In the course of his 48-hour visit to the United Arab Emirates, Pope Francis addressed an “interreligious meeting” in Abu Dhabi on February 4 and celebrated an open-air Mass attended by 135,000 Catholic guest workers the following day. His homily at the city’s Zayed Sports Stadium, inspired by the Sermon on the Mount, was unremarkable but harmless. His address to “Fraternity Conference” on Monday night was not, and deserves close scrutiny. (The Pontiff’s words are in italics.)
“As-salamu alaykum! Peace be with you!”
Even the opening three words were hugely problematic. As-salamu alaykum is a wholly inappropriate greeting for a Christian to use under any circumstance; it defies belief that a pope would use it, even as an act of courtesy to his hosts. It is not a matter of dispute that as-salamu alaykum is a religious salutation among Muslims. Furthermore, according to authoritative Islamic sources, if a non-Muslim uses the salutation, a Muslim believer must not return it in its regular form. A “solid” hadith (Saheeh Muslim) is clear: “Do not initiate the greeting of salaam to a Jew or a Christian”; therefore “we can conclude that there may be a problem giving salam (or returning it) to non-Muslims.” Nurideen an-Nigeri of virtualmosque.com explains in detail that even those Islamic scholars who consider responding to salaam from a non-Muslim to be permissible agree that the reply should not be wa ?alaykum salam (“and peace be upon you too”), which is reserved for Muslims. To a kufr like Francis, the proper response is simply ‘wa’alaikum (“and upon you too”) or just Alaikum’ (“let it be upon you”) and no more. It would be interesting to check if the Muslims in attendance responded to Francis’s greeting, and in what exact form.
“I give heartfelt thanks to . . . Doctor Ahmad Al-Tayyib, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar . . . ”
As we have already pointed out in these pages, Sheikh al-Tayyib—the moving spirit of the Abu Dhabi meeting—is not a “leading moderate” as claimed by the pope, but a solid, orthodox Sunni Muslim cleric. As a Washington Post columnist has noted, “the Gulf state’s decision to present Sheikh al-Tayeb as a pope-like figure, able to speak for a wide swath of Muslims, is misleading at best and perhaps intentionally deceptive at worst.” This “moderate” approvingly affirms that Islam is both a religion and an ideological blueprint for governance. He accepts that a Muslim apostate “must either renounce his apostasy or else be killed.” When asked why Al Azhar refused to issue a formal statement denouncing the Islamic State, Tayyib responded: “Al Azhar cannot accuse any Muslim of being a kafir as long as he believes in Allah and the Last Day, even if he commits every atrocity . . . I cannot denounce ISIS as un-Islamic.” Al Azhar’s programs under him preach the renewal of the caliphate, hostility towards non-Muslim minorities, enforcing the jizya (poll tax for “infidels”), and stoning sexual transgressors. He turns a blind eye to the unceasing persecution of Coptic Christians.
“From your country, my thoughts turn to all the countries of this peninsula. To them I address my most cordial greetings, with friendship and esteem.”
This presumably includes the largest, richest and most populous country “of this peninsula,” the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It deserves neither friendship nor esteem for its barbarously repugnant treatment of Christians and other “infidels.” On the contrary, a Christian leader should feel obliged at least to refrain from addressing his warm feelings “to all the countries” in Arabia, and preferably to express regret that in most of the peninsula all non-Muslims are savagely oppressed. It should be noted that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MbZ)—the de facto rules of the Emirates who invited and lavishly hosted the pope—is simultaneously in cohorts with the murderous regime in Riyadh. The Holy See may be hoping the UAE ruler can exert influence on Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) to allow some freedom of worship in the desert kingdom and to stop exporting Wahhabism around the world, but there is a problem: Mohammed bin Zayed “is part of a double act with Mohammed bin Salman that, unintentionally or not, imperils Christians and other minorities seen as fifth columnists by the region’s Sunni majority.” He is also the weaker party: it is like the Pius XII asking Mussolini to exert moderating influence on Hitler.
“With a heart grateful to the Lord, in this eighth centenary of the meeting between Saint Francis of Assisi and Sultan al-Malik al Kamil, I have welcomed the opportunity to come here as a believer thirsting for peace, as a brother seeking peace with the brethren.”
St. Francis went to Egypt in 1219 and he did meet Sultan Malik al-Kamil, but that meeting was deucedly not an interfaith dialogue session in the spirit of tolerance and brotherly love, as may be concluded from the Pontiff’s very brief reference. Quite the contrary: St. Francis went to Egypt with the Christian army of the Fifth Crusade, intending to convert the Sultan or win martyrdom in the attempt. The visit is reported in contemporary Crusader sources: the Sultan received Francis, allowed him to preach to the Muslims without effect, and let him return to the Crusader camp. The episode gradually gained importance in later Catholic writings, especially after Bonaventure’s official biography of Francis, the Legenda maior. As with other episodes in the life of the saint it was subsequently expanded in legends and pictures, but in no guise does it appear to have been a precursor of Pope Francis’s jet-propelled peregrination to the Arabian Desert.
