At this point, I don’t want to make too much of the important and disconcerting fact that these statements by Raboula Antoine Beylouni at the recent Special Assembly for the Middle East were censored by the Vatican Secretariat of State. That in and of itself merits an entire discussion. But it is worthwhile also to focus on the Bishop’s incisive remarks on the nature of Islam and why Islamic-Christian dialogue is, in his words, “difficult and often ineffective.” I’ll reprint the Bishop’s remarks as the Rorate Caeli blog does with the censored parts in bold. The parts describing the difficulties are the parts on which I focus; the rest is provided for context.
For several years in Lebanon we have had a national committee for Islamic-Christian dialogue. There was also an episcopal commission from the Assembly of Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops of Lebanon entrusted with Islamic-Christian dialogue. It was recently suppressed to give more importance to the other committee, also because because it had not produced any results.
Sometimes dialogue occurs here and there, in the Arab countries, such as in Qatar, where the Emir himself invites, at his expense, personalities from different countries and from the three religions: Christian, Muslim and Jewish. In Lebanon the Télélumiere and Noursat networks, and other television networks, sometimes broadcast programs on Islamic-Christian dialogue. Often a topic is chosen, and each side explains or interprets according to their religion. These programs are usually very instructive.
With my intervention, I wished to draw attention on the points that make these encounters difficult and often ineffective. It should be clear that we are not discussing dogma. But even the subjects of a practical and social order are difficult to discuss when the Koran or the Sunna discusses them. Here are some difficulties which we have faced:
– The Koran inculcates in the Muslim pride in being the only true and complete religion, taught by the greatest prophet, because he was the last one. The Muslim is part of the privileged nation, and speaks the language of God, the language of Paradise, the Arabic language. This is why, he comes to dialogue with a sense of superiority, and with the certitude of being victorious.
The Koran, supposedly written by God Himself, from beginning to end, gives the same value to all that is written: dogma that supercedes all law or practice.
In the Koran, men and women are not equal, not even in marriage itself where the man takes several wives and can divorce at his pleasure; nor in the heritage where man takes double; nor in the testifying before judges where the voice of one man is equal to the voice of two women, etc…
The Koran allows the Muslim to hide the truth from the Christian, and to speak and act contrary to how he thinks and believes.
In the Koran, there are contradictory verses which annul others, which gives the Muslim the possibility of using one or the other to his advantage, and therefore he can tell the Christian that he is humble and pious and believes in God, just as he can treat him as impious, apostate and idolatrous.
The Koran gives the Muslim the right to judge Christians and to kill them for the Jihad (the holy war). It commands the imposition of religion through force, with the sword. The history of invasions bears witness to this. This is why the Muslims do not recognize religious freedom, for themselves or for others. And it isn’t surprising to see all the Arab countries and Muslims refusing the whole of the “Human Rights” instituted by the United Nations.
Faced with all these interdictions and other similar attitudes should one suppress dialogue? Of course not. But the themes that can be discussed should be chosen carefully, and capable and well-trained Christians chosen as well, as well as those who are courageous and pious, wise and prudent… who tell the truth with clarity and conviction…
We sometimes deplore certain dialogues on TV, where the Christian speaker isn’t up to the task, and does not give the Christian religion all its beauty and spirituality, which scandalizes the viewers. Worse yet, when sometimes there are clergyman speakers who, in dialogue to win over Muslims call Mohammed the prophet and add the Muslim invocation, known and constantly repeated: “Salla lahou alayhi was sallam”.
Finally I would like to suggest the following:
Like the Koran spoke well of the Virgin Mary, insisting on her perpetual virginity and miraculous and unique conception in giving us Christ; just as Muslims take her greatly into consideration and ask for her intercession, we should turn to her for all dialogue and all encounters with the Muslims. Being the Mother of us all, she will guide us in our relations with the Muslims to show them the true face of Her Son Jesus, the Redeemer of mankind.
If it pleased God that the Feast of the Annunciation was declared a national feast day in Lebanon for Christians and Muslims, may it also become a national feast day in other Arab countries.
The Bishop is not afraid to speak clearly and boldly about these difficulties, and he does so without worrying that people of good will possessing common sense might accuse him of bigotry or hatred. As he posits in the text, there is a need to be “courageous and pious”, not merely sensitive. All the things he states with regard to the teachings of Islam are true. For example, Islam allows Muslims to kill Christians and lie to them and does not respect the ideal of religious freedom promoted by the United Nations and by his own church in Vatican II documents. These are facts. Whether any given Muslim or all Muslims is/are to be feared by Christians is a separate albeit related question.