Ilaria Morali, a professor of theology in Rome, tells of a recent encounter in the course of “interreligious dialog”:
Morali: I recall that last year, at the moment of exchange with the assembly, a person in the audience asked me if I could at least accept that Mohammed was the last and greatest of the prophets.
Addressing an audience made up of Muslims, and before answering, I asked him in turn: “If I posed a similar question on Jesus Christ, for example, asking a Muslim professor to admit at least that Jesus Christ is as great as Mohammed, would you think he is a good Muslim if, to please me, he said I was right? You would prefer, I believe, that he be consistent with his faith even at the cost of displeasing me with his answer. I think that you want an answer from me as a Catholic woman and would not appreciate an answer of compromise to please you. You would not consider me a good Catholic Christian. That is why I answer you as any Catholic should answer: with sincerity and serenity.”
I remember that his reasoning touched deep chords in my Muslim colleagues who expressed great appreciation for the sincerity and transparency I showed, and also for my courage in giving them an answer which was certainly not totally acceptable for a Muslim.
A professor said to me: “Dr. Morali, we want to dialogue with true Catholics, not with mediocre Catholics, though this is certainly rather more difficult. Continue like this, please.”
When someone asks you if you’ll at least admit that Mohammed is the latest and greatest prophet they are not merely asking you to “respect” Mohammed, though that’s how we tend to take it in our hypersensitized era. Rather, they’re asking if you are a Muslim. While they not admit that – to you or to themselves – that’s what the question amounts to.
While one becomes a Christian by confessing Jesus as Lord and being baptized into the church, one become a Muslim by another kind of confession” “There is no God but God and Mohammed is his prophet.” Pretty simple, isn’t it? If you, as a Christian interlocutor, have already stood up for God, you’re halfway to being a Muslim. Now all you need to add is the part of the confession about Mohammed.
As far as I can tell the professor did an excellent job handling the question. As a perceptive conversationalist, she recognized the import of the question. As a Christian, she refused to speak either explicitly or implicitly against Christian doctrine. As a person who wants to extend the love of God to all people, including Muslims, she also discerned that a simple NO would not have furthered her relations with the audience. Instead, she chose a round about way of helping them understand the context and to see things from her perspective. Some people have intimated that Muslims (or Christians) can’t be reasoned with. While this is obviously true of some people in almost every group out there, her encounter proved that at the very least there are some exceptions.
I think the follow up comment is just as important. Current world Events – not to mention the Great Commission Jesus gave us – compel us Christians to talk to Muslims. This talking will be for the best when we do it as articulate, committed Christians, not just as fearful people looking for an easy peace. There is no easy peace available to us – other than the peace of surrender. And that’s neither easy nor peace in the long term. So if you are going to try your hand at interreligious dialog, the first step is to deepen your understanding of and commitment to your own faith. While we need loving, kind, patient people out there, we don’t need wimps. They won’t do anyone any good.
Wow. That was a smart and very pastoral way of handling the issue.