by Father Joseph Zwosta
In recent months, people of goodwill throughout the world have been horrified by the violence perpetrated by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).
Thousands of Christians and other religious minorities have been forced to leave their homes. Women have been raped. Children have been tortured. Countless innocent people have been brutally murdered – some by crucifixion and beheading. The perpetrators of these atrocities have succeeded in creating a de facto country in which a strict interpretation of Islamic law is enforced and in which only those who subscribe to a particular form of Islam are permitted to remain alive.
A few weeks ago, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, the official Vatican office dedicated to relations between the Catholic Church and non-Christians, issued a statement decrying the “unspeakable criminal acts” of ISIS terrorists. The statement went on to call for religious leaders, especially Muslims, to be “unanimous in condemning unequivocally these crimes and in denouncing the use of religion to justify them. If not, what credibility will religions, their followers and their leaders have? What credibility can the interreligious dialogue that we have patiently pursued over recent years have?”
Several prominent Muslim organizations in the U.S. have publically condemned ISIS. The Islamic Society of North America has denounced the terrorist group for its “attacks on Iraq’s religious minorities and the destruction of their places of worship.” The Muslim Public Affairs Council has strongly condemned “the extreme and repugnant principles and actions” of ISIS. The Imams Council of the Michigan Muslim Community Council has similarly decried the “continuing atrocities committed by the extremist group.”
Most of the Muslim condemnations of ISIS insist that the group’s brutal tactics contradict the authentic teachings of Islam. Such condemnations point to passages in the Koran that rule out violence and compulsion in the name of religion. On the other hand, Muslim extremists often refer to other parts of the Koran that seem to justify the spread of Islam via the sword.
Moderate Voices Needed
The interpretation of the Koran, like the interpretation of the Bible, is a complex matter with various approaches and theories. However, numerous Muslim scholars throughout the world work to promote an interpretation of the Koran and of Islam that is peaceful and respectful of the rights of other religions. Unfortunately, such moderate voices are not widely promoted by the news media.
The Catholic Church has worked for almost 50 years on the international, national and local levels to improve her relations with Muslims, to engage in dialogue on various issues of common concern and to promote peace.
“Nostra Aetate,” the Second Vatican Council’s “Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions,” has guided the Church in these endeavors. Additionally, every pope since Vatican II has reaffirmed the Church’s commitment to dialogue with other religions in general and with Muslims in particular.
The Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recently reaffirmed its commitment to “building networks of dialogue that can overcome ignorance, extremism, and discrimination and so lead to friendship and trust with Muslims.”
Such networks of dialogue will never be built with those who subscribe to the ideology and tactics of ISIS and other Muslim extremists. They can only be built together with those who are committed to peace and to collaboration with other faiths.
Fortunately, many Muslims have demonstrated their commitment to combating extremist interpretations of Islam and to working with members of other faiths to improve our society.
Catholics ought to encourage such efforts, make them better known and pray for stronger, more peaceful relations between Christians and Muslims throughout the world.