On Islam: A Chronological Record, 2002-2018

by James V. Schall, S. J.

Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.

This is a great time to focus on Islam as our Pope is in Abu Dhabi for a meeting on Religion. The schools are out for two days so they can be part of this wonderful meeting with the Pope. The Church is trying to heal some of the wounds of the past as well as being inclusive in the awesome wonderment of our diverse Church. Jesuit Father Schall gives us much to think about in this book. He begins by pointing out in the Introduction that Islam has an ongoing mission to subject all people to Allah. The problem that Schall points out is the fact that this takes place only in books as there is little or no discussion on what it means to be a Muslim. Through low birth rates in America and Europe has given fertile ground to developing enclaves of Muslims in Europe and America. The author then relates to us the murder of the monks and nuns in Algeria in 1996 because of their ‘evangelizing’ and their throats were slit. Schall’s presenting of this history is encapsulating. He pours over the work of Hilaire Belloc in regard to the lack of the changes in Islam in spite of centuries of Western influence. “Suffice it to say, we are reckoning with Islam today. Europe and much of America did largely lose the faith, as Belloc observed even before World War II, and Islam is expanding there. The expansion of Islam is also occurring in Africa and Asia. Belloc’s thesis is that Islam began as a Christian heresy that retained the Jewish side of the faith, the oneness and omnipotence of God, but denied all the Christian aspects—the Incarnation, the divinity of Christ, who as a result, became just a prophet. The denial of the Church, the priesthood and the sacraments followed”. (p.24&26)

In Chapter two Schall gives us a background on Islam: “Islam is a religion. No major military force exists in Islamic lands. Islam is composed of perhaps a billion believers. Almost no record, except isolated cases exists of conversions from Islam to any other religion or to secular philosophy. Christianity has never made a dent. Conversions go the other way. Muslim believers are concentrated into some twenty-two nations. Members of the religion have almost complete control.” (p.30) In Chapter 3 Schall deals with the issue: Is a suicide bomber a martyr? He puts it bluntly, “a suicide bomber, by any objective standards, cannot be a martyr, tough he might be the cause of martyrdom of others…to approve and foster suicide bombing is to make something intrinsically evil to appear as good”. “The only thing really new today is that Islam, if patient, might well take over Europe and other areas through a combination of self-inflicted, rapid population decline among European peoples and continued rapid increase of Muslim birthrate in the area. This drama should be of especial interest to Catholics who once doubted the relevance of Humanae vitae”.

The author then assists us in understanding terrorism. The terrorists within Islam are a minority. They generally are inspired not by Qur’anic sources but by Western philosophy, especially Fascist and Nazi. The historic Muslim problem has been its own failure to modernize. The search for a scapegoat to explain the failure is part of the drama of modern Islam.” The author offers his own thoughts about terrorism, what happened in 9/11 and other aspects of the propensity to violence. More scholars need to attend to the issue both for the sake of scholarship but also for seeking out truth. The scholar Stanley Jaki addresses the origins of the modernization and secularization in a unique way because he sees the centrality of science and religion in these very changes while at the same time he rejects the secular humanism implications that seem to be present in the work of another scholar, Lewis. What is most countercultural in Stanley Jaki’s work is his argument that at the origins of science as we know it lie certain theological positions that deal with the action world, particularly those of the Creation and the Incarnation. Father Jaki writes: “The whole question of why science was not born within the Muslim milieu, or the question of why the physics of impetus was not formulated there, is the end of a theological question, which can only be answered in terms of theology as the true nature of the Koran’s impetus.” This impetus is greater than ever before in its history.

The author purports that Islam is fragile. It is a realization of the ambiguity of the text of the Qur’an. Is it what it claims to be? Islam is weak militarily. It is strong in social cohesion, often using severe moral and physical sanctions. But the grounding and the unity of its basic document are highly suspect. Once this becomes clear, Islam may be as fragile as communism. Both Islam and the universities are invited to the great logos, to the ‘breadth of reason’ the final words of the pope are that such is ‘the great task of the university.”(p.103) Muslim and Catholic dialogue achieves very little. When Muslims and Catholics do manage to understand each other, they cannot agree on the basic principles of reality. The most important political thing we can do is to face a theological position that encourages and justifies religion in its efforts to submit the world to Allah. The people who seek to do this are, for the most part sincere. They think of their views as true. The question is “Are they right? Is this what the world is about on the basis of their explanations of it? The failure to answer the issue is one of the most curious facts in all of intellectual history.”(p121)

Father Schall aptly explains the many terrorist attacks in Paris, in New York and other places and gives us pause about the meaning of those attacks. His analyses make clear the different values and the understanding of God in their lives. “The Muslim protagonists of today realize how close they were several times in the past to conquering Europe as the next step in world conquest. What they see today is a very realistic opportunity to succeed where their ancestors failed. They see what our minds truly hold. And they see that those minds are largely empty of what really counts in this world: a true conception of God. Necessary truths include the revelation that Islam explicitly denies, the truth of the Trinity and the Incarnation. If it is merely a question of whose will is the stronger, the future of Islam is, I think, quite bright.” (p239)

I would encourage the reader to take seriously this book as it is driven by the purpose of seeking the truth. There are so many salient features that assist us in understanding Islam.

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