When even "Sentire Cum Ecclesia" has to whisper…

Spengler (a writer whom I enjoy reading immensely) wrote a piece some time ago called “When even the Pope has to whisper”. Now he has a related column entitled “The Koranic Quotations Trap”. Both peices are well worth reading. I point you too them because, while I would also like to explore such questions in this forum, “I do not want rocks thrown through my window” (as Nino Culotta, the pseudonymous author of “They’re a Weird Mob“, wrote in his preface)…or worse.

Since reading Sandro Magister’s “Final Appeal” to save Christian Iraq on Monday and listening to >Rosie Malek-Yonan and >Fr Kahil Samir SJ on the Religion Report yesterday, the volume has been turned up for me on what has long been a vague twinge of the conscience–the fact that I work in the area of interfaith relations, and yet (just as Palestine-Israel questions are usually out of bounds for Muslim-Jewish dialogue in this country) so in our Christain-Muslim dialogue in Australia, the current treatment of Christians in many (not all) predominantly Muslim countries goes without mention.

But I don’t know exactly what to do about it. Sure, I get the advice about what I should tell “those people“, but our dialogue partners would (rightly) protest that they are not the ones committing these atrocities. See for instance the article about Hirsi Ali and her fight against female circumcision in yesterday’s edition of The Age. The Islamic Women’s Welfare Council here in Melbourne is right to protest that “we don’t do that” and “it isn’t Islamic”, but the problem is that it IS being done by people who ARE calling themselves Muslim (and, as she points out, Christian also, but I have no facts to know whether that is true or not). Blaming Melbourne Muslims for the atrocities committed in the name of Islam against Christians overseas is obviously not the way to go. That will achieve nothing.

I guess the thing that we have to say to our dialogue partners here in Melbourne is: We know you are not the ones doing this. We know you are not intending to introduce such practices in Australia. And we hear you when you say of atrocities against human rights “this is not authentic Islam”, and when you say “Islam is a religion of peace”, and when you quote the Koran as saying: “There is no compulsion in religion”. But what we want to know is what can we do together to help those members of the Ummah (the Muslim Brother/sisterhood) overseas to understand this in the way that you do. We want to know what we can do to foster the same interpretation of Islam overseas that we see you modelling here in Australia.

Now in actual fact, things are happening in this regard, thanks to the Islamic Council of Victoria. In just the last six months, the Commission has welcomed three groups of young muslim scholars (six men and four women) from Indonesia brought out to Australia by the ICV. These young people–philosophers, lecturers, youth workers, public thinkers–were all associated with Islamic reform movements in Indonesia. They are up against a huge battle–against fatwahs that they believe go totally against the grain of authentic Islam–but they are beginning to do the work that is necessary to allow Islam to find a way of peacefully coexisting with and contributing to human society as a whole. They are, in fact, beginning to address just those issues that Spengler raises in his articles. I hope they don’t get rocks thrown through their windows…or worse. More than that, I pray that God–Allah–will give them courage to continue their witness to “authentic” Islam.

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15 Responses to When even "Sentire Cum Ecclesia" has to whisper…

  1. LYL says:

    Blaming Melbourne Muslims for the atrocities committed in the name of Islam against Christians overseas is obviously not the way to go. That will achieve nothing.

    Perhaps you could just suggest that they speak out more against these things. The fact that most muslims appear to be silent about the real persecution of Christians o/s make some of us wonder whether perhaps they approve.

    I am not entirely certain that Islam can ever really be a peaceful religion if practised fervently. I am sure that luke-warm muslims can be peaceful, but it’s the fervent ones I worry about.

    I think it’s up to Aussie muslims to demonstrate to the rest of us that they don’t wish to lop off our heads (or approve if their co-religionists do it).

    The Pope has the right idea – reciprocity. If muslims wish to be treated well in non-muslim countries, they should treat non-muslims well in their own countries.

  2. Schütz says:

    It is, I think, a matter of perceptions on both sides. Non-Muslim Australians perceive Muslim Australian’s silence (or their protests of personal innocence) to be tacit approval for what is happening. They perceive our outcries as attempts to blame them or their religion for these atrocities. We both have to get past this point of mistaken perceptions so we can hear eachother and do something constructive.

  3. Paul T. McCain says:

    The reality that results when nations become Islamist is, quite frankly, terrifying. It is why Turkey is in an uproar at the prospect of even a modicum of Islamist influence in its political and societal life.

