It is 3am New York time, and I am typing away in the Prague airport as I await a connecting flight to Rome. Unusual things happen to me in airports. Maybe it’s the clerical collar.
After getting my boarding pass and clearing security in New York, I stopped by Chili’s and bellied up to the bar to get one last Coke and fries before reentering the much healthier land of fettuccini pasta and ruby red wine. The gentleman sitting next to me had dark skin and very little hair. I broke the ice and he was grateful. He was an American soldier in “civies” on his way back from visiting his ailing mother in the Gaza Strip. As a native Arabic speaker, he serves as an embedded translator for the U.S. Army. He has already done one year in Iraq and has volunteered to leave next month for a second tour of duty. Part of our conversation went something like this:
Father J: You are Palestinian; why are you fighting for the United States?
Soldier: I’ve lived all over the world, and nowhere have I been treated so well as in America. If that’s where this country needs me, that’s where I want to go. I don’t do it for Bush. I do it for this country that treats me so well.
Father J: And in Arabic countries, don’t they treat you well?
Solider: Not like in America. Look at the Shiites and Sunni in Iraq. It’s Muslims fighting Muslims. They don’t care about people. They don’t want peace.
Father J: So, you’re not Muslim?
Soldier: Yes, I am. I went to the mosque growing up and still go today. Sometimes I have to walk out when the imams really get going.
Father J: Have you read the Koran? It’s militant and violent and doesn’t speak well of us infidels.
Soldier: Well, it depends on how you understand it. I’m Muslim and I’m peaceful.
I would call this “Providence” — God intervening in my life to teach me a lesson. Even stronger than theological divides is the human aspiration to be respected. This man is certainly not a typical Palestinian, but his story is real and perhaps repeatable on a large scale if we are attentive. Respect for the dignity of the human person, “treating people like people,” is the strongest pull if presented well. In the case of this man, it was so strong he was willing to put his life on the line to defend it, in the name of a country that was not his own.
Before we parted ways, his phone rang and lit up a photograph on his telephone screensaver of Yasser Arafat. I shivered. This world is complicated.
I’ve posted below some of your responses to Monday’s blog, “A Peaceful Koran?” As a general rule, I will begin to use every other blog entry to answer your e-mails from my previous posting. I think it will allow us to go a bit deeper into each topic, as well as balance out my opinion with your own. I would appreciate your feedback about this system. Is it helpful? Do you like to read what others are saying?
God bless, Father Jonathan
I read your latest blog and it caused me to question the issue a little more deeply. Do you believe that a peaceful view of Islam is parallel to Christianity? Maybe a better way to phrase my question is to ask if you believe that faith in Muhammad, as God, and serving him will bring salvation? Do you believe the Koran, therefore, to be Holy Scripture, and in that same vein, are Muhammad and God one and the same? There are many similarities to be found in both books (Koran and the Bible) but they are certainly not exact parallels. No matter the response, I will continue to look forward to reading your thoughts. — Aimee, Springfield, MO
RESPONSE: Aimee, if you are asking if I believe Islam and Christianity are equally direct paths to God, the answer is “no.” There are many people, however, who have never heard of Christianity and never will. Has God abandoned them? I don’t think so. I believe people must respond to God in as much as he has revealed himself to them. Christian theology teaches that all redemption comes through the death and resurrection of Christ. Nobody can know, however, how he “works out” this redemption on an individual basis, particularly for people of other faiths.
On a side note, Muslims don’t believe Muhammad is God. He is their most important “prophet.” Allah is the name they use for God.
You recently wrote that there are Muslims who love God. It is very dangerous for people to have this idea that Muslims and Jews and others can love God or be loved by God. This is from the father of lies and leads to burning in Hell, an infinite horror. Actually, Jesus said God loves those who love Him! We are not all children of God, contrary to the popular saying. And the popular saying of God having unconditional love, where is that in the Bible?
I would like you to make a public statement that you are against your previous statement and show that your view is based on facts of Christianity.
RESPONSE: I am willing to run the risk of “burning in hell,” as you suggest, for continuing to say God loves all people, including Muslims and Jews.
I hope this letter finds you in the best of health and happiness. My dear sir, the reason Islam is not in need of change is because Islam has always and will always be against terrorism and against the likes of bin Laden. The true Scholars of Islam had been warning against the evils of bin Laden long before September 11. The following is the proof for what I have stated, and there are many, many more similar articles and books written on the subject. May ALLAH guide us all to the truth. — Rasheed
RESPONSE: Rasheed, thanks for the link to the articles on why bin Laden is not a good Muslim. You refer to “true scholars of Islam” who condemn terrorism. What makes them true? As a peace-loving Muslim you have a long way to go before you can rescue the name of Islam. Why aren’t the true scholars organizing massive protests against Islamic terror? A few websites are not enough. I wish you well in your noble and important task.
