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We Believe in One God…

by Msgr. Robert L. Stern

What does the believing Christian think about the believing Muslim?

The Second Vatican Council, in its declaration, Nostra Aetate, taught:

The Church has also a high regard for the Muslims. They worship God, who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has also spoken to men. They strive to submit themselves without reserve to the hidden decrees of God, just as Abraham submitted himself to God’s plan, to whose faith Muslims eagerly link their own. Although not acknowledging him as God, they venerate Jesus as a prophet, his virgin Mother they also honor, and even at times devoutly invoke. Further, they await the day of judgment and the reward of God following the resurrection of the dead. For this reason they highly esteem an upright life and worship God, especially by way of prayer alms-deeds and fasting.

Over the centuries many quarrels and dissension have arisen between Christians and Muslim. The sacred Council now pleads with all to forget the past, and urges that a sincere effort be made to achieve mutual understanding.

Reading history, it is clear that the message of Islam often was accompanied by political conquest – as happened with the message of Christianity. When the Byzantines and other Christian nations resisted, there was open warfare, but not always. For example, the introduction and penetration of Islam into Christian Egypt took place gradually over a period of several centuries.

Through the years, Christians in Muslim lands adopted a defensive cast of mind and retreated within themselves. Until recently, the Christian and Muslim worlds had remained very separate with little mutual comprehension.

How should the believing Christian approach the believing Muslim?

The first challenge is to find a common ground and vocabulary. There are many aspects of Christian faith that Muslims share but many they do not understand and reject. It is difficult to say whether they reject them having fully understood them or whether they reject them because of their misunderstanding. The reverse also holds true.

Take prophets, for example. A prophet is one who speaks the word of God. Christians may not accept that Muhammad is “the Seal of the Prophets” as Muslims believe. But, if almost one billion people in the modern world are striving to find their way to God and live a life of prayer, fasting and sacrifice because of the teachings of Muhammad, can not and should not Christians consider Muhammad as a prophet, as one whom God uses to bring his word to many of humankind?

Once John said to Jesus, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow in our company.” Jesus said to him, “Do not prevent him, for whoever is not against you is for you.”

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Msgr. Robert L. Stern, Secretary General of CNEWA



Tags: Muslim Christian-Muslim relations Religious Differences