    The point I’ve been making for several years is that it is all well and good for Musims in democracies to say that terrorist behavior, “Is not Islam” but those words are empty and hollow when the fact is that terrorist and harsh and brutal behaviors are in fact Islam.

    The question always to put to Muslims is this: “If it were possible to have Sharia law instituted in this country, would you support that?”

    A huge number of Muslims around the world do support Sharia law and harsh measures to repress Christianity and persecute.

    The Koran does encourage the violent “conversion” of the infidel and does clearly teach that those who kill non-Muslims are rewarded by Allah.

  4. LYL says:

    They perceive our outcries as attempts to blame them or their religion for these atrocities.

    I think they really need to demonstrate that we are wrong, but I’m not sure whether they can, for the reasons Paul has just mentioned.

    What I really want to know is whether it is possible to live peacefully with muslims once they get to be bigger than a tiny minority. I hate to say it, but I am doubtful. They have been wlecomed into our country, they do have to prove we were not mistaken in allowing them in. I think that’s pretty reasonable.

  5. Peter says:

    I think if you asked Hirsi Aali or any of the other victims of Sharia law they would vote against such a manifestation of Islam. (Admittedly Hirsi now claims to be an athiest, but there are Australians I could use as examples if I dared naming them here.)

    When the US government is openly advocating torture as an ‘intelligence technique’ (and other euphamisms) and this is being vigorously defended by the rleigious right, we could excuse Muslims from thinking “if they say this isn’t legitimate Christianity, why aren’t they all denouncing it as un-Christian?”

    The Catholic Church is. Even if several prominent Catholic figures have come under vicious personal attack after doing so.

  6. Schütz says:

    Thank you Peter. I have just received an email from a Muslim who takes just this approach: ie. It is un-Islamic to commit these acts, therefore those who commit them are not true Muslims (or “bad” Muslims). A true Islamic state protects religious minorities.

    And yes, I agree with your suggestion of the appropriate response.

  7. Anonymous says:


    I think you are right to be concerned. I don’t believe any kind of oppression can be a true expression of faith in the One God.

    I also think you are spot on when you say (as I think you do) that it is people in these countries who are the ones who we should support in their struggles of conscience. I have been extremely impressed by most of the Indonesians who have come over on the exchange – particularly the hope and vision many express, as Indonesia was a lot more ‘down’ when I last lived there, having just experienced a financial crisis. However, as people in the privileged West (and that includes Muslims), we may need to be careful about how we support those who are struggling. They may be struggling for something slightly different to what we expect, which they have a perfect right to do. Also, as Hanifa Deen says in the article you mentioned in the Age yesterday, change is happening throughout the Muslim world, but belligerent attitudes and finger-pointing only serve to put everyone on the defensive, which only slows things down.

    But by all means, let’s discuss the issues fairly and calmly, and perhaps agree to disagree. I don’t think we can do much worse than move incrementally closer towards better understanding of what are surely very complex issues. For example, I think the issues some of the other Muslim respondents raise are relevant, if only for the fact that they (and many other Muslims) believe they are. Perhaps we can begin there.


  8. Peregrinus says:

    I think we need to be a bit careful before pointing what is happening to Christians in Iraq (and indeed other Muslim countries) at the moment, and using it to argue that Islam is inherently violent, or intolerant, or has inherent propensities in that direction.

    We need to remember that Iraq has been a Muslim-dominated society for fourteen centuries, and indeed for thirteen of those centuries had an explicitly Islamic government. And throughout that time it sustained thriving Christian and Jewish minorities. Yes, they were in many ways disadvantaged and discriminated against, and some times were worse than others in this regard, but Christians and Jews had an enduring and significant place in society (and at the time in question generally faired better than Jews and Muslims in Christian dominated societies). It is only in our own time – less than the last hundred years – that these communities have been depleted and are now on the verge of being destroyed.

    It’s not likely, then, that it is the faith or ideology of Islam which is the principal cause of their destruction. If it were, why has it taken thirteen centuries of Islamic domination to reach this point? Ferdinand and Isabella managed it in less than thirty years. Yes, Islam is often invoked by those who are currently attacking Christians, but for us to say that Islam is inherently oppressive and violent towards other Abrahamic faiths is for us to assert that this is a true expression of Islam, and the previous thirteen centuries of tolerance, accommodation and even to some extent protection are not. I can’t avoid the suspicion that people who assert that brutal Islamism is a true expression of Islam are driven more by their own need or desire to see Islam in that light than by a dispassionate consideration of the available facts.

