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How are we to evangelise Muslims?

We need to shake off the idea that conversion is cultural imperialism

By on Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Benedict XVI reads a speech at Regensburg University in Germany on September 12, 2006 (Photo: AP)

Benedict XVI reads a speech at Regensburg University in Germany on September 12, 2006 (Photo: AP)

The Church should be evangelising everybody. There is no need for me to argue this point: the words of the Lord are very clear. There can be no arguing with the closing lines of St Matthew’s gospel: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

The Christian message is universal of its very nature, and thus to be heard by all. Given this, how are we to evangelise Muslims? What, in practical terms, can we all do?
Firstly, we need to raise awareness of the Church’s mission to evangelise. Being Catholic is about mission, not maintenance of structures. It is about talking to people and spreading the Word, not keeping our parishes, schools and hospitals open for business. And the word is to be spread to lapsed Catholics and to members of other religions too. So we need to start looking at our Muslim neighbours not as the Other, but as brother and sisters, and potential brethren in the faith.

This means abandoning the all too implicitly accepted heresy of indifferentism – the idea that one faith is as good as another, and therefore those who are Muslim do not need to be evangelised. It also mean shaking off the political correctness that seems to believe that everything non-Christian commands automatic “respect”, and that therefore evangelisation is some sort of cultural imperialism. It is not.

What then? Then we need to encounter Islam. That is to say we need to understand it from within, and we need to engage in honest dialogue. Thanks to the Pope’s Regensbeug speech, honest dialogue is now possible. We need to speak in a friendly manner and speak in the light of truth. This means that we need to understand what it is that makes Muslims “tick” bearing in mind that what makes them tick will greatly differ from community to community, depending on geographical location and particular tradition.

Finally, and most importantly, we need to pray unremittingly to God and His Blessed Mother, asking that He calls Islamic people to Himself. Above all, we must pray to Our Lady, who, in her gentleness and sweetness, makes the best evangeliser of all. And we need to tell our fellow Catholics about this and encourage them to pray as well. October is the month of the Holy Rosary. What better way of bring people to an implicit knowledge of Jesus Christ, than through praying the Rosary for them?

  • GratefulCatholic

    Very true Benedict. I am told that right there at the end of St Matthew “in the name of the Father the Son and the Holy Ghost…” the doctrine of the Trinity is very difficult for Muslims to comprehend  and many young, black Britons from Christian families convert to Islam, apparently because they do not get clear Catholic instruction here.   

  • Benedict Carter

    Don’t fool yourself Peter. There will ALWAYS be a violent reaction from Islam. It has violence hard-wired into it. Do you know nothing of its history?

  • Peter

    I’m looking at Iraq, at Shias being bombed all the time.

  • Peter

    If you are right, there’s no point trying to evangelise Muslims, if a greater evil results from it.

    Are you saying it is best to revert to indifferentism?

  • Guest

    You sound just like Ivan the Terrible.

  • Guest

    God looks at the heart and not Man’s outward trappings.

  • Peter

    “So we need to start looking at our Muslim neighbours not as the Other, but as brother and sisters, and potential brethren in the faith.”
    British society is becoming increasingly paganised and secularised and the Muslims are potential allies, especially in their sworn hostility to the Masonic movement which is banned for Catholics on pain of excommunication.

    In a society which ranges from new-age pantheism and abstract deism to material humanism and atheistic nihilism , it is in a way comforting to have a large minority which shares our belief in a benevolent Creator.

  • JabbaPapa

    sorry — was too tired for an explanation of that opinion when I posted it.

    9. Do not let them get away with thinking that their religion is morally stricter than ours.  They take pride in strict morals.  Show them ours are even stricter. (ie marriage rules)

    This implies obeying Islam — because these rules and morals that you refer to are islamic rules and morals ; the notion of “right practice” is islamic in nature, not Catholic — because Catholicism is not a religion based on practice.

    The Catholic teaching on rules and morals is entirely different.

    What we need to show them is that we do actually have such rules, NOT to try and oppose Catholic rules to islamic ones in the form of a contest over which rule is stricter, because this notion that the stricter rule is the best is a product of Islam.

