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Why converting Muslims is taboo in the Catholic Church

Christianity does not contradict Middle Eastern culture

By on Monday, 22 October 2012


What are they talking about at the Synod for Evangelisation? This article by Sandro Magister tells us that the Bishops have broached the taboo subject of conversions from Islam to Christianity. It makes interesting reading, despite the rather ponderous translation, (read the original here ) and I was particularly struck by this section of it, which I beg readers to consider carefully:

Particularly well developed was the reflection of Archbishop Joseph Absi, auxiliary and protosyncellus in Damascus of the Greek-Melkites in Syria, who noted that the “openness of some Muslims to Christianity, undoubtedly helped by today’s means of communication” and the fact that “some of them have even reached the point of discovering in Christ the loving face of God the Father.”

But since, he added, “The Muslims do not see the difference between Christians and Westerners, because they do not distinguish, themselves, between what is religious and what is political and social. What precedes the Westerners is perceived by the Muslims as preceding the Christians. Now, Western behaviour, especially on the cultural and political level and in a general way, harms the religious and national sensitivity of the Muslims, their values, their ethics and their culture. Consequentially, this forms an obstacle to their openness to Christianity and to their possible evangelisation.”

In fact, he explained, “The majority of Muslims are convinced that the relaxing of mores, the exploitation of weak and poor peoples, the disdain of the Muslim religion that they feel from Westerners, comes from Christians. What can be done to stop the Muslims from confusing Christianity and the West, Christians and Westerners, and to not feel ridiculed and frustrated? The Synod, in its configuration of new evangelisation, should lean towards this question, to learn how to avoid, as much as possible, tensions and misunderstandings and what to do so that the Muslims may be more receptive with regards to the Church and to the Gospel.”

What the Archbishop pinpoints is the problem of inculturation, which is a major point of interest for all missionaries. If Christianity is perceived as a Western phenomenon then it will not be welcomed by people in the Muslim world. But of course Christianity is not a Western phenomenon, but a universal one, and can be joined to any culture without destroying what is good in that culture. Being Christian and being, for example, Syrian or Egyptian, can and do go together. It is simply not true that the Christians of the Middle East are somehow Western plants or the agents of the Great Satan, the United States. In fact, the Christians of the Middle East predate the rise of Islam by many centuries.

History proves this point about inculturation. The Church’s most successful mission was that to the lands of the former Aztec Empire, which were converted to Christianity within a generation, because the missionaries presented the faith as something that would complement and complete the Aztec culture, rather than replace it. The Church’s least successful mission, which made scant progress despite huge efforts in the nineteenth century, was the mission to Japan, which won over few Japanese, who perceived Christianity as a foreign faith, and as alien to their culture.

There has in fact been, I have read, a very successful mission in certain parts of the Muslim world, where many have been won over by Evangelical Protestant missionaries who have presented Christ and Christianity as the fulfilment of Islamic culture, rather than its contradiction. As Catholic missionary theologians always say, Christ comes to fulfil culture, not replace it. Nor do we, in inviting people to become Christian, impose any one culture on them. But this successful mission is not trumpeted abroad, because converting Muslims is, as Sandro Magister observes, a taboo subject.

It is worth pointing out that the Catholic Church has an absolute and God-given right, indeed a duty, to proclaim Jesus Christ everywhere, in season and out of season. So, there should be no taboos. This I think was the reason the Holy Father baptised Magdi Cristiano Allam  at the Easter Vigil in 2008, to show us all that this was a perfectly legitimate act. And where the Holy Father leads, we should all follow. We should certainly all of us pray that he word of God be proclaimed ever more insistently among all peoples, Muslims included.

  • Fr. Thomas Poovathinkal


  • JabbaPapa

    The Aztecs were bloodthirsty monsters.

    Good riddance, y viva Epaña !!!

  • JabbaPapa

    That book looks like it’s complete nonsense — contemporary non-arabic records mention Muhammed as a real person.

  • JabbaPapa
  • JabbaPapa

    Hundreds of priests died in concentration camps because of their opposition to Nazism.

    Not “hundreds” … thousands

  • Lewispbuckingham

     In other words God does not go back on his promise to the Jewish people.
     So god does not go back on his promises, so what’s new?

  • scary goat

     My three were one Gulf fleshpot and two former USSR Central Asian “stans”.

    Agreed, Saudi is pretty notorious.  USSR “stans” have lost the plot of their religion through suppression.

    think Islamic morals (remember the fatwas issued by the late unlamented
    Ayatollah Khomeni about when it is ok for parents to have sex with
    their infant sons and daughters?)

