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Can there be dialogue with Islam without religious freedom?

The case of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian sentenced to death for blasphemy, raises the question whether there can be dialogue with Islam if there is no religious freedom

By on Thursday, 25 November 2010

Supporters of a Pakistani religious group rally in Lahore to condemn the release of a Christian woman Asia Bibi who had been sentenced to death. The banner reads " Death is a punishment for blasphemy in Shariah".

Supporters of a Pakistani religious group rally in Lahore to condemn the release of a Christian woman Asia Bibi who had been sentenced to death. The banner reads " Death is a punishment for blasphemy in Shariah".

I have just read William Oddie’s blog on Pakistan, its blasphemy laws and the appalling injustice done to Asia Bibi, who has now been released. The case he highlights is very disturbing and makes me raise the question: is violence intrinsic to Islam? Or is it really – as its defenders say – a peaceable religion, regrettably distorted by Islamist terrorists such as Anwar al-Awiaki, who believes jihad is an obligation for every Muslim?

This same question was posed by Pope Benedict in his famous (or should I say ‘notorious’?) Regensburg Address in 2006. I know he has been widely criticised for raising the subject at all, but personally I think he was right to do so. Referring to a dialogue in 1391 by the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus to an educated Persian, the Pope said, “The Emperor touches on the theme of a holy war. He addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness that we find unacceptable on the central question concerning the relationship between religion and violence…”

Note that it is the ‘brusqueness’ that is unacceptable, not the question itself. The Christian Emperor’s point (and Pope Benedict’s) is that to spread one’s faith through violence (‘the sword’ preached by Mohammed) is incompatible with the nature of God. The Pope went on to say, “The truly divine God is the God who has revealed himself as logos (the word). Christian worship is worship in harmony with the eternal Word and with our reason.”
Commenting on the Regensburg Address in the Sunday Telegraph at the time of the papal visit, Mona Siddiqui, Professor of Islamic Studies at Glasgow University, wrote, “Benedict…quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor who had strongly criticised Islam and its propensity for violence. Tragically, many Muslims around the world did react violently, demanding an apology and fuelling the growing frustration within Western society that Muslims tolerate free speech only as long as it doesn’t offend them’.

Moderate and sensible though her article was, nowhere in it did the Professor actually repudiate the idea that violence, holy war or jihad might be intrinsic to Islam. I recently read “Son of Hamas” by the Palestinian, Mosab Hassan Yousef. He makes it clear that in his view the Koran explicitly endorses jihad. He writes that Islam is like a ladder; at the bottom are largely secular Muslims who pay lip service to their faith; halfway up are the ‘moderates’, sincere believers who want to lead peaceful lives; the “highest rung” is jihad, towards which the moderates are always being pulled. Yousef grieves that the “beautiful side of Islam” is in conflict with “the cruel side that required its followers to conquer and enslave the earth.”

Back to Pakistan, its blasphemy laws and the death sentence imposed on a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, for defending her faith under pressure. As the distinguished historian, Michael Burleigh, wrote in an article published at the same time as Professor Siddiqui’s, “Anyone looking at the raging, bearded faces we regularly see in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Luton and Walthamstow can surely agree…that parts of Islam have a major problem with the synthesis of religion and reason which has become normative in the West. There cannot be a ‘dialogue’ with Islam until there is meaningful reciprocity of such religious freedoms as the right to open places of worship or to convert without fear of death.”

  • Yahya
  • louella

    With the arrest of a 15 year old girl for burning a koran….the laws of the UK are beginning more and more to resemble Pakistan's blasphemy laws.

    Islam can be interpreted in any way…..it can be a religion of peace or a religion of war…..depending on the motives of it's adherents at any given time.

  • louella

    With the arrest of a 15 year old girl for burning a koran….the laws of the UK are beginning more and more to resemble Pakistan's blasphemy laws.

    Islam can be interpreted in any way…..it can be a religion of peace or a religion of war…..depending on the motives of it's adherents at any given time.

  • louella

    With the arrest of a 15 year old girl for burning a koran….the laws of the UK are beginning more and more to resemble Pakistan's blasphemy laws.

    Islam can be interpreted in any way…..it can be a religion of peace or a religion of war…..depending on the motives of it's adherents at any given time.

  • R Collinsassoc

    No, Islam is implacably opposed to Christianity and the Catholic Faith especially. In many Islamic countries extreme attitudes exist to the extent that, in Saudi especially, the Western imported newspapers are censored by hand and any religious imagery of photographs of the Pope are laboriously blacked out. Of course, to be caught in possession of a missal, rosary or crucifix is likely to lead to a trial and a sentence of flogging.

    Christians are under persecution in many Muslim countries to a degree that has not been seen for several hundred years. Gambia, The Middle East, Pakistan, Malaysia, the list is endless.