    10.  Particularly for women…..if you are a woman making friends with a muslim woman….polygamy is a big issue.  No woman really accepts polygamy.  Again, don’t impose your views.  Wait for her to complain about it woman to woman, then give our perspective on marriage.

    This implies obeying Islam, though I’ll admit in a very subtle and extremely non-obvious manner.

    It’s because this lets the framework of debate, the agenda if you like, be set by the Muslim, not by the Christian.
    I’ve no doubt that in many particular cases your advice is, in practical terms, very good — but it’s not good as an overriding principle.

    Some women would actually be better counseled by a more direct and positive approach.

    As for Your “most important point” implies Islam :

    1.  We must clean our own house first.

    It clearly signifies an implicit acceptance of at least some of the islamic condemnations of Catholicism, and it is therefore self-defeating at a deeply rhetorical level.

    It also overtly panders to the muslim notion of “right practice”.

    Catholicism is the relationship of the individual with God through The Christ.

    It is not a philosophy, it is not a social group, it is not a practice.

    That one needs to clean one’s own house is a fact, but this is not something that will teach Catholicism — though I would obviously grant that it is necessary for the prevention of those teaching a fake “catholicism” in our name.

  • la catholic state

    I don’t find it comforting at all. 

  • la catholic state

    Thank you for broaching this subject Father.

  • JabbaPapa

    I’ll give a different answer, based on the philosophy.

    Islamic philosophy teaches that material reality is inherently corrupted and evil, so that suffering is the nature of physical existence.

    Souls transcend this condition of suffering through right practice — and those souls that do not have that practice are viewed as being inherently evil, and are condemned to permanent suffering.

    I’m not sure of Allah’s part in this — but at least some Islamic scholars teach that Allah actively desires that “the evil” should suffer.

  • JabbaPapa

    No, but I think scary is colouring things from her own Catholic perspective :-)

    The differences between her presentation and the Catholic teaching are VERY subtle, and it would be sheer hair-splitting to point them out, so I won’t.

  • Peter

    Look at it this way.

    As Britain becomes more secular and atheistic, this will lead inevitably to the increasing adoption of euthanasia and eugenics, a future of horror we know only too well.

    The Muslims, for all their alleged faults, stand directly in the way of this development.  

    Love them or hate them, they are a formidable obstacle to the gradual dehumanisation of society.


  • JabbaPapa

     Nice post Ben — though I’ve my typical quibbles ;-)

    (a) get rid of the policy of ecumenism and 

    (b) the un-Catholic ecclesiology prevalent even in the highest reaches of the Church. 

    (c) If the Moslems are to be effectively evangelised, they must
    understand too that the Jews are also to be converted NOW (= traditional
    Catholic teaching), not at some “cosmic convergence point” in the
    future as JPII and B XVI have taught.

    a) — well, I’d say “rid ecumenism of its errors” ; but fundamentally it’s clear that something about it is not right.

    b) — Ecclesiology is a subset of theology — as such, it is by its very nature amenable to disagreements and arguments among its specialists. I’ve no idea what these have to do with the conversion of non-Catholics…

    c) — well, I can see that as being useful in some particular situations, but I’d hardly consider it a major argument to be presented to muslims !!!

    ii.    Restore the beauty of worship. That means the return globally to
    the Old Mass and Gregorian Chant. Why should I convert to a Faith
    characterized by ugliness and shallowness? Give me beauty and

    A good Novus Ordo Mass should have both — notwithstanding that so many of them have neither.

    Obviously though, the Old Mass is going to be inherently more attractive as a “good practice” to those of muslim origin or faith than whichever variably beautiful local rendition of the Novus Ordo.

    iii.    Start taking serious action where possible against liberal
    “Catholicism without the Ten Commandments”. Excommunicate Catholic
    politicians who vote for abortion, euthanasia. Deny them the Sacraments.
    Campaign to make civil divorce harder. Clean out all the homosexual
    clergy and stop forthwith pandering to the homosexual mafia. 

    If I am a serious Moslem, why should I convert to a Faith which cannot confront moral depravity even within itself?

    Well said !!! :-)

  • la catholic state

    I don’t want an Islamised Britain when atheism finally self-destructs.  I want a Christianised one. So does the Pope.

