The writings of Rémi Brague, winner of the 2012 Ratzinger Prize, about Islam offer the sort of unflinching and detailed analysis often missing from papal utterances
I. Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Vatican II, states that the Mohammedans “profess their faith as the faith of Abraham, and with us they worship the one, merciful God who will judge men on the last day” (par 16). At first sight, that statement appears friendly and matter-of-fact; the “faith” of Muslims is evidently thought to be the same “with us”. We “agree” about a last judgment and a merciful God who is one. This mutual understanding apparently comes from Abraham. This way of putting the issue argues to a common origin of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, each of which “appeared” in history at different times—the New Testament some twelve hundred years after Abraham and Islam some seven hundred years after the time of Christ.
But when we examine what each tradition means by unity, worship, judgment, and mercy, we hesitate to affirm that they mean the same things by the same words. And the assumed agreement that God is one provides little basis for further agreement about what flows from it. Islam confronts religion and politics as we know them with questions of the true and the false, with questions of life and death. Seemingly both fascinated and paralyzed, we watch Christians and others killed or beheaded before our very eyes in the most brutal manner. The great Monastery of St. Elijah near Mosul in Iraq, dating from the 600s AD, was recently not just destroyed, but pulverized, not for any military reason but to erase any sign of historic Christian presence there. This is a foretaste of what will happen to other Christian churches and buildings if this Islamic expansion continues.
These killings and destructions are considered a judgment, so it is claimed, on a corrupt society that refuses to accept the will of Allah as the norm of how to live. We also hear of women molested even in front of European cathedrals as if such deeds are “rights”. Indeed, the women are said to be themselves the “causes” because they do not attire themselves as Muslim law requires everywhere. The victims thus cause the crimes—not the “true” believers who carry out the assults.
We know also of blatant discrimination against non-Muslims in all Muslim lands. But again this is said to be a “right” of every people to decide who is or is not a citizen and what its laws are. Nor are such brutal activities new or unjustified within Muslim thought. They have been present in one form or another ever since Islam began in the seventh century. There is a philosophic consistency about them. Many ways to come to terms with this abiding conduct, however, are currently proposed to render it less violent. Many, including Pope Francis (Evangelium Gaudium #253), maintain that the “true” Islam is “peaceful”; the “violence” is presented as an aberration unrelated to Islam, not the norm.
When it comes to understanding the implications of these Islamic things, no one is more insightful than the French philosopher and historian, Rémi Brague, winner of the 2012 Ratzinger Prize, a professor in both Paris and Munich, and author of books including The Law of God, The Legend of the Middle Ages, and On the God of the Christians. In an essay in the French journal, Commentaire (Spring 2015), entitled “Sur le ‘vrai’ islam”, he addressed himself to a consideration of the Pope’s view that “true” Islam is a “peaceful” religion. Brague noted that no pope is an “authority” within Islam to define what it is….