    I’d like to see some evidence of that.  Never heard of it.  And it is totally contrary to Islamic law. Don’t believe everything you see and less than half of what you hear.  Not all stories are true.

  • whytheworldisending

    “Go baptize ALL nations and TEACH them to obey all of the commandments I have given you.” Islamic nations are included, but so is Britain and America. We need to start teaching our own citizens that you cannot serve God and Money, which is exactly what we do in the West. Nor do we beware the yeast of the pharisees, which is the quest for human approval. Western society is based on greed and pride, not humility and love. Corrupt values are taught and spread through the media, and reinforced by corrupt politicians. Both media and politics have been hijacked by non-Christians who put their faith in money and buy votes from an electorate dumbed into submission by a diet of junk. Before we can convert islamic nations, we need to convert ourselves.The real taboo is the extent to which we have allowed ourselves to inculturate the same values held by the Saducees and Pharisees 2,000 years ago. Western popular culture stinks and its no use trying to blame it all on Jimmy Saville.

  • scary goat

     What bubble are you living in?

    Half my family and friends are muslim.

    pretty much allow men to marry prepubescent girls

    mmmm…not really.  A “betrothal”, maybe.  In muslim countries marriage is much more “regulated” by families.  But actual marriage (ie sexual relationship) I have not seem girls married younger than 14 and even that is quite unusual.  16 – 18 is more normal.  And at least the girls are married and taken care of…..unlike their western counterparts who are having casual sex at that age, teenage mums, abortions etc.

    and Iraq which pretty much looks away as Jihadis implement Islamic law.

    And whose fault was that?

    The Islamic world doesn’t and anyone daring to report on such matters needs to be careful. Please, wake up!
     That’s odd.  I have seen cases reported in Arabic newspapers when it happens, which is not frequent.

    I am not for a moment saying that evils don’t occur in muslim countries.  Of course they do.  But the general moral adherence of most “average muslims” gives a better impression than what we see here.  Just look out of your window here in England at the people.  Compare the modestly dressed muslim mums or teens with some of their English counterparts.  Even in church……just a few weeks ago a girl came in and sat right in front of me…..I nearly fell off my pew…it was shocking. (and with her family, who obviously didn’t think there was anything wrong).  I lost all concentration on the Mass and spent most of the time worrying about whether I should offer her my cardigan to tie round her waist before she went up for Communion, for the sake of the priest and the other men present.  I decided against it for fear of causing a scene with the family.

    I admit the muslim women are better than the men in this country.  There is a lot of hypocrisy amongst the men and their sexual exploits.  That doesn’t say much for their morals, because where it’s available they take it (not all, some) but that is not the case so much in their own countries because it’s not available. And it’s not like most English men are not availing themselves of what is on offer either.  (not to mention girls/women).

    I think the main point I (and others) are trying to make is that we (westerners and Christians) don’t give a sufficiently convincing impression of ourselves to appeal to muslims, or others come to that.  How can we expect anyone to ” follow the light” if we are not shining?  It’s not really arguing about relative morals, obviously Christian morality in itself is vastly better.  But are we putting it into practice and seen to be doing so?

  • Victorweston

    surely the article contradicts the misleading headline, it can never be taboo for Catholic Christians to share the Love of God in Christ Jesus with Muslims – new life in Christ has to be the aspiration, it is the Lord’s expressed will and purpose for us all

  • mollysdad

    Name the non-Arabic records, and I’ll tell you whether Mr Spencer has covered them or not. Better still, you can e-mail him yourself at

  • mollysdad

    Name the non-Arabic records, and I’ll tell you whether Mr Spencer has covered them or not. Better still, you can e-mail him yourself at

  • Woodie

     perhaps the Lord should take a more active role in promoting his will. After 2000 years the other religions are proving more popular

  • daldred

    Hmm.  That might work if the decline in the Christian influence on Western culture had happened post-Vatican II.  

    But since it started long before that (read GK Chesterton, or CS Lewis, for example – they saw clear evidence of it by the early/mid 20th Century) I don’t think it’s reasonable to blame Vatican II.   The trend is far longer term.

    My own view is that the underlying cause is the rise of unbridled individualistic capitalism, which profits from the degrading of community, the breakdown of families and the ‘me, me, me’ culture, all of which are made far easier if you can discard the awkward other-centredness of Christianity.

  • Mr Grumpy

    To all who have responded to this: my point was specifically about those who refused to bear arms for the diabolical Nazi regime. I am well aware of the sufferings of the Polish people and of the priests who were sent to concentration camps; in fact these crimes of the regime only reinforce my point about conscientious objection. I am also aware that pacifism is not a doctrine of the Church but this has nothing to do with pacifism as a general principle.

