What exactly is the nature of Islam?
- Is Islam itself evil -- or only certain interpretations of it?
- Can Islam be reformed -- or is that impossible by its very nature?
- Should we encourage "moderate" Muslims -- or is that just wasted effort?
Ever since 9/11, Americans have been asking themselves these questions.
Christians often ask an additional question:
- Is it worthwhile, or even morally right, for the Church to "dialogue" with Muslims -- or should all our effort be focused on converting them?
Personally, I've gone back and forth on these questions more times than Barack Obama's head goes back and forth when he gives a speech. As a Christian, and particularly as a Catholic, I feel like I get mixed messages from Scripture, history, Church teaching, and reason. Christians from St. Thomas Aquinas to C.S. Lewis, and all the way back to St. Paul (see Romans 1:19-20; Acts 17:22-28), have explained that God reveals Himself even to those who have never heard the name of Jesus, and that glimmerings of truth exist within other religions. In the words of Nostra Aetate, the Vatican II declaration on the relationship of the Church to non-Christian religions,
The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. [emphasis mine]
Of Muslims (note: Muslim persons, not Islam itself) the document states:
The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth....
On the other hand, St. Paul said to "test the spirits" to discern whether they're good or evil, and Jesus said we can judge a tree by its fruit.
Roy H. Schoeman, a Jewish Catholic, in his book Salvation Is from the Jews, has this to say about Islam:
[Satan] has one goal -- to deprive man of salvation, of eternal happiness -- and one of the ways to achieve that is through the propagation of false religion, the primary victims of which are its own adherents.... Of all the major religions of the world, only Islam arose after God's full revelation of Himself to man in His incarnation in the person of Jesus Christ.... Only Islam's revelation came after Christ, aware of Christianity yet contradicting it. Hence one must ask what the source of the revelation was -- was it of human or of supernatural origin? If of supernatural origin, did it come from God or from fallen spirits?... One must ask just what spiritual entity lies behind the revelation of Islam. [pp. 295-300]
And yet... I believe that beauty is one of God's attributes, and I have personally seen and heard things within Islam that are stunningly beautiful -- Sufi dancing (in which I have even participated), the poetry of Rumi, the goosebump-inducing sound of certain Muslim melodies.
On the other hand, when I tried to read the Qur'an for myself, I had to stop, because it so disgusted and outraged me that I could not continue. It's as if someone tore all the pages out of the Bible, discarded 90% of them, put the remaining 10% through a shredder, cut and pasted the shreds together randomly, then tried to cover the ugliness of the pastiche by throwing a lot of overly flowery language over it.
But that's just my subjective opinion. If we want to stick to more objective criteria, we can look at the statistics on the cold, hard facts of life in Islamic countries, such as clitorectomy, polygamy, burqas, honor killings, forced child marriages, wife-beating, domestic imprisonment, acid attacks, gang rapes, and other cruelties toward Muslim women and girls.
So... Is Islam the direct work of the devil, and was Muhammad possessed by demons? Or, is Islam merely a very faulty instrument that God in His omnipotence and mercy can use, anyway, to reach His beloved human creatures -- kind of like the way a cheap toy flute, with badly spaced holes and flimsy keys, might still make music in the hands of a master?
Should Western Christians band together with virtuous atheists, such as the late Oriana Fallaci, to fight the anti-human cult of Islam? Or, should we join forces with Muslims of goodwill in order to combat what may be the even greater evil of secularism, what Pope Benedict XVI termed the "dictatorship of relativism"?
Can Islam be reformed and made compatible with the modern world of progress, liberty and individual rights? Or, is it inherently unreformable?
To stage a debate on the question, "Can Islam be reformed?" you'd be hard-pressed to find two more qualified and articulate principals than the two men you'll see in the video below.
For the affirmative, we have Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, who is, hands down, my favorite Muslim in public life. He's earnest, likable, accomplished, patriotic, has integrity and goodwill, and is smart and engaging. A medical doctor and formerly an officer in the U.S. Navy, Jasser is founder and head of a group called the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD), whose goal is genuine Islamic reformation. He has started programs to inculcate young Muslim Americans with the principles of our Founding Fathers, a love of liberty, and commitment to the Constitutional rule of law, and separation of mosque and state.
If you can't watch the whole debate, try to at least watch from the 5:10 mark to the 10:20 mark, which is the first segment in which Dr. Jasser comments. If you've never seen Jasser interviewed or read his articles, you owe it to yourself to hear his views, for he is an entirely different breed from the duplicitous, seditious CAIR types who dominate the discussion of Islam in our media. I don't agree with everything Jasser says, but I appreciate hearing his perspective; he makes me think. I believe he is completely sincere -- which makes him a very brave man.
On the other side is another brave man, Dr. Robert Spencer, head of Jihad Watch, co-founder of Stop Islamization of America (SIOA), and one of my longtime personal heroes -- right up there with Pamela Geller, Geert Wilders and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, all of whom face constant death threats because of their leadership in the fight to defend liberty and human rights against the creeping imposition of shariah all over the globe.
Moderating the discussion is Andrew McCarthy, author of Willful Blindness and The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America. McCarthy headed the legal team that prosecuted and convicted Sheikh Abdel Rahman, "the blind sheikh," who masterminded the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. McCarthy knows more about Islam than 99% of Americans -- but on the questions raised in my first paragraph, he freely admits he's ambivalent. Introducing the debate topic, he says, "I've been having this argument with myself for about eighteen years!"
I'll be honest. Although I, like McCarthy, am ambivalent, I mostly tend to think that, while countless individual Muslims are good people, Islam itself is an evil ideology, Muhammad was probably possessed by demons, and the Twelfth Imam in Iran is probably the Antichrist. There. I've said it.
But, if there is anyone who could make me doubt all that, it would be Zuhdi Jasser.
The debate took place on April 3 at a retreat sponsored by the David Horowitz Freedom Center.