“Today, we too in the name of God, in order to safeguard peace, need to enter together as one family into an ark which can sail the stormy seas of the world: the ark of fraternity. The point of departure is the recognition that God is at the origin of the one human family. He who is the Creator of all things and of all persons wants us to live as brothers and sisters, dwelling in the common home of creation which he has given us.”
Muhammad’s “creator of all things and of all persons”—as extensively quoted in the Quran—does not want us “to live as brothers and sisters.” On the contrary, thanks to Muhammad’s Allah, Islam is the only major religious teaching in human history with a developed doctrine, theology, and legal system of mandatory violence against non-believers. This fact resulted in Islam becoming the earliest ideology that adopted terrorism as a systemic tool of policy, not as a temporary and unwelcome expedient. To wit, the Jews of the Old Testament exterminated non-Jews in the name of their God, but they did so after a specific commandment against specified enemies. With Islam the command is open-ended and the enemy is the universal other.
“We cannot honour the Creator without cherishing the sacredness of every person and of every human life: each person is equally precious in the eyes of God, who does not look upon the human family with a preferential gaze that excludes, but with a benevolent gaze that includes . . . In the name of God the Creator, therefore, every form of violence must be condemned without hesitation, because we gravely profane God’s name when we use it to justify hatred and violence against a brother or sister. No violence can be justified in the name of religion.”
In reality, unlike the civilization based on Christianity to which warfare is a departure from normality, Islam is devoid of any reasoned principle of justice or moderation. Unlike the “just war” theory rooted in Christian mores, which has evolved into a secular concept instituted in international laws and domestic codes, Islamic jihad is an institution religious and political, that is divinely mandated and based on bloodshed. It engenders the paradigm of a permanent cosmic war. Antagonism towards the demonized “infidel” is rooted in the conviction that Islam is not only the true faith but the only faith with any truth. Humanity is divided between Muslims and kafirs, with Allah’s “preferential gaze” reserved for the former, and eternal torment for the latter.
“Religious behaviour needs continually to be purified from the recurrent temptation to judge others as enemies and adversaries. Each belief system is called to overcome the divide between friends and enemies, in order to take up the perspective of heaven, which embraces persons without privilege or discrimination.”
An observant Muslim will take this claim with a wry smile. He knows that, no matter how much a Muslim believer has been exposed to Western or secular thought, no matter which passport he carries or what clothes he wears, his instinctive first priority on meeting a stranger is to establish which side of the existential divide that person belongs. As influential Indian Muslim leader Maulana Muhammad Ali declared 95 years ago, “According to my religion and creed, I do hold an adulterous and a fallen Musalman to be better than Mr. Gandhi.” Antagonism towards non-Muslim religions, societies and cultures is not the trait shared by all Muslims, but it is an attitude mandated to all true Muslims and prevalent among many. Islam has thus emerged as a quasi-religious ideology of cultural and political imperialism that solidifies the conflict with other than itself and knows no natural limits to itself.
“I wish to express appreciation for the commitment of this nation to tolerating and guaranteeing freedom of worship, to confronting extremism and hatred. Even as the fundamental freedom to profess one’s own beliefs is promoted—this freedom being an intrinsic requirement for a human being’s self-realization—we need to be vigilant lest religion be instrumentalized and deny itself by allowing violence and terrorism.”
The commitment of the UAE to tolerance, guaranteed freedom of worship etc. is uncertain. As Dalia Hatuqa warned in The Washington Post (February 5), the pope “may have allowed himself to be a pawn as his Gulf interlocutors use him to bolster their facade as a tolerant, liberal society while suppressing diversity and freedom and waging war in Yemen . . . The UAE, critics also say, has a long history of faith-washing—using interfaith engagement to obscure its dismal human rights record, authoritarian governance and shared responsibility for one of the worst famines in living history, which resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Yemenis . . . ” As for the theological part of the quote, “intrinsic requirements for a human being’s self-realization” do not exist in Islam. There is no rationality behind it for human reason to discover, and every man’s “self-realization” is possible only in prostration and utter submission. There is no discernment of the consequences of deeds, and revelation and tradition must not be questioned. No other standard of good and evil can be invoked, least of all a notion of “intrinsic requirements.”
“[H]ow do we look after each other in the one human family? How do we nourish a fraternity which is not theoretical but translates into authentic fraternity? How can the inclusion of the other prevail over exclusion in the name of belonging to one’s own group? How, in short, can religions be channels of fraternity rather than barriers of separation?”