    JabbaPapa, that is an interesting and informative article, although I would treat it with a degree of caution since the author does not appear to be a specialist in the field he is writing about. It names a single person who was martyred for his refusal to serve in the Wehrmacht. Unsurprisingly he is the one I already knew about. So I have not learnt anything which would cause me to retract my comment – on the contrary.

  • scary goat

     I agree that V ii did not single handedly demolish western culture.  There are many, many factors.  What some of V ii did though was reduce our capability of standing up to the modern trends, by causing a loss of Catholic identity.  The Catholic Church no longer appears firm and confident in offering an alternative to modern thinking. 

  • scary goat

     Just thought of another point, actually.  In Arab countries (not so in other muslim countries) the Islam is also a matter of “national pride”, mohammad being firstly the “prophet” of the arabs.  Then the large conquests which followed turned the arab world from insignificance to being a “super-power”. This has got to be quite a hard idea to abandon.  For the arab muslims, it is not just a religion, it is also political. 

  • Kinana

    The alternative to Muslim conversions to another belief system or none, in large numbers, does not bear thinking about. 

  • daldred

    Again, I’m not sure you can put this down to VII, though I do think the way in which VII was misrepresented has had an impact.

    I’d point to the same sort of aspect: Chesterton believed that there was a growing lack of ability among Christians (including Catholics) to argue the points he argued so well; Dorothy L Sayers called for changes in education to provide a real understanding of reasoning in the face of an inability of Christians to argue well.

    And that still needs addressing.   If people can’t understand why it is that atheism is fundamentally unreasonable, then they are easily taken in by the apparent appeals to reason of an atheistic culture.

    And I have to say that people don’t do that a lot of good when they unreasonably and unquestioningly attribute the loss of Christianity from Western culture to a single event and talk about Bishops “squirming”.  You don’t beat a thoughtless, individualistic culture by joining it and ignoring the Body.   

  • hows_the_boy

    Yes. I would add, the “allah” of Islam is not identical with the True God, in spite of the identical names.  The Islamic “Allah” is a moon god who was elevated to supreme god over all others, for political reasons.  The True God, in contrast, revealed Himself first, to His chosen People, the Jews, then through His Son Jesus Christ.

    The promoted moon idol “allah” (or whoever he was originally) was “revealed” to Mohammad by someone posing as the Archangle Gabriel. In other words, NOT a revelation from God.

    They are not one and the same because the True God has revelaed Himself, but the islamic “allah” is an invention who happens to share some (but very few) characteristics of the true God.

  • Benedict Carter

    jihadwatch website some years ago, cited the dates and publications.

  • scary goat

     To be honest I think the Islam is losing it’s grip to some extent.  There are (quite large) pockets of extremists and a lot of very normal people who have faith in God and are culturally muslim but quite “loosened up”.  I think the worst thing we can do from our perspective is to keep attacking them, military interventions, occupations etc. That only serves to unite them culturally, politically and religiously.  Leave them alone….and teach by example (if we can muster a good example!) Truth and light should win out in the end….but not if the light is so smothered no-one can see it!

  • Peter

    It is the humanism of Christianity (as opposed to the quite different secular humanism) which will attract the Muslims.

    The helping of the poor, the oppressed, the vulnerable and the sick will strike a chord with Muslims who believe that God alone is merciful if and when he chooses to be.

    By performing selfless acts of compassion for their fellow brethren, especially the most downtrodden, irrespective of race or creed, Christians will demonstrate to Muslims that God’s mercy finds continuous expression in the charitable acts of his creatures.

    They will be attracted to the notion that God in his mercy has motivated others to help the most needy.  

    They will discover that God, far from being a distant figure, has such fatherly compassion for his creatures that he encourages them to help each other and gives them the means to do so.

  • mahatmacoatmabag

    There is only one God, the lord God of Israel, creator of the universe. 

    Allah the moon god of mecca is also known by other names, the devil, satan & beelzebub the lord of the flies.

    Any attempt to seperate the Jewish people from the Land of Israel , violates Gods eternal promise to the Jewish people , try re-reading Genesis 15:18 again

    Any Christian that does not support the right of the Jewish people to the whole land of Israel, ie. from the Nile to the Euphrates is not a Christian. Any Christian that supports the Muslim claim to the Land of Israel & in particular Jerusalem, is not a true Christian, since the Muslims deny the existence of the Temple in Jerusalem & by default deny the existence of Jesus, since no Temple means Jesus never prayed there & never overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the outer temple courtyard.