It's a shame that it takes a Catholic priest to speak the obvious truth about Islam. Where are the voices of supposed peaceful Muslim leaders and followers condemning Islamic terrorism? Why are millions of Muslims not marching in the streets protesting the hijacking of their peaceful religion by radical, blood-thirsty fundamentalists? There is nary a peep of protest from the majority of Muslims when heinous terrorist acts are launched on innocents, such as just happened in Egypt. Perhaps, like the emperor with no clothes, the obvious conclusion is that Islam is not a religion of peace but a diabolical cancer that threatens all of civilization. — Gary (Akron, Ohio)
RESPONSE: Gary, as you can see from my response to Rasheed, you and I are on the same page on this one. To be fair, we have to acknowledge that there are a few courageous Muslim voices that have spoken up, including the issuance of fatwas condemning violence. What we haven’t seen is an effective coordination of these voices and the rallying of the masses. Until this happens, the minds and hearts of Muslims worldwide will be most affected by the likes of bin Laden and Zarqawi. As I hinted in the blog, I think the masses will only be moved to peace when respected Muslim scholars can provide convincing and acceptable theological responses to the boisterous radical clerics. Some say it is not possible, I say it is. It will take a long, long time.
Once again your little article shows how alarmingly ignorant of God and of other religions, especially Islam, you and most Christians are. As long as you do not believe in the last revelation of God you have no right to mention God and Islam, for you speak out of utter ignorance. This what God says about people like you:
"And if ye are in doubt as to what We have revealed from time to time to Our servant, then produce a Sura like thereunto; and call your witnesses or helpers (If there are any) besides Allah, if your (doubts) are true. But if ye cannot — and of a surety ye cannot — then fear the Fire whose fuel is men and stones, which is prepared for those who reject Faith." (Chapter I, verses 23 and 24; The Holy Koran)
RESPONSE: Dear sir, you say that unless I believe in the last revelation of God, I have no right to mention his name. In other words, I can only speak of God if I convert to Islam. That attitude leads to war and death. It is not true religion. Thank God, there are some imams who would disagree with you. I hope they speak up.
Thank you, Father Jonathan, for saying what I have thought but was not able to put into words. I am a Christian and know that GOD is love and his love is perfect. I cannot understand a God that preaches hate, condones deceit and promotes his follows to kill innocents. We must pray with all our hearts that the true and living GOD will intervene. We must pray for love beyond our limits. We must pray. Blessings — Ann
RESPONSE: Yes, Ann, prayer and action. They go together.
Your column, "A Peaceful Koran?" is not accurate. Muslim believers are to follow those parts of the Qur'an which are clearly stated, and in which the meaning is precise. Those parts which are not clear are only understood by God, and are not open to interpretation. Those who try to intrepret those unclear and imprecise parts, are unbelievers.
Please stop assisting our enemies in their efforts to brainwash the American people, by misinterpreting a book that forbids interpretation. The Qur'an is quite clear and precise in describing Islam's hatred of everything non-Muslim. Our enemies do not need your help! — David, Florida
RESPONSE: David, Muslims say they believe in the God of Abraham, the same God of Christians and Jews. The writings of the Koran have elements that do not coincide with what we know of this God. We are not going to tell one billion people, with any success, their religion has no value. Instead, we pray their leaders will have the courage to reject the falsities and accept the truth of the God in whom they profess faith.
My name is Julie. I am a senior in college. During my down time, I really enjoy reading your blog. I am Lutheran and don't always agree with the Catholic Church, but I will say that you are a step above the rest. I like how you keep an open mind knowing that everyone is not going to agree with you. Thank you for keeping our best interests in mind no matter what our background is. Keep up the good work and I will keep reading in between homework and work! Thanks again — Julie (Minnesota)
RESPONSE: Julie, thanks a lot. You make me think I might not be as crazy as some have said. I’m posting your note as it represents the majority of the responses received. You guys are the ones who keep me writing!!
God gave you the gift of words so you weave them in to a fabric that resembles logic, but is really nonsense. Father, you are a 24-carat demagogue. But I agree with everything you think about bin Laden (and I can add some more of my own about him and the response of the Islamic world to bin Laden). Islam has a long, long way to go before it is a mature system capable of keeping up with progress. Islam is today where Christianity was at the time of the Inquisition. — Ara Y., M.D.
RESPONSE: Ara, thanks for taking the time to write in. I’ve been called a lot of things, but “a 24-carat demagogue” takes the prize. I would have to disagree with your comparison of Christianity during the times of the Inquisition to Islam today. I wish Islam were on the verge of a “renaissance.” I don’t see that happening for quite a while. I hope I’m wrong.
Write to Father Jonathan at email@example.com.