    I think if we want to understand what is currently happening to Jewish and Christian minorities in the Middle East we need to look a little further than simply saying “Islam. Clearly, we need to ask what has changed in our time, or what additional factor has come into play, which has caused this.

    We do not need to assert that it’s the evil Americans or the evil West or evil colonialism or whatever. The world is not divided into good guys and bad guys such that, if Islam is not evil, the West must be. The reality is likely to be more complex than that, and there is, sadly, plenty of evil to share between all parties.

    In short, the argument that “Islam is inherently oppressive and violent” simply doesn’t measure up against the facts of history.

    A more plausible argument might be that Islam – the culture, if not the religion – has latent within it impulses of oppression and violence which, in the right circumstances, will manifest themselves against non-Muslim minorities. But if we are honest there is abundant historical evidence for saying pretty much the same thing about Christianity, isn’t there? We just happen to be living in a moment when those tendencies are manifesting themselves more in Islam (or, at least, that’s our perception), but what does that prove?

  9. Schütz says:

    Good post, Peregrinus. Good points. Thanks for the contribution.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Dear David
    Your Blog article raises some serious issues.

    1. The persecution of Christians or anyone else in Iraq is an injustice and should be opposed by people of any faith. In other words persecution of anyone by anyone, anywhere is unjust. We should all name, expose and oppose it in the name of our faith as well as human justice.

    2. The destruction of Iraq and the suffering inflicted on its people of all faiths by the US & allies, is likewise unjust, destructive and evil and should be named, exposed and opposed by all of us. This atrocity is being waged by people who would claim to be Christians…are active Christians in fact. They are a profound embarrassment to all Christians though many collude with them.

    3. None of our faith traditions can claim the moral high ground. All are guilty of atrocities, persecutions, wars, oppression etc. All stray from the teaching of their founder. All are guilty of using other faith traditions as an excuse for letting their dark side loose. All succumb to the temptations of power. All collude with power structures which are contrary to their own beliefs. All share in humanity’s dark side, (as do people of no faith.) The tragedy is that the dark side can so easily overshadow the positive contributions which all traditions make to human life and society and make it easy for those who would deny all religion.

    4. Christians as the majority tradition in Australia should be much more proactive in fighting prejudice and in justice whatever form it takes. We need to confess that this prejudice often has Christian origins and that we collude with it. In world terms we are often on the side of those who seek to dominate. Other traditions will have their own confessions to make.

    5. On a more positive note, a way forward may be to encourage our traditions to work harder to make common cause for justice and peace for all people. I have said repeatedly at JCMA conferences that the majority religion, the religion of the global free market which denies both God and humanity, is never present. ( or maybe it is but not named!) I believe this to be at the root of many of the problems between us. If we could all work together to point to a “higher way,” we might find it easier to deal with other things which divide us

  11. Schütz says:

    Schütz said…
    Pastor McCain,

    I understand that there is a difference between Sharia law and Islamic religion. The former does not have to follow the latter of necessity. It simply usually does because it is a very strong tradition. Encouraging reform movements within Islam to reflect on the relationship and on the relationship of Sharia Law to Human Rights is a necessary step.

    Further, Protestants should be very careful of saying “The Koran teaches…”. Catholics are more sensitive to the fact books do not “teach”, only human beings can “teach”. A human being can teach certain things on the basis of things written in a book (eg. the Bible or the Koran) but all such teaching depends on the human interpretation. Thus it is with Christianity and Judaism, and thus it is with Islam also. Reform movements within Islam may be instrumental in achieving an interpretation of the Koran more in keeping with universally accepted human rights.

    Louise, the best thing I can suggest is that you find one of your Muslim Australian neighbours and ask them. This will have the added benefit of breaking down our perjorative reference to Muslims as “they” and “them” and speaking of Australia as “our country”. The nation of Australia belongs as much to the Muslim citizen as it does to the Christian, Jewish, atheist, or whatever citizen. And many Australian Muslims were not “let in”–they are converts or people who were born and raised here.

    At the same time, I have received private mail from several Muslims in regard to this posting. I am grateful that they have made contact with me on the matter, but I don’t think that they have really grasped the situation as it stands in places like Iraq. I will admit that I have not yet had a response that recognises that Christians in Iraq really are being threatened, persecuted and harmed by their Muslim neighbours.