  • Oconnord

    If you can’t concentrate in Mass because there’s a scantily clad woman there, (or girl, as suggested by your post), I think the problem is yours.

    Try raising your eyes.. and mind.. heavenward. 

  • Benedict Carter

    Charity of course plays a part. But it isn’t anything like the whole answer. We have to persuade them of the reality of the CROSS.

    As you know, Islam rejects the Crucifixion (= Christ did not die on the Cross) and therefore they cannot accept the Salvation brought by Christ’s Death and Resurrection. 

    “The hatred of the Cross is the essence of the demonic.”

    (Bishop Fulton Sheen, c. 1967)

    And do not many Moslems show an evident hatred of the Cross of Christ? They say they revere Him as a prophet, but this reverence is for a false Christ of their own imagining.

  • Benedict Carter

    V II may not have been the “one-off” event that has decimated the Church. it was itself the culmination of a process of dissent and loss of Faith not by the laity but by the Hierarchy itself. 

    But to relieve Vatican II from any guilt is to willfully close one’s eyes to the obvious. 

    Everything has collapsed since 1965. In the ten years 1965-1975, the Church was eviscerated. From the inside. 

    Interesting that Jacques Maritain, the Chief Druid of “Integral Humanism” and Pope Paul VI’s mentor and close friend (so much so that he was cited by the Pope in one of his Encyclicals), was also a great champion and long-time personal confidante of a certain Saul Alinsky, the Marxist Revolutionary thinker whose works on radical infiltration have had a great deal to do with the societal meltdown of the last fifty years. Alinsky dedicated one of his books to Lucifer. 

    THIS is the nature of the “smoke of Satan” Paul, already disillusioned at what the Council had led to, spoke about later.

    You don’t use a long spoon to sup with the devil; you don’t sup with him AT ALL. John XXIII and Paul VI forgot this, and so have their successors.

  • Peter

    Many Muslims are carrying their Cross and they do not realise it.

    Life is difficult for many Muslim families, particularly those fleeing military conflict and having to live in camps in other countries, surrounded by uncertainty, poverty and danger.  

    Sadly this has been an all to common occurrence over the past decades as it is now.

    They have carried their Cross and and still doing so.  They have tolerated conditions which we in the West would recoil in horror from.

  • daldred

    So you do actually believe that the problems perceived by writers of the early 1900s were caused by an event in the 1960s?    No wonder we have to worry about a loss of the ability to reason….

  • scary goat

     I am female myself, (and not gay :-D) …it was the shock factor. Scantily clad (mid to late teen) is understatement of the year and if it was my problem, we must be a more sinful than average lot in my parish….you could hear the chins hitting the floor all around. I did literally have to look away, which was difficult.  It wasn’t far short of a total eclipse.

  • scary goat

     Haven’t checked it out, it’s probably not still there anyway.  Sounds suspiciously like anti-muslim propaganda to me.  I am 100% sure that is not true.  No way Jose. It is not possible. That is highly illegal from Koran source which cannot be overridden by any ayatollah.  There are very good very real reasons why we should not be too accepting of the Islam…..better to stick to those. 

  • Benedict Carter

    Self-inflicted wounds.

  • Benedict Carter

    Are you talking about Modernism? It was never defeated, though the truly heroic Pope St. Pius X tried his very best. 

    What else could you be referring to?

  • scary goat

    In other words, NOT a revelation from God.

    I would agree with this, but not much of the rest of it.  I am inclined to think there was nothing super-natural about it.  It is most likely a man-made invention.  If you know anything about the Islam, it is very clearly based on Jewish and Christian traditions, quite cleverly manipulated to appear as the culmination of that line of revelation, whilst discrediting the beliefs of both.  The majority of it is a hotch-potch of Jewish and Christian beliefs which have been edited to form a new religion, which is arab-centred.  There are a lot of myths regarding mohammad’s illiteracy etc. which don’t bear too much scrutiny.  He may well have been illiterate, but the arabs of that time were strong in oral traditions/poetry etc.  He definitely had access to Jewish and Christian religious info and plenty of time on his hands for composing poetry.  The idea that he was a “village idiot” and couldn’t possibly have been capable of making it up is false.  

  • Howard

    Of course, though, you don’t mean the Canon Law currently in effect in the Catholic Church, since that has been revised within the past 50 years.  Sorry, Benedict, but when I was a Protestant, at least I was honest about being a Protestant, and when I swore at Confirmation, “I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church teaches, believes and proclaims to be revealed by God,” I meant that, too — even knowing that I do not know and am not the judge of all that the Church teaches, believes, and proclaims to be revealed by God.

