By Will Chavey
When Kansas City Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah was penalized last weekend for praying as a touchdown celebration, I kept waiting for my Facebook newsfeed to explode with accusations about First Amendment encroachment. As it turned out, the NFL apologized and the world moved on. But I was a little bit disappointed by the lack of reaction. Not because I love social media activism, but because I can’t help but think the reaction would have been different if Abdullah was Christian instead of Muslim.
The actions of ISIS, Hamas and al-Qaida serve as not-so-gentle reminders of violence by groups affiliated with the Islamic religion, and highlight Christian-Muslim conflicts that predate the Crusades. I even found myself agreeing with Bill Maher when he told Charlie Rose that the Muslim religion was fundamentally different from other religions; he argued that a language of violence within the Quran provides the connecting tissue between the peaceful majority of Islam and its violent extremist faction.
The uniqueness of the situation — a peaceful majority and a powerful, violent minority — creates difficult foreign policy questions. But it shouldn’t complicate our attitude as Catholics. I know a lot of people who would disagree with this statement: “[Islam’s] essence is the bare, simple essence or core of all authentic religion: total surrender, total submission, total conformity, to the Will of God.” But it comes from Peter Kreeft, hardly the torchbearer for anti-Christian sentiment.
The next quote carries more authority: “Secularism and fundamentalism exclude the possibility of fruitful dialogue and effective cooperation between reason and religious faith.” Pope Benedict XVI condemns the extremism that terror groups like ISIS champion. But aren’t we all guilty of fundamentalism if we only evaluate the Islamic religion through that lens?
I understand that a couple of quotes don’t make an argument, but I think that both Kreeft and Pope Benedict XVI offer valid points. Kreeft identifies that Christians can learn from “our separated Abrahamic brothers” because they ardently practice their beliefs. That doesn’t mean we should support using religion to justify violence. Rather, instead of categorizing all Muslims as extremists, perhaps we should more closely evaluate how enthusiastically we live our own faith.
Pope Benedict XVI’s argument is more pointed: Don’t let a justified opposition to jihadist Islam — we might call it, faith without reason — create a disdain for the religion as a whole, one that inhibits our charity toward the individuals who practice it devoutly and reasonably. Even if they didn’t give us an example to emulate, they still possess dignity as people. And is not the definition of discrimination (certainly an attitude that violates Catholic principles) defaming a group of people on the basis of a label?
I think we ought to refocus our efforts away from disparaging Islam’s evils and toward the reformation of those practices — away from condemnation of the Muslim religion and toward the spiritual conversion of its members.