  • Peter

    If you look at history you will see that Islam has never expanded through peaceful means, so I think your fear of Islamicisation is unwarranted.  Currently in Britain we are being swamped by eastern European Christians.

    Similarly, I do not believe that atheism will self-destruct because the forces of secularism will continue to justify themselves through the advancement of scientific understanding.


  • Herman U. Ticke

    Herman here, greetings everyone
    Let me just draw up an empty chair,, that’s it.

    Does the author of this paragraph need to be converted/evangelised?

    “Eucharistic devotion such as is noted in the silent visit
     by the devout in church must not be thought of as a conversation
     with God. This would assume that God was present there locally 
    and in a confined way. To justify such an assertion shows a lack 
    of understanding of the Christological mysteries of the very concept 
    of God. This is repugnant to the serious thinking of the man who 
    knows about the omnipresence of God. 
    To go to church on the ground that one can visit God who 
    is present there is a senseless act which modern man rightfully rejects.” 

    (Die Sakramentale Begrundung Christlicher Existenz 
    1966, Kyrios Publishing, 

    Regardless of your views on…well, let’s say “upholstery”  this (3-hour) talk
    on Vatican 2 may help you to decide where you stand:

    I’m off on holiday for a bit now….
    There are some bargains to be had since some hotels
    in Lourdes have got unexpected cancellations.

  • Peter

    How does Islam account for the suffering of innocents?

  • scary goat

     Ok, well I can see what you’re getting at, in a very abstract sort of sense.  In practical terms I don’t really agree with your view and will explain better later.  No time at the moment.

  • Kinana Nadir

    ‘benevolent Creator’ .   Say what!?  Are you talking about the Allah that said things like:
    ‘Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day…’ Quran 9:29
    ‘Those who believe, fight in the cause of Allah, and those who disbelieve, fight in the cause of Satan. So fight you against the friends of Satan. Quran 4:076
    And in dozens of places in the Quran promotes Mohammed as the perfect man?
    Etc. etc. etc.
    If Allah is a ‘benevolent creator’ then that is when his benevolence ended – at creation.

  • Peter

    The Muslims regard the Almighty as benevolent up to a point.

  • JabbaPapa

    There is no such thing as an “innocent” in islamic philosophy — because we have a material nature, and matter is intrinsically evil in that philosophy.

    People are born in a state of intrinsic corruption.

    I’m sure they have some sort of wishy-washy escape clause for the newborns, no matter how much it might contradict their philosophies, but in principle they teach that only souls fortified and purified by “good practice” can be considered as good.

    (please don’t ask me to explain why Allah puts these pure souls into such corrupt and evil flesh)

  • JabbaPapa

    erm sorry — I should have said “islamic philosophers” not “they” AKA “muslims” — that was a generalisation, and as such it was inaccurate.

  • Peter

    You make it sound like Manicheanism.

  • la catholic state

    There’s always a first time.  And that is now.  Atheism and secularism will self destruct….secularists are ageing and declining.  And Islam is filling the gap.

    The only thing being justified by scientific understanding is….Catholicism. 

    Um….if the word ‘swamped’ is not OK to be used about immigrants in general…then it is not OK to use it for East Europeans either….who happen to be human beings too!

  • Lazarus

    That sort of divine command theory is quite foreign to Catholicism. (The rational basis for Catholicism’s understanding of God is at the heart of his Regensburg speech: Islam has a divine command theory where God’s will is incomprehensible and must be obeyed; Catholicism believes that God’s will is reasonable and, at least in principle, its goodness discernible by reason.)

    As para 1956 of the Catechism has it:

    ‘The natural law, present in the heart of each man and established by reason, is universal in its precepts and its authority extends to all men. It expresses the dignity of the person and determines the basis for his fundamental rights and duties.’ 

    And then goes on to quote Cicero:

    ‘For there is a true law: right reason. It is in conformity with nature, is diffused among all men, and is immutable and eternal; its orders summon to duty; its prohibitions turn away from offence …. To replace it with a contrary law is a sacrilege; failure to apply even one of its provisions is forbidden; no one can abrogate it entirely.’