That question remains unanswered from the Muslim side. The fruits of Islam’s denial of natural morality and “one human family” are as predictable as they are grim, for the Muslims no less than for the “infidels” they oppress: both are enslaved, brutalized, and de-humanized.
“As human beings, and even more so as brothers and sisters, let us remind each other that nothing of what is human can remain foreign to us. It is important for the future to form open identities capable of overcoming the temptation to turn in on oneself and become rigid.”
Islam’s demand for an obedient servant’s unquestioning prostration before a capricious master whose commands have no rational basis does not create “temptation to become rigid,” it mandates rigidly. Any notion of freedom distinct from that implicit in that complete submission is forbidden and sinful. Even those Muslims who want to break free from the shackles of this mind-numbing legacy have a problem in the widespread support among their fellow traditional Muslims for the orthodox variety.
“A justice addressed only to family members, compatriots, believers of the same faith is a limping justice; it is a disguised injustice!”
Under “justice” Pope Francis significantly includes the alleged right of migrants, which in Europe tend to be overwhelmingly Muslim, to settle in traditionally Christian countries at will. He has repeatedly insisted that welcoming migrants and refugees is a moral imperative, notably so two years ago at the Sixth International Forum on Migration and Peace in Rome, when he asserted that “defending their inalienable rights” demands “just and far reaching political choices” based on “a duty of justice, of civility and of solidarity.”
“Here, in the desert, a way of fruitful development has been opened which, beginning from the creation of jobs, offers hope to many persons from a variety of nations, cultures and beliefs. Among them, many Christians too, whose presence in the region dates back centuries, have found opportunities and made a significant contribution to the growth and well-being of the country . . . The respect and tolerance they encounter, as well as the necessary places of worship where they pray, allow them a spiritual maturity which then benefits society as a whole. I encourage you to continue on this path . . . ”
The Emirates may be prosperous and full of “fruitful development,” but like the rest of the Muslim world the UAE is not a free country. As Bernard Lewis has noted, the all-pervasive lack of freedom – including freedom of the mind from constraint and indoctrination, freedom of women from male oppression, and freedom of citizens from tyranny—is the hallmark of the Muslim world. As for Francis’s claim about the “respect and tolerance [non-Muslims] encounter,” a 2017 US State Department report on religious freedom in the UAE points out that individuals belonging to non-Islamic faiths may “worship in private without government interference but faced restrictions on practicing their religion in public.” Religious minorities are not allowed to own land. Some have been granted temporary leases of land (not ownership!) by government officials, but the building of non-Muslim houses of worship is tightly controlled: there are only 45 of them. The building of bell towers and displaying crosses on roofs is not allowed. As for the “hope” and “opportunities” a reality check comes from The Daily Telegraph (18 May 2016): “here in the UAE . . . if you’re not one of the 11% of the country [of 9 million] that’s born Emirati, you’re an expat, allowed to stay only as long as you have a valid one-to three-year residence visa . . . The majority—53 per cent of the entire UAE population—are South Asians, some of whom earn as little as AED 700 [$160] a month.” There is no mechanism for naturalization, regardless of the years of legal residence.
“A fraternal living together, founded on education and justice; a human development built upon a welcoming inclusion and on the rights of all: these are the seeds of peace which the world’s religions are called to help flourish.”
As for the “fraternal living, welcoming inclusion and the rights of all” etc, apostasy is a capital crime in the Islamic world in general, the United Arab Emirates included. All UAE laws must be Sharia-compliant, including the notorious hudud, “crimes” and draconian punishments that are mandated and fixed by Allah himself. Article 1 and Article 66 of UAE Penal Code mandate death penalty for hudud. “When a regime like the UAE claims to represent moderate Islam and paints any alternative expression of Islam as extremist, the United States is more likely to ignore human rights violations against ‘terrorists’ and continue offering military and financial partnership,” Annelle Sheline, a political scientist at Rice University, wrote in 2017. According to The Financial Times commentator David Gardner,“Given that much-hyped changes in the Gulf are often about rebranding rather than reform, and against a backdrop of Mohammed bin Zayed’s muscular authoritarianism that has stamped out virtually all dissent and criticism, this was a propaganda coup for the UAE. It received the charismatic Argentine pontiff as a royal and a rock star.”
