My latest article about the Al-Azhar imam’s “interfaith” prayer on June 8 at the Vatican has been published at FrontPage Mag. Some excerpts are below:
On June 8, 2014 — Pentecost Sunday — the Vatican hosted an “interfaith event” that included prayers by Christian priests, a Jewish rabbi, and a Muslim imam. The occasion was well-publicized in advance by the Holy See as a “pause in politics” that would promote peace between the Israel and the Palestinians.
During his visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority the previous month, Pope Francis had invited Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to attend the event. Both leaders accepted the invitation, and sat with the Pope while prayers were said and chanted in the Vatican garden.
The imam, however, went beyond the script that had been handed to the Vatican in advance. He included in his chanted prayer verses 284-286 of Sura 2 in the Koran, the last part of which calls for Allah to grant the Muslims victory over the infidels. His words were broadcast live to a television audience, but they were in Arabic, so most non-Muslim viewers had no idea what he had said.
This apparently included the Vatican hierarchy. When someone who did understand Arabic pointed out what had happened, a Vatican spokesman at first denied that any such thing had occurred. Those verses weren’t in the advance script — how could he possibly have said them? No Muslim, especially a respected imam, would ever go back on his word!
Later, when that story became untenable, the Vatican soft-pedaled the added text, saying that there was nothing really wrong with it. To further complicate matters, a doctored tape of the Arabic prayer was released in which the final part of verse 2:286 was edited out. It’s not clear who did the editing, but the altered version certainly did serve the interests of the Vatican.
With the help of Vlad Tepes, I was able to track down a complete video of the prayer from an Arabic television channel and then have it translated (by a volunteer who prefers to remain anonymous) and subtitled. As far as I can determine, the imam’s name was never made public, either by the Vatican or the English-language Arab news sites. I’m told he’s Palestinian, and his distinctive headgear identifies him as having the authoritative credentials of Al-Azhar University:
A German-speaking Jesuit priest, Fr. Felix Körner, made a valiant effort to demonstrate that 2:286 was in full accord with Christian doctrine, and was peaceful in intent. During an interview he said (translated from the German by Rembrandt Clancy):
“This verse, perhaps spontaneously selected by someone who then also recited the Koran from memory, actually fitted very well into the overall context of the Prayer for Peace! There are always three steps in the three religions: We recognise the Creator and praise Him, we recognise our guilt and confess it and we plead for the gift of peace. And all that comes out very beautifully in these three verses of the Koran.
“There is a certain parallel insofar as a quotation torn out of context is particularly easily misunderstood. And if one removes from the text only the reference to unbelievers, one can easily use it as a peg upon which to hang something and then say that an infringement has taken place here. On the other hand we have in this case a Koran recitation which pertains to someone who not only quotes, but recites, and who also says: what I am reciting here is also what I believe. And in the same breath he is also saying: We Muslims, as the Koran precisely tells us, recognise the other religions with their prophets. Therefore from the Muslim side, there was by no means any deprecation or exclusion intended or expressed. Rather it was said: We are bringing here a religious idea, one which welcomes and accepts you all, and naturally in certain Koranic way, tries to set things right again. But there was nothing here which was meant to exclude or rebuff; rather a Koran verse was recited, which is meant to express the highest respect and therefore can also be received as such.” [emphasis added]
But is this interpretation true? Does Islam really “recognize the other religions with their prophets”? Was there really no “deprecation or exclusion intended”?
It’s always unwise to trust a non-Muslim’s interpretations of Islamic scripture and law. Our political are always telling us what Islam means — witness Boris Johnson, David Cameron, and George W. Bush — with less than complete credibility. Now we have a Jesuit priest telling us what Islam does and does not mean.
It’s also unwise to trust a Muslim cleric or spokesman when he explains Islam to a non-Muslim audience. There are very clear reasons for this skepticism, based in the Koran and the hadith (the sayings of Mohammed) and all major interpretations of Islamic law that are derived from those.
So how do we understand what happened at the Vatican on Pentecost Sunday?
We begin with this: last November a well-meaning Pope Francis issued a papal declaration, Evangelii Gaudium, which said among other things that “our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalisations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence.”
Now we’re going to take the advice of Major (ret.) Stephen Coughlin, one of the foremost non-Muslim experts on Islamic law in the United States. If we want to understand Islamic law, Maj. Coughlin tells us: “You must read things written by Muslims who are recognized in the Muslim community as experts in the topic they are writing about, and who are writing for a Muslim audience. If you fail to do that, you are not doing your job.”
Therefore, to provide context for the momentous events of June 8, the following information is instructive. It is derived from ‘Umdat al-salik wa ‘uddat al-nasik, which is commonly referred to as Reliance of the Traveller when cited in English. This an authoritative source on Sunni Islamic law, because it is certified as such by Al-Azhar University in Cairo. There is no higher authority on Sunni Islamic doctrine than Al-Azhar; it is the closest equivalent to the Vatican that can be found in Islam.
Consider this passage from Reliance of the Traveller, chapter O, o9.0:
Jihad means to wage war against non-Muslims, and is etymologically derived from the word mujahada, signifying warfare to establish the religion. And it is the lesser jihad.
The scriptural basis for jihad, prior to scholarly consensus is such Koranic verses as:
- Fighting is prescribed for you (Koran 2:216)
- Slay them wherever you find them (Koran 4:89)
- Fight the idolators utterly (Koran 9:36)
In o9.8, Reliance of the Traveller describes the objectives of jihad:
The caliph makes war upon Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians provided he has first invited them to enter Islam in faith and practice, and if they will not, then invited them to enter the social order of Islam by paying the non-Muslim poll tax (jizya, def: o11.4)… and the war continues until they become Muslim or else pay the non-Muslim poll tax…
Now it becomes clear that — contrary to what Fr. Körner said — Islam does indeed deprecate and exclude other religions, specifically including Judaism and Christianity. This deprecation and exclusion goes so far as to mandate warfare against those religions.
We should also bear in mind what Islamic law says about lying. In Book R “Holding One’s Tongue,” §r8.0 “Lying” at r8.2 “Permissible Lying,” Reliance of the Traveller cites the iconic Islamic legal jurist Imam Abu Hamid Ghazali…
Read the rest — and watch the video of Maj. Coughlin — at FrontPage Mag.
Previous posts about Imamgate — The Arabic prayer at the Vatican, June 8 2014: