Mmm. That seems to be the approach of some Christian commentators re Islam. For that matter, the same approach has a long tradition in Protestant commentary on the errors of Catholicism. John Allen, in this week’s All Things Catholic has an interview with Jesuit Fr Daniel Madigan who makes the following comment:
“Its no use staging a dialogue in the 21st Century on teh basis of perceptions formed six centuries ago. The key is to sit down with individual Muslims and ask, ‘Where do you stand? How do you justify that? What can I expect from you?’ We can’t tell them what we think they believe, and then criticize what we think they believe.”
But that is exactly what I come across again and again. Dialogue does not begin with us telling them what they believe. It begins with listening to them tell us what they believe. And believing them.
I had a dialogue recently with a non-catholic chap who, after a while, started telling me that I was pulling his leg about Catholic doctrine and trying to “fool” him, because he knew what we Catholics believed and it wasn’t what I was telling him. Where had he learnt his “facts” about the Catholic faith? From a website by an ex-priest who left the Church and is now a stridently anti-Catholic Evangelical preacher.
I therefore have some sympathy with those Muslims who complain when Christians use anti-Muslim publications and websites to form their understanding of Islam. These Christians are the ones who, when told of Muslims who promote peace and freedom of religion and who denouce terrorism, respond by saying: “Yeah, but that isn’t true Islam, is it?”
And what about the old “Yeah, but they are taught to lie, aren’t they? You can’t trust them. What they tell you and what they really believe are two different things.” Give me a break. That’s a worse situation than poor Brian in the Monty Python film when he is told that “only the true Messiah would deny his divinity.” As Brian says, what chance does that give us?
Who the bloody hell are we to tell them what is and what is not “true Islam”? And, moreover, who are we (who can’t even read Arabic and have no training whatsoever in Koranic exegesis) to tell them what the Koran does and doesn’t say on the basis of reading a translation (or, as our Islamic friends insist, an “interpretation”)? And when we don’t even take the time to check out whether or not the translation is kosher (or should that be Hallal?). His Eminence George Cardinal Pell, bless his little red cotton socks, learnt the hard way recently how important it is to take note of who the translator is if you are making a reference to an English translation of the Koran.
Dear Catholic friends reading this blog: Please do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If you don’t like other people forming their opinion of your faith on the basis of the rantings and ramblings anti-Catholic polemicists, don’t form your notion of their faith on the basis of information clearly biased against them. If you want to find out about Islam, talk to a Muslim (they don’t bite, you know). Or at least read something written by a Muslim (such as this PDF file).
And if the golden rule isn’t enough for you, perhaps the eighth commandment will help: Do not bear false witness against your neighbour–or take note of false witness against them. Learn the truth, and learn to trust that what they say. You might say, “Yeah, I’ll trust them when they start to do x, y and z”, but thank God that it was while we were yet sinners that he began his great dialogue of love with us. As Dan Madigan said to John Allen:
“The message of the New Testament begins with grace, with God’s gratuity towards humanity… It’s the same thing in the Christain approach to dialogue. We must be ready to listen, to discuss. We have to make it clear that we’re going to be there, eveing if you’re not taking notice. We hope that will gradually transform the other.”