“Together, as brothers and sisters in the one human family willed by God, let us commit ourselves against the logic of armed power, against the monetization of relations, the arming of borders, the raising of walls, the gagging of the poor . . . ”
Ah, those walls! We’ve been there before . . . The Pontiff’s anti-wall obsession is eccentric. Had it not been for the walls, strongly built and defended, Christendom would not have survived the onslaught of Islam in its thousand-year-long period of military expansion (think Vienna in 1529 and 1683). Over two centuries earlier, in July 1456, some 6,000 Christian soldiers successfully defended the walls of Belgrade from Sultan Mehmed’s army of 50,000. During the siege Pope Callixtus III ordered the bells of all churches to be rung every day at noon, as a call for believers to pray for Belgrade’s defenders; that practice has continued to this day, even though not many people know its origins. In 1565 the walls of the Grand Harbor in today’s Valetta enabled 700 Knights Hospitaller, 2,000 Spanish and Italian soldiers, and 4,000 armed Maltese civilians to withstand an assault by 50,000 Turks and North African corsairs. Lest we forget, most of the Vatican is surrounded by walls that are 40 feet high and 12 feet thick. Enrico Maria Radaelli, a leading disciple of the late Romano Amerio, wondered aloud three years ago “what Pope Bergoglio thinks of the famous Leonine Walls, erected by his predecessor Pope St. Leo IV in 847 to defend Rome and the Pope’s residence from the Saracens . . . Was Pope Leo, sainted and responsible [for] many a miracle during his lifetime, not ‘a good Christian?’” And finally, in June 2007 I was received at the Vatican by Mgr. (now Cardinal) Pietro Parolin, who was at that time Undersecretary of State for Relations with States and is now Secretary of State. As expected, I had to pass through several checkpoints with metal detectors and other paraphernalia of strict border security. I have no reason to doubt that the friendly but efficient Swiss guards manning those “walls,” and thus preventing entry of uninvited strangers, were good Christians.
Conclusion—Pope Francis has missed yet another opportunity to make a clear and determined plea for the protection of the Christian remnant in the Middle East. He has offered numerous platitudes instead, most of them divorced from the grim reality of the Muslim world or the scriptural basis of Islam’s core teaching. His Arabian tour was a major victory for the upholders of Islamic orthodoxy, made possible by the fact that Pontiff’s understanding of Islam is deeply problematic. His claim that “authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence” is a statement both willfully self-deceptive and demonstrably false.
It is unclear if a reformed variety of Islam, which Pope Francis treats as a developing reality, will ever emerge that would be capable of “reflecting” upon jihad, Sharia, etc. Attempts to reformulate the doctrine are not new, but they have failed because they opposed centuries of orthodoxy. A small number of usually Western-educated Muslim intellectuals have been clamoring for, even heralding, the birth of a more user-friendly variety of their faith for over a century; but, as Clement Huart pointed out back in 1907,
“Until the newer conceptions, as to what the Koran teaches as to the duty of the believer towards non-believers, have spread further and have more generally leavened the mass of Moslem belief and opinion, it is the older and orthodox standpoint on this question which must be regarded by non-Moslems as representing Mohammedan teaching and as guiding Mohammedan action.”
Over a century later, the willingness of a few to become what are objectively bad Muslims, because they are willing to reject discriminatory and offensive tenets of historical Islam, may be laudable in human terms but it will do nothing to modify Islam as a doctrine. As Huart’s near-contemporary Sir William Muir noted, a reformed faith that should question the divine authority on which the institutions of Islam rest, or attempt by rationalistic selection or abatement to effect a change, would be Islam no longer. For the majority of Muslims, any such attempt will smack of heresy.
It is not the jihadists who are “distorting” Islam; the would-be reformers are. Islam, in Muhammad’s revelations, traditions and their codification, threatens the rest of us. Contrary to the Pontiff’s assertions, it is the religion of war and intolerance. It breeds a peculiar mindset, the one against which Burke warned when he wrote that “intemperate minds never can be free; their passions forge their fetters.” Until the petrodollars support a comprehensive and explicit Kuranic revisionism capable of growing popular roots, we should seek ways to defend ourselves by disengaging from the world of Islam, physically and figuratively, by learning to keep our distance from the affairs of the Muslim world, and by keeping the Muslim world away from “the world of war” that it seeks to conquer or destroy.
Worse still, Pope Francis demands of the faithful to cast aside any idea of “their land,” of a space that is European or American in the ethnic, geographic, and cultural sense, or “Christian” in any sense at all, a space that has an external boundary which should be protected from all those who covet it but to whom it does not belong by birthright. As William Kilpatrick has warned recently, “he is taking a huge gamble—not only with his own life, but with the lives of millions.”
It is perhaps understandable that Pope Francis and a legion of other wooly-headed Western liberals would like to have a reformed, friendly Islam as our global neighbor. Alas, Islam’s ability to reform itself—slim to start with—is further undermined by his ongoing appeasement of raw, unrepentant Islamic traditionalism.
Read Part I here.