    One correspondent implied that Australian Muslims are powerless to have any effect on the international situation for the following reason:
    “You may remember a comment that I volunteered some time ago. I made the comment to a number of Australian Christians. I said that the difference between Muslims and Christians in this country is that the Christians cam a day earlier and grabbed all the goodies leaving nothing for Muslims. In the early days of colonising Australia, Churches were allowed to acquire as much land as they wanted. This is the basis of their “prosperity” and ability to get things done. Muslims in this country have NOTHING.”

    (second portion of this comment deleted at the request of the original author)

  12. Schütz says:

    A Muslim correspondent sent me this link to a Fatwah on the protection and tolerance of Christians and Jews.


    As I understand it, a fatwah is a theological/legal interpretation of Koranic teaching. The authority of a fatwah extends as far as the author’s expertise and scholarship is recognised and accepted.

    This particular fatwah is pretty well how I understood the Koranic Law relating to Christians and Jews. I guess the one bit of uneasiness I feel about the Fatwah you supplied is the line “According to the Qur’an, Muslims are required to deal with all people kindly and justly as long as they do not oppose or oppress Muslims or place obstacles in the way of spreading Islam.” My guess is that those who are attacking native Christian communities in Iraq are doing so because they perceive the Christians to be a threat in some sense. Fear usually motivates violence. Why do they fear the Christians now, after so many centuries of co-existence (as Peregrinus points out)? My only guess is that it is because they see the Christians as collaborators with their oppressors.

  13. Schütz says:

    Also, Pastor McCain mentioned that “Turkey is in an uproar at the prospect of even a modicum of Islamist influence in its political and societal life”. It is difficult for a Westerner to read the Turkish situation correctly, because the situation there does not match any paradigm we are used to. The fact is that there are secularist elements in Turkey which even Pastor McCain would be deeply uneasy about, and the uproar is not so much about “a modicum of Islamist influence” as any place for the person of faith whatsoever in the public sphere. The “uproar” has also been, to a large extent, orchestrated by certain secularist elements in the country. To be sure, there is fear involved there too.

  14. LYL says:

    This will have the added benefit of breaking down our perjorative reference to Muslims as “they” and “them” and speaking of Australia as “our country”.

    Sorry David, I don’t mean to be a pain in the butt (towards you) but the fact is, I’m not a muslim, so it makes no sense to me that I should refrain from “us/them” language (which I also apply to other groups of people).

    The nation of Australia belongs as much to the Muslim citizen as it does to the Christian, Jewish, atheist, or whatever citizen.

    Only insofar as whichever of these groups are happy to abide by our laws. I will go further and say that Australia was founded (yes, after the British invasion, but that’s history for you) upon the Gospel at least to the extent that it was still influencing Britain at the time. Any atheist who wants to stuff up this nation with their nonsense can take a running jump too, as far as I’m concerned.

    And many Australian Muslims were not “let in”–they are converts or people who were born and raised here.

    The above applies to these folk too. I am quite sure there are nice muslims in the community (I’ve only met a few myself and that was years ago), but all I’m saying is that I’m not sure a truly fervent muslim is actually able to refrain from the kinds of violence we are hearing about in various parts of the world. I do not consider Islam to be a monolith – if it were and with 1 billion or so muslims in the world, the whole world would be under sharia law by now.

    I’m just just saying that much as I would like to believe muslims can be the kind of fellow citizens I can live next door to (I am, after all, a product of my day and age) I’m just not so sure any more. I can’t see why the average Aussie peaceful muslim can’t speak up and be heard in denouncing the atrocities of people made in the name of their religion.

    And George W Bush has had plenty of criticism of his vile torture policies from Christians of every stripes at least on the internet.

  15. LYL says:

    And when I say things like,
    I can’t see why the average Aussie peaceful muslim can’t speak up and be heard in denouncing the atrocities of people made in the name of their religion.

    I only mean by writing letters to the editor and calling talk-back radio etc. You don’t need property and great wealth to do that kind of thing. But no, we have silence. From everyone. I’m getting sick of it.

    Every time there is talk of violence in religion, we always have to go back to the inquistion(s) and the crusades. What’s that – hundreds and hundreds of years ago?

    How much violence is committed by Christians at the moment in comparison with Islamic extremists?

    And please don’t anyone point to Dubya, for:
    1. I denounce his absurd policies
    2. He may not even be a true Christian himself (it’s hard to know with Yanks).

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