Father Samir Khalil Samir, S.J. on Islam
An interview with the Islamic scholar and Catholic theologian born in Egypt and based in the Middle East for more than 20 years — Is Islam Part of God's Plan? His answer to the question posed in the title:
- This is a delicate but legitimate question. We can express it thus: "Insofar as what has been given to men to know about this, does Islam have a place in God's plan?"
In the course of history, Christians of the East have often asked themselves this question. The answer of Arab Christian theologians was: "God has permitted the birth of Islam to punish Christians for their infidelities." I think the truth about Islam leads back to the division between Eastern Christians, a division often due to nationalist and cultural motives hidden behind theological formulas. This situation impeded them from proclaiming the Good News to the peoples of the region, something that Islam has done partially.
Islam served to reaffirm faith in one God, the call to dedicate ourselves completely to him, to modify our life to adore him. It was a healthy reaction, in continuity with the Jewish and Christian biblical tradition. But in reality, to come to this it eliminated everything that created a bit of difficulty, in particular: the human and at the same time divine nature of Christ; the One and Triune God, who is dialogue and love; and the fact that Christ became obedient unto death on the cross, that he emptied himself, as St. Paul says, out of love for us.
Hence, it is a rationalized religion, not in the sense according to the Spirit and divine rationality, but in the sense of being simplified of those aspects that human reason cannot contain. Hence, Islam presents itself as the third and last revealed religion ... and for us, obviously, it isn't. After Christ -- whom the Quran recognizes as Word of God, Verbum of God -- it is incomprehensible that God sent another Word that is the Quran.
If the Quran was in agreement and served to clarify the Gospel, I would say: why not? Like the saints who throw light on the Gospel and on the person of Jesus. But here, no: it is in contradiction. That is why I cannot say that God has sent a prophet -- which would be Mohammed -- with a new revelation. Even less can I say of him that he is "the seal of the prophets," khatam al-nabiyyin, as the Quran states, namely, that he completes and corrects and leads the revelation of Christ to fulfillment.
- I think that for us Christians it is a stimulus to lead us back to the foundation of it all: God is the Only One, the Ultimate Reality -- which is the fundamental Jewish and Christian affirmation, taken up by the Quran in the beautiful sura 112: "Yes: God is the Only One! God is the Impenetrable One!" etc. An affirmation, which modern life runs the risk of making us forget. Islam reminds us that, if Christ is the center of the Christian faith, he is so always in relation with the Father; to remain in unity, even if the Quran has not managed to understand what the Holy Spirit is.
We are questioned every day by Muslims about our faith, and this leads us to rethink it constantly from the perspective of Islam. I thank Muslims for their criticisms, so long as they make them as reflection and not as controversy. I would say the same for Christians' questions.
Our vocation, that of us Christians of the East, is to live with Muslims, whether we like it or not. It is a mission! It is difficult, but we must live together. Because of this, I would say that it falls to Muslims to defend the Christian presence, and to Christians to defend the Muslim presence. It is not up to each one of us, in fact, to defend ourselves, as this would lead to confrontation.
Therefore, I hope that the synod on the Middle East , which will take place Oct. 10-24, will help us Christians of the West and the East, but that it might also help Muslims, to rethink the meaning of the divine plan that we must rediscover in friendship and at times in confrontation: why are we together in this land of the Middle East, which is the land of Jesus -- certainly -- but also the land of Moses and Mohammed? This land must truly come to be "Holy Land."