Pope Benedict and Islam: Betrayal of faith or learning words they can hear?

The Pope is treading the difficult yet essential path of dialogue in his visit to the Holy land.

In his efforts to communicate with Muslims Pope Benedict has used Muslim terminology referring to God as ‘the infinite source of justice and mercy’ and ‘merciful and compassionate’, the latter term directly from the Quran.

From the excellent full report of Tom Heneghan of Reuters we read,

Imam Yahya Hendi, Muslim chaplain at a Catholic university in Washington, said Benedict’s use of Muslim terminology showed “where the Holy See is heading and where it has its heart”. . . . “It wants to reach out to Muslims” .

“He’s learning the right words, the ones they can hear,” said Rabbi Burton Visotzky.

Benedict signalled that change at the King Hussein Mosque in Amman last Saturday when he said Christians and Muslims should work together “to cultivate for the good, in the context of faith and truth, the vast potential of human reason.”

At Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock on Tuesday, Benedict echoed the Common Word’s theme by telling Palestinian Muslim leaders that “undivided love for the One God and charity towards ones neighbour” were the “fulcrum around which all else turns.”

While it is true that this language of God resonates with the Old Testament, a key question must be addressed: Is ‘the One God’ sufficient language for the Christian to address and describe ‘God’? The Christian answer is, ‘No.’ Christ followers worship the ‘Triune God’, the ‘One-Three God’ of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Thus, while the Pope affirms a ‘common ground’ on the basis of ‘the One God’, that common ground is in danger of being a reduced ground for the Christian. Why? Because the Triune God has been reduced to ‘the One God’. This danger of reductionism, of reducing the Christian understanding of faith, leads to debilitating dialogue and lessens the discovery and development of real common ground.

There are profound differences in cultures formed by Islam and Christianity and effective dialogue is not a simple matter. The Islamic interpretation of the Pope’s recent words could lead to misunderstanding. By way of example, it is essential to understand the mentality of subservience to and integral to Islam:

For citizens of a majority Christian state there is a special challenge here.

In adapting to this (Islamic) requirement of grateful service (of non-Muslims to Muslims) those shaped by a Christian world view can interpret their own submissiveness in gospel categories of grace and service. However, from the Islamic side this just looks like ‘submission’, that is, the program of Islam itself is working. Some Muslims may interpret such submissiveness as Islam’s rightful due, not an expression of grace.”

[‘The Hidden Currents of Western Response to Islam’, Mark Durie in
‘Islam: Human Rights and Public Policy’, Edited by David Claydon, Acorn Press 2009, p.35]

Betrayal of faith or learning words they can hear?

My answers:

‘Betrayal of faith?’ – ‘Not intentionally so, but dangerous distortion of faith due reduced terminology for God and love.’

‘learning words they can hear?’ – ‘Yes, but are we all learning? The road ahead is long.’

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