    By the way, how many Doctors of the Church do you acknowledge?

  • Sophiety

    You sound very like a very heartless man Benedict. These people have been born into these cultures and have had no choice in that. 

  • karlf

    Don’t hold your breath Woodie – might not happen for yet another 2000 years!

  • Benedict Carter

    Heartless? Why should you think so? I’ve worked and lived in seven countries to date, five of them hell-holes by Western standards. I think I have probably seen more real poverty than most on these comment pages. 

    However, while I am greatly sympathetic to the plight of those ordinary people who were, as you say, born into those places and cultures, I am full of contempt for the political, business and religious elites who quite contentedly keep their peoples mired in ignorance and poverty. 

    Self-inflicted wounds is simply accurate.

  • Texas Gringo Catholic

    “The Church’s most successful mission was that to the lands of the former Aztec Empire, which were converted to Christianity within a generation, because the missionaries presented the faith as something that would complement and complete the Aztec culture, rather than replace it.”

    Hate to somewhat disagree here but it wasn’t the Missionaries who solved the problem.  It was the appearance and private revelation of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  She came precisely because the missionaries were having trouble converting the natives.  She bridged the gap between the Aztecs and the Christians.

  • Oconnord

    Well you really did catch me off-guard. I was about to suggest you change your name to Horny Old Goat! But my point still applies… If you can’t think about (your) god in church, well where does the mind run on beaches, boardwalks, etc.

  • Sophia

    Re: earlier comment–Muslims could teach Christians a thing or three. TRUE! The slightest perceived disrespect toward Allah and all hell breaks lose. In the OT disrespect towards God was dealt with swiftly . Now, we “Christians” don’t have a problem when our “God’s name” is used in vain. Disrespect towards our God is not even noticed anymore. We will answer for this.

  • Tc

    What on earth are you on about? Shall we call a halt on freedom of choice, should we contribute only to charities that help Catholics. The whole point and beauty of Christianity is free will. Read the gospel, it tells you quite clearly that streetwalkers and tax collectors are stealing a march on so called ‘holy Joes’ who think they have the right to judge ‘a slut’. You are not an advocate for Christainity

  • Tc

    Excellent post, you put it all so succinctly. Thank you

  • Benedict Carter

    You are confusing acceptance of the dogmas of the Faith with other things. The rejection of the horrors of the last 50 years makes Traditionalists copper-plated Catholics, not protestants. I can’t put it clearer than that.

    As to Doctors of the Church, I naturally accept all of them, being a Catholic.

  • Oconnord

    If you’re near blind, as so many use as an excuse for your shouting, how can you read the comments?

    How do you carry on typing without finding the Caps off button, it is the same as the Caps on button, that you are so fond of.



  • Karen

    Archbishop Sheen always thought that Our Lady of Fatima was related to converting Muslims and I tend to agree.  Indeed, in the images of Our Lady as described in Apocalypse and as illustrated at Guadalupe, Our Lady is standing on the ‘crescent moon’.

  • Mr Grumpy

    This is a dubious correction. The vast majority of these priests were Polish. Many if not most of these were rounded up simply for being Polish priests, not as the result of any act of resistance. This evidently applies even to at least some of the 108 beatified martyrs who have been referred to.

    I make this point not to disparage the heroism and faith of these men, but because I see a myth in the process of being constructed here. The Church needs to face the truth about itself rahter than consoling itself with myths. German Catholics had the option, denied to the Poles, of keeping their heads down. And the overwhelming majority took that option.

  • Benedict Carter

    Wasn’t that more the Incas in Mexico? I thought as you did, and the effect of the apparition was stupendous without a doubt, but then I began to think about the chronology of events, so I didn’t comment. 

  • Mr Grumpy

    True and you are right to pray for them all. However your truth conceals another truth: the suffering was far from evenly divided. Your 20% includes Polish Jews, and over 90% of Polish Jewry perished. There is much enthusiasm in this thread for talking up Catholic suffering. In this context it is deeply unedifying.

  • daldred

    I thought I’d made it fairly clear – the loss of the sense of reason, which allows an individualistic and often atheistic position (which is the fundamental basis of both liberal capitalism and communism) to appear reasonable.   

    That’s why Western culture has rejected its Christian roots: because it has lost its reason.  It is convenient to the industrialists (and the communists) that it should do so.

    To argue against this takes a re-founding of reason within faith; a proper analysis.  Knee-jerk blaming of Vatican II and of individuals associated with it does no service to that foundation of reason.