    It’s certainly true that, given our fallen nature, we need the help of revelation to complete our reason. (And so you’re quite right to stress the importance of obedience to revealed truth.) But the fundamental basis of Catholic morality is acting in accordance with the goods of our nature which is rationally discernible. (The is-ought gap is a Humean invention which doesn’t apply to a universe where substances -including human beings- have immanent goals (final causes) (ie natures) facilitation of which is a good, frustration of which is a harm.) 

  • Benedict Carter

    Yes, massive floods stop the arrival of a certain relic ….. coincidence perhaps.

  • Benedict Carter

    No, but converting them will mean the blood of a great number of martyrs.

  • Benedict Carter

    Could the Moderator who deleted my long, wholly inoffensive  post, which had received the kind recommendation of 14 people, explain why on earth it was deleted? 

    This is just outrageous.

  • JabbaPapa

    One of the moderators in here appears to be a trainee on loan from the Torygraph…

  • JabbaPapa

    Islam is actually in a state of corruption and decline.

  • JabbaPapa

    That’s what it’s based on, though Islam does not have a concept of a god of evil.

  • la catholic state

    I don’t believe that. 

    Next you will be telling me Catholicism in Britain is booming.

  • JabbaPapa

    Islam is in an almost necrotic state of decay in the West — the extremism is a symptom of its decadence.

  • la catholic state

    Extremism has always been a feature of Islam.  And Islam is on the rise in the West…while Catholicism is decreasing (or at best remaining stagnant).  And if that doesn’t alarm you….then I wonder what does?!

  • scary goat

     Islam is based on Judeo/Christian traditions to a large extent.  It is a distortion rather than an “alien” form of religion.  Therefore it is not surprising to find a lot of recognizable concepts in Islamic teachings although there is distortion.  They even have their own version of purgatory. 

  • scary goat

     People are born in a state of intrinsic corruption.

    Sorry Jabba, this is not correct.  Rather the opposite actually.  Islam does not believe in original sin.  It believes we are born pure and then good or evil are our choices through free will.

  • andHarry

     ‘ Christianity spread via
    missionaries and the word and the people freely converted, Islam was
    done by the sword and you were forced in many parts of the world to
    either convert or be killed.’

    I am afraid you are seriously deceived if you believe that the missionary zeal and practices of the Muslims differed greatly from the Church which developed soon after Theodosius’ decree of AD381, and which over-ran Europe by ‘dungeon, fire and sword’ until the  Reformation. Have you read Peter De Rosa’s ‘Vicars Of Christ? -  an amazing revelation by a disenchanted insider.
    Anon. The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.

  • scary goat

     Ok, I can see what you mean, but I think the (slight) difference in opinion here is because you are dealing with theory, whereas I am more looking at grass roots tactics. 

    You are, of course, right that the fundamental thing about Catholic beliefs is a personal relationship with God through  Christ.  It isn’t a competition about whose moral rules are stricter, but it is inbuilt in the Islam that the very notion of God the Son is unacceptable.  This is a huge obstacle at the “debate” level.  I find a “debate” scenario with muslims to be virtually useless, because both sides start out with the assumption that they are right and talk AT each other, usually at cross-purposes. I think with muslims a better approach is “one soul at a time”.

    To put it bluntly, we have got a fat chance of converting muslims when they are pretty sure that what they have got is better than ours, and they then apply a “proof of the pudding is in the eating” attitude. Of course they are looking at “externals” and good luck getting past that.

    My view is based on tactics to “open a door” to “meaningful” dialogue.  Guest 007 made some wonderful points about what the content of dialogue can be, but IMHO, you have to create a setting where dialogue is possible first.

    Don’t forget that most ordinary people are not highly educated theologians. You have to engage with them “where they are at”.  Your point about not letting the muslims set the terms of the “debate” is a valid one in some senses, except that in practical terms, that is the reality….they have already set the terms of the debate in their own minds. 

    Where I am coming from is an understanding of what the barriers are to dialogue with muslims, and trying to take the barriers down so that dialogue is possible. 

    To be honest, last night I was considering changing my log-in ID to be an “Islamic Newmeena” and come back to argue from the Islamic perspective, to give everyone a chance to see what sort of responses you will get when trying to evangelise muslims.  A bit of a practice-run! :-D
    I decided against it, as not being entirely honest with my friends here.

