Relations with Islam

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

October 26, 2010


Fr. Peter Daly follows up on his column last month on the mosque controversy and talks more broadly about relations with Islam.


            My column defending religious liberty and the legal right of Moslems to renovate an Islamic social center near “ground zero” generated a lot of comment; positive, negative, and some very angry.

            Several correspondents accused me of saying things that I did not say.

            I did not say that I am knowledgeable about Islam.

            I am not. But, then, neither are they. Some of my correspondents do not appear to know the difference between Shiite and Sunni Islam. They lump all one billion Muslims together with fundamentalist Muslim extremists. They confuse cultural characteristics with religious teaching. They attribute actions of ages past to people today. They know nothing of the huge cultural differences between Islam as practiced in diverse cultures like Turkey, Egypt or Indonesia.

            I did not say that I approve of building the Islamic center in southern Manhattan.

            That is for local law and government to decide.

            But I do think that Catholics should have particular respect for religious liberty, since we have been the target of religious bigotry and discrimination in America.

            Respect for the religious liberty is the teaching of the Catholic Church. At the Second Vatican Council the Pope and bishops issued a document called “Declaration on Religious Liberty” (Dignitatis Humanae “Of Human Dignity”). The Council said, “The human person has a right to religious freedom … immune from coercion.” It also said that religious liberty is a God given right, which should be recognized in law and respected by governments. (D.H. #2).   

            Some writers pointed out that Saudi Arabia prohibits churches altogether. True. The Saudis are very bad actors on human rights in general. I am loath to think that Catholics or American would imitate bad actors like Saudi Arabia.   

            I did not say that I approve of Islam.  

            I am a Catholic priest. I defend only one religion. But I respect all the great religions of the world.  I think we should engage in dialogue with other religions, including Islam. The official teach of our Church agrees.

            At Vatican II the Council the Church issued a document called “Declaration on Relations of the Church to Non-Christian Religions.” (Nostra Acetate “Our Age”). That document said the Catholic Church “rejects nothing of what is true and holy in other religions.” It also said that Catholics have a “high regard for Muslims” who worship the one God. (N.A. # 3) and pleaded that “mutual understanding.”

            That is what my parish and community are trying to do. We have a continuing dialogue with our Muslim neighbors so we can better understand each other. It is the only path to real peace.   

            Finally, some accused me of ignoring the cruelty of Shari’a, Islamic law.

            It is true that Shari'a, as practiced by some fundamentalist and extremist Muslims can be cruel. But I would point out that we have a lot of cruelty in our scriptures.

            Leviticus 20, for example calls for death by stoning for various offenses including cursing your father or mother, adultery, homosexual acts, incest, or bestiality. Even ultra orthodox Jews don’t pay attention to these passages today.

            Both the Qur’an and the Bible need to be interpreted in the light of reason and in context of the time.

            Religious fundamentalism and scriptural literalism are the enemies of dialogue.

            We Catholics do not take scripture literally, but we do take it seriously.

            For example when Jesus says, “You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father….” (Mt.5: 43-45).

            I think Jesus mean for us to take that seriously.