith of Jesus Christ. And statements like this play into their hands.
As Catholics, we must continue to pray for our pope, and in particular that he would learn about the reality of Islam, and speak out about it. We also need to pray for the defeat of violent Islamist supremacists around the world, and the conversion of all Muslims (even the peaceful ones). May God give His Church the grace to prevail.