    Of course, dialogue should be a goal but the West must be much more forthright in condemning the excesses of Sharia law as it is practised in these countries and also the unacceptable behaviour of some Muslims in Great Britain where, on a High Street on a Saturday (such as Wood Green) you can see open defiance of religious hatred laws and blatant recruitment of young Muslim men for the purpose of radicalisation.

  • louella

    The West seems to be more interested in protecting Islam than anything else! Don't expect anything much from secular Western nations by way of protecting Christians and curbing the excesses of Sharia. They will be arresting 15 year old 'Christian' girls instead of Muslims openly flouting so-called religious hatred laws! What does that say about them?!

  • Mark H.

    What is the purpose of dialogue? Truthful dialogue must be a means of revealing the true faith to those who do not have it. It cannot be an end in itself.

  • Cjkeeffe

    No there can be no debate. Actually why should we bother to debate with them on theological isues. I have no objection with maintaining cordial relations and cooperation on common agendas. But she no reasons why our churches should be turned inton mosques when chrisitans remain persecuted in Islamic countries. The Qu'ran speaks of the people of teh book yet, jews corrupted the Books of Moses and Christians did the same to the Gospels. The Vatican Council taught that we worship teh same God but do we? In Islamic eyes teh Trinity is not a one God head but three Gods thus we are polythesitic in their eyes. Further The Jews awaited the messiah he came in teh person of Jesus. The Incarnate Word of God the Third Person of the Trinity Jesus Christ is the full, final and complete self revelation of God. If Islam is a true religion worshipping the One God, what was wrong with te Incarnation of God, what was defective in it to make Islam a valid Abrahamic religion in teh line of Jews who are faithful to an old and obsolete convant as the covenat of Christ is its fulfillment. Finally, the Vatican continues ot issues happy Eid messages to the Islamic world. Why does the Islamic Religious leaders wish us a happy Christmas or Easter – simply because they have kept faith in their creed and we have weakend our faith in Christ by pandering to false images and shadows to quote Newman. Yes muslims and others are nice peopel and canget to Heaven but it is the Trinity that will bring them there.

  • http://jamiemacnab.wordpress.com/ Jamie MacNab

    There is so much that can be said on the question of dialogue with Islam but, in brief, I think that any such dialogue is unlikely to lead to any action on their part unless it be a temporary expedient for them. The gulf is too great between Islam and the rest of the world.

    One major question that arises is, With whom do we have a dialogue? There seem to be no centres of authority for them, so any agreements will only be local and, even then, only partial because each Moslem is free to follow his own conscience.

  • Andrew Durand

    alogue ng to diThere has to be dialogue, if only to discover how we can live together with many states, where Christianity is the major religion and where a nuclear capacity has been developed, and with a Jewish state with a nuclear capacity which is allowing the abuse of its islamic population and the robbery of much of its land and with at least one State where Hinduism is the largest religion which is fully nuclear armed and with another State where Islam in its different sects is dominant and which has both a nuclear capacity and an unreliable army and different factions armed to the teeth. If Catholics are unable or unwilling to help dialogue then we do not deserve to inherit the earth.

  • Jeannine

    I agree with you to a point; but, the gulf is never too great for mutual respect.

    We, Catholics, can agree on basic natural law issues with the Muslims & agree to disagree on theological ideas. Natural law comes from God & is for everyone. This includes freedom to worship Him (& also freedom to convert to Christianity). I believe that is what the Vatican is going for. In my neck of the woods, there are some evangelicals (Joel Rosenberg for one) who claim there are many, many closeted Christians in the Middle East — & for obvious reasons. They believe once the ban on converting from Islam to ? is lifted, the Middle East would become very Christian.

    I see the Vatican having dialog more w/the Shia than Sunni. Unlike the Sunni, the Shia has a liturgy(that's what I have been told) just like Catholicism & there seems to be more of an authority in the Shia branch of Islam. Iran & its imans are the authority for the Shiites, at least perceived to be by the world. This makes sense because we know that the pope has exchanged goodwill letters & has met with the President of Iran a few times in the past.

  • EditorCT

    Mark H you have hit the nail on the proverbial head. Unfortunately, for modern Catholics, so called dialogue (which is actually a monologue) IS an end it itself. It's all about “relationships” you see.

    Christ thought differently. His last words to His infant Church were not “go and dialogue” but “go, preach the Gospel to every nation, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

    Since the Koran rejects the notion of Trinity, and since Christ is merely a prophet in their view, what's to dialogue about?

  • EditorCT

    Not just the laws of the UK but its culture, too, louella, is beginning to resemble Pakistan – can you imagine this happening to the Koran here in the UK?

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1201568/Art-exhibition-encourages-visitors-deface-Bible.html

    There wouldn't be a building left standing!

  • EditorCT

    Yahya,

    I've just posted a short word of appreciation on your blog – a very honest article. Well said.

  • Anonymous

    Hey!!!

    I really agree with you for your all points about religious. there is so much people asked on the question of dialogue with Islam but they have no got the perfect answer. so this blog is must say…………