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What the Islamic Riots Reveal (Part 2 of 2)

Interview With Father Mitch Pacwa

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama, MAY 4, 2006 (Zenit) - Many observers see the rise of radical Islam as a response to a lack of economic opportunity or a defense against encroaching secular values from the West due to globalization.

Jesuit Father Mitch Pacwa sees the situation differently. An expert on Islam, he believes that the radical Muslim movements are reactions to the failed secular Arab nationalist states of the 20th century, whose leaders are vying to become the next Sultan or caliph who will restore an Islamic empire that will wage jihad.

Father Pacwa is a theologian, Middle East scholar and co-contributor to the "Islam and Christianity" DVD series.

In this interview in the wake of the widespread riots over the Mohammed cartoons, Father Pacwa shared with us about how the Church can respond to the increasing radicalization of Islam.

Part 1 of this interview appeared Tuesday on Catholic Online.

Q: Given the Muslim-Vatican cooperation at U.N. conferences in the past decade or so -- where they stood up against abortion and anti-family policies -- does the Catholic Church enjoy any special advantages in reaching out to Islam?

Father Pacwa: There are some special advantages that the Catholic Church does have because we've had Catholics and Eastern Orthodox living in the Muslim world for centuries.

And there is a certain type of relationship, usually one of getting along, but sometimes breaking out into violence as a reaction against Catholics.

But this kind of cooperation at U.N. conferences between Muslim countries and the Vatican is not seen as a way to make peace with each other, but instead to help each other attain their own ends.

And I don't think in the long term that the Muslims in the street are going to be able to say that "we should be friendlier with Catholics."

This is a key to understanding the Muslim world. They divide the world into two parts: the home of Islam, the "dar al-Islam"; and the "dar al-harb," the home of war.

If you are in a Muslim country where Shariah is the law and Muslims are the majority, you are in the home of Islam. If you are in a non-Muslim country, then you are in the home of war or the place of war. This distinction is a very, very basic one.

There will be polite cooperation and sometimes very positive cooperation at various levels and that can be marvelous. But we also have to keep in mind that that background of dividing the world into the home of Islam and the home of war is very ancient in Islam and is very basic, so I don't know about any special advantages in reaching out to Islam.

For instance, in Indonesia, where there are quite a few Muslim converts to Catholicism, you also have a great deal of persecution of Catholics and lots of Catholics are killed there.

And also in some places where Muslims become Christians, whether Orthodox or Catholic, they are subject to tremendous pressure, if not death, for doing so. I don't think that has changed and we have to be very realistic about that mentality.

Q: An unusual question, if we may: Are there any lessons that the Church can learn from Islam today vis-ŕ-vis the Muslims' entrance into Western society? For example, is there a positive side to keeping a bit distant from secular society?

Father Pacwa: Yes, this is one thing that we need to learn from Muslims. Is it possible for us to have a distance from Western society? We do not and should not judge the Gospel by the norms of secular society. Muslims certainly don't do that and they are wise in that.

We allow secular norms to invade the Gospel message at our own peril, and we allow too much of our secular society to influence us. We need to be able to stand up against modern society and not consider modernity inevitable.

Some of modernity needs to be turned back, and that has been one of the issues that Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have been talking about for a long time as well as others.

So we have to have our own identity, and that when it comes to the Gospel or the secular society, we stick with the Gospel of Christ just as the Muslims are very wise to stick to their own religious identity rather than the modern world.

Q: What do you think is the best way for Catholics to respond to Muslims and Islam?

Father Pacwa: First, we must start out with a stance of respect for Muslims and their commitment to God. If we have no respect for them, then we cannot do anything helpful at all.

Second, I think that we also have to understand our own identity over and against Islam, and not be cowed or treated like the weak kid in the face of bullyism. And that is just what these riots are. When you have bullies you have to stand up to them and face them down.

So you show respect, you don't go looking for a fight, but neither do you back down from it when it is brought to your door.

So I think that we should engage in discussion about the problems in the Koran, what it says about Jesus and Mary, what it says about God and its mistaken notion of the Trinity.

For instance, the Koran understands the Trinity to be God, Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary; that is not what we believe. Let's make sure we clarify that we believe in one God in three Persons. Not three gods. And these are very basic things. We are going to have right-upfront disagreements.

For instance, the Koran apparently, at least in most ways that it is interpreted -- but not necessarily so -- indicates in Chapter 4 that Jesus did not die on the cross but another man died in his place.

We have to say look, we believe Jesus Christ truly died and the Blessed Mother and the Apostle John were witnesses to this, and the other apostles were witnesses to his resurrection.

The Koran also claims that Christians distorted the New Testament and the Gospel of Jesus. Please show us where we did that.

You can't just get away with making a statement that we changed the New Testament for personal gain, when in fact the ones who passed on the New Testament died for Jesus Christ and the Gospel that he gave them. They didn't make gains -- they suffered.

So this is the kind of thing that we have to make very clear and stand for without trying to pick an argument or pick a fight, but neither can we back down from the claims that Islam makes. And that is part of our own willingness to be adults and clear about our own identity and willing to proclaim the Gospel of Christ.

My own hope of course as a Christian is the same hope of Muslims. I hope that they will all become Christians. They of course hope that we become Muslims.

How are we going to deal with that difference and speak to each other honestly? Forthrightly and with a sense of absolute respect that God has chosen to love us all infinitely. The only way God knows how to love is infinitely. This is what the Lord commands us to do, to love with our whole being.


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Islam, Muslim, Pacwa, Mohammed, Catholic

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