For four years historic Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Syracuse, New York, stood empty – the victim of changing demographics and declining enrollment. In 2014, the church was sold to a Muslim group that planned to reopen it as a mosque which they would call the “Mosque of Jesus, Son of Mary.” Which was great, except for one thing: The Muslims insisted that six stone crosses be removed from the roof of the building. Catholics and other Christians didn't like that.
Why did it matter to the Muslims that there be no representation of Christ's cross on their new mosque? Well, in Islam, religious symbols of any kind are barred from places of worship. More than that, though, the Muslims have a different understanding of Christ. According to Islam, Jesus is a prophet, one of God's greatest messengers. They call him “Jesus, son of Mary” but they most definitely do not believe that he was God. (In fact, to claim that Christ is divine is considered the greatest of blasphemies.) Oh, and according to the Koran, Jesus was never crucified. If he were, that would mean that he had died; and Muslims believe Jesus neither died, nor rose from the dead. “The crosses,” explained one of the Muslim organizers, “are not an appropriate representation of the religion of Islam.”
To be sure, there are parallels between Islam and the Christian faith. Both believe that there is only one God, the God of Abraham. Both understand Jerusalem to be a holy city, and both faiths believe that we can have a special relationship with God. But the Christian understanding of God as Father (Abba) is offensive to Muslims, who see themselves as slaves or servants to God (Allah), and not his precious children. Dr. Scott Hahn explains the difference in an excerpt from a popular talk he delivered at the 2011 Defending the Faith Conference at Franciscan University of Steubenville. The talk was titled “Abba or Allah: The Difference it Makes”; the excerpt linked here was titled “Blasphemy with Breakfast.” “For the last quarter of a century,” said Dr. Hahn, “I have shared a conviction with a growing number of people that Islam really does represent the single greatest force of the third millennium and also the single greatest challenge and threat to Christianity worldwide.”
Three new books delve into the religion of Islam, each from a different perspective.
An Opportunity for Deeper Study
One of the most substantive analyses of Islam from a Christian perspective is David Pinault's The Crucifix on Mecca's Front Porch: A Christian's Companion for the Study of Islam (Ignatius Press, 2018). Dr. Pinault is Director of Religious Studies and Director of the Arabic, Islamic, and Middle Eastern Studies Program at Santa Clara University. Dr. Pinault has a sense of mission, made more urgent in recent years by the growth of Islamic terrorist and militant groups, the harm inflicted by Islamists on Christian minority populations, and da 'wah (Islamic evangelizing) by Muslim missionaries. “As a Catholic teaching courses on Islam at a Jesuit Christian university,” Pinault writes,
“...I structure my courses from a comparative perspective. My goal: to ensure that even as students become acquainted with Islamic doctrines, they also learn what is distinctive and uniquely precious about the Christian tradition.”
That goal is evident in The Crucifix on Mecca's Front Porch, as well. Pinault begins with a chapter on “How Studying Islam Can Help Make Us Better Christians.” He throws open the door on controversial teachings, such as Islam's endorsement of violence for the cause of conversion, and its perception of weakness and suffering (such as that endured by Christ on the Cross) as “ungodlike.” He shows how the Jesus whose story is barely touched on in the Koran, who speaks from his cradle to say “I am Allah's servant,” is unlike the Jesus we know from the Gospels.
Christ's Cross is a stumbling block for Islam, which rejects any perceived weakness in its prophets. Pinault explains how the Islamic narrative insists that Jesus was never really crucified; instead, “a likeness was made to appear” to onlookers of the Cross. Allah, Muslims believe, raised Jesus up to himself, while substituting another of the Jews, perhaps Judas, in a “docetic crucifixion” – a “seeming” rather than an actual crucifixion.
In more than 400 pages, Pinault shines the spotlight on Islam's intolerance and its complicated history of repression. He arms the reader to stand against Da 'wah (the Islamic attempts to convert Christians to the Muslim faith) and to promote the truth of Christ crucified. The book ends with a glossary, an exhaustive bibliography and a general index, as well as a biblical index which cites every scripture reference by page, and a Koranic index.
A Historical Perspective in the Years Since 9/11
Since the Islamic attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001, the Western world has been rocked by shocking mass murders committed in the name of Islam. Paris, San Bernardino, Orlando, Manchester.... these and other cities have fallen victim to terrorist attacks which have plagued the West in the years from 2002 to 2018. In On Islam: A Chronological Record, 2002 – 2018 (Ignatius Press, 2018), acclaimed political philosopher Fr. James Schall, S.J. chronicles the incidents and uses the stories as backdrop for a deeper analysis of the Muslim faith. Martyrdom and suicide bombers; politics and physics; rereading Regensburg; “dialoguing” with Islam; the future of ISIS.... these thorny topics and more benefit from Father Schall's keen insights.
A Personal Faith Journey from the Koran to the Catholic Church
Unlike the first two books, which offer analysis of Islam's tenets and practices, From Islam to Christ: One Woman's Path Through the Riddles of God by Derya Little (Ignatius Press, 2017) is a deeply personal story about a quest for truth that led the author from the Muslim religion of her youth, to atheism, then to evangelical Christianity, and finally, to the Catholic Church.
Derya Little was born and raised in Muslim Turkey, and began her life in the Islamic faith. Her parents' tumultuous marriage ended in divorce when Derya was a preteen, and she found herself doubting the faith of her parents, eventually becoming atheist. At age 13, Derya was exposed to the writing of Turan Dursun, particularly his book on Islam, This Is Religion: God and the Quran, which laid out the shortcomings and contradictions of Allah and Muhammed. She came to understand that Muhammed was violent, power-hungry and manipulative, and she believed that he devised messages from Allah to satisfy his sexual hunger.
When Derya attempted to persuade a Christian missionary that there is no God, she was surprised instead to be convinced of the truth of Christ; and she converted to evangelicalism. Later, as a Christian youth minister at a Turkish university, she embarked on a comparative study of the teachings of Protestantism and Catholicism. During her doctoral studies in England, she took the final step: Derya joined the Catholic Church. Her story is compelling and well-written.
A Reading List on Islam
If you're interested in the Catholic perspective on Islam and want to continue your study, you may appreciate the following older titles:
- Religion of Peace? Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn't by Robert Spencer (Regnery Publishing, 2007)
- Inside Islam: A Guide for Catholics by Daniel Ali and Robert Spencer, with an introduction by Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J. (Ascension Press, 2003)
- The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam, and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace by Paul Moses (Doubleday Religion, 2009)
- 20 Answers- Islam (20 Answers Series from Catholic Answers Book 6) by Andrew Bieszad (Catholic Answers Press, 2015)