    My view is that when trying to evangelise muslims, you will come up against a brick wall. The only way to go is to take out a brick at a time, starting with some of their “misconceptions” about Christianity otherwise dialogue is virtually impossible. Not letting them set the terms of the debate is right in theory, but it is “shutting the door after the horse has bolted”.  I am interested in keeping the door open so that there is some possibility of the horse coming back in. I remember the title of a play that we read at school although I don’t remember the contents… was very boring!  “She stoops to conquer”.  Sometimes this approach can work when you are dealing with people who think they have the moral high ground.

    Regarding the “morals competition” I have convinced several of my friends to send their kids to Catholic schools with the advice that moral standards are higher than state schools. Everybody is happy, because they like the “moral standards” issue….and I think it will raise awareness in the next generation of muslims about the Catholic Faith, and remove some of the misconceptions.

    Your point about “direct counselling” for muslim women. Mmmm and how do propose to achieve a setting where this is possible? The “western” view of muslim women being “oppressed”  and needing liberation is greatly over-rated.  I think you will find many, if not most muslim women are as averse to conversion to Christianity as their menfolk.  They consider western women as “sluts” and more “oppressed” than they are.  Western men expect their wives to work and bring in the money. Western men use women for sex without taking responsibility.  “Why buy the cow if milk is free”. etc.

    My “worldview” is that I would dearly love to evangelise muslims, because to a great extent, at a personal level they are “my people”.  I love them and wish to engage them in that personal relationship with God through Christ.  For me, it is not some sort of political goal, and I am very aware of the obstacles and looking for ways around them.

  • scary goat

    I really want to add another point on “how to evangelise muslims”.  Probably more important than any other point. 


    If you don’t understand who/what you are dealing with, it makes dialogue very difficult.  There are plenty of Islamic sites on the web.  Do your research.


  • scary goat

     I am not very sure that it’s a good idea to see the muslims as allies. That’s a bit of a dangerous view.  I do however share your dislike of atheism and am much more comfortable with “friendly dialogue” with muslims.

  • scary goat

    Hmmmm……I do agree that the Christian understanding of God is far more “benevolent” than the muslim understanding.  I’m not quite sure what is wrong with “fight against the friends of satan” as such…..except that their view of who are the friends of satan might be a bit unfortunate for us. Actually, in the Islam, Christians have a “protected status” but amongst the people views vary on that point.

  • scary goat

     A test……like Job

  • scary goat


  • JabbaPapa

    Only very nominally — because the atheist/secularist “arab” youths who are the offspring of Muslim parents are included as Muslims in the statistics.

  • JabbaPapa

    Ok, I can see what you mean, but I think the (slight) difference in
    opinion here is because you are dealing with theory, whereas I am more
    looking at grass roots tactics.

    Yes indeed.

    Your point about “direct counselling” for muslim women. Mmmm and how do propose to achieve a setting where this is possible?

    No, that was just a point that *some* women are going to be more amenable to this approach than the indirect one — I *did* concede that in practice, your suggestions would generally be more effective.

  • JabbaPapa

    I didn’t say “original sin” — I was talking about the intrinsic corruption of the flesh.

    Islam does, yes, teach that souls are created pure.

    The dichotomy of the purity of souls and the inherent corruption of matter is central to islamic philosophy and theology.

  • Peter

    For Muslims, God is utterly sovereign and aloof, yet merciful and just, and humans are his grateful slaves.  For Christians, God is our Father and we are his children.

    This great divide in our understanding of the Almighty must be traversed first.

  • la catholic state

    Muslim youth are often MORE religious than their parents.  However… with Catholics….all types should be included in the statistics…..nominal and practising.  Even then Muslim growth rates outshine Catholics in the West.  God willing, that will change.

  • scary goat

     No, that was just a point that *some* women are going to be more
    amenable to this approach than the indirect one — I *did* concede that
    in practice, your suggestions would generally be more effective.

    Yes agreed.  Where direct discussion is possible, as you said, some are more amenable than others, either from their own willingness, or after reaching a certain point in “preparatory tactics” sure.  Direct discussion is the best way.  This can apply to men as well as women.