For those in the audience who might have thought this claim risible in light of current events — although there may not have been any skeptics at all, since the room was full of Catholic theologians — Khan did say: that although mercy is “the core of Islam,” “Islam as an ideal and Islam as it is applied and as it is practiced by people” are not the same thing. Did he explain why Muslims in such large numbers not only fall short of Islam’s ideal of mercy, but actively reject the idea that it applies to unbelievers? Did he explain the implications of the Qur’an verse that explicitly rejects the extension of mercy to non-Muslims: “Muhammad is the apostle of Allah. Those who follow him are merciful to one another, ruthless to unbelievers” (48:29)? There is no indication from this report that he did so. And that raises the question of why not, and what his overall intentions were in giving this talk.
“Is a Catholic concept of mercy at the heart of true Islam?,” by Elise Harris, Catholic News Agency, February 27, 2016:
Vatican City, Feb 27, 2016 / 09:23 am (CNA).- Professor Saeed Khan, an expert in Islam, has said that mercy is central to the Muslim faith – a mercy with roots in Catholicism and which is opposed to the misguided, fundamentalist interpretations of some extremist groups.
Mercy is “the core of Islam,” Saeed Khan told CNA in a Feb. 25 interview, adding that the Muslim concept of mercy “is actually an expansion of Catholic notions of mercy.”…
Khan doesn’t seem to have explained how it came to be that Islam took this concept of mercy from Catholicism while rejecting core Catholic ideas such as the crucifixion of Christ (Qur’an 4:157), the divinity of Christ (Qur’an 5:17, 5:72), and the Trinity (Qur’an 4:171, 5:116), and saying that those who believe Jesus to be the Son of God are under Allah’s curse (Qur’an 9:30). More’s the pity: an honest discussion of Islam’s view of Christianity, encompassing a discussion of both how Christianity influenced Islam and why Islam ultimately rejected aspects of Christianity might have been genuinely illuminating, or at least more illuminating than what Khan appears to have offered: a staking-out of common ground that is only established by ignoring the aspects of Islam that contradict the picture being painted.
Khan is a lecturer for Detroit-based Wayne State University’s Department of Near East and Asian Studies. He teaches courses on Islamic and Middle East History, Islamic Civilizations and the History of Islamic Political Thought.
He was present in Rome as a speaker for a Feb. 25-26 conference organized by the Pontifical Council Cor Unum in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the publication of retired pontiff Benedict XVI’s first encyclical, “Deus Caritas Est,” meaning “God is love.”
The document was published Dec. 25, 2005, just eight months after his election as Bishop of Rome.
Conference participants came from all over the world to discuss the encyclical from theological and charitable perspectives, as well as the perspective of other religions such as Judaism and Islam.
Khan himself spoke on the first day of the conference, offering participants his perspective on the Muslim understanding of mercy.
In his comments to CNA, Khan said the Islamic concept of God’s closeness to humanity is that he “is closer to you than your own jugular vein.”
This shows that a very intimate relationship that exists which can only be infused by love, he said. “So when Pope Benedict XVI mentioned in his encyclical that the primacy of love and how God then manifests that love then to his creation that is also an Islamic concept.”
Khan said mercy is also closely linked to the concept of charity. In Islam, charity is “a devise of mercy” that goes beyond providing material needs such as food and clothing, but reaches the spiritual level, he said.
As an example, he pointed to a famous saying of the Prophet Mohamed that “even a smile is a form of charity” since it forms a human connection. This is especially true, he said, at a time when humanity is becoming increasingly more impersonal, despite advancements in technology and communications.
“Abu Dharr narrated that the Messenger of Allah said: ‘Your smiling in the face of your brother is charity, commanding good and forbidding evil is charity, your giving directions to a man lost in the land is charity for you. Your seeing for a man with bad sight is a charity for you, your removal of a rock, a thorn or a bone from the road is charity for you. Your pouring what remains from your bucket into the bucket of your brother is charity for you.'” (Jami at-Tirmidhi 4.1.1956) Notice that Khan left out the “in the face of your brother” part, which suggests that only smiling at fellow Muslims, not non-Muslims, is charity.
However, while mercy is “the core of Islam,” there is tragically a difference between “Islam as an ideal and Islam as it is applied and as it is practiced by people,” Khan said, noting that the same can be said of any religion.
“Unfortunately there are people who will invoke the name of Islam to all kinds of unspeakable and egregious things,” he said.
“Those may claim to be believers who act out in such vengeful and violent ways, but again, it is such an anomaly and such an aberration from the divine message that it’s very difficult to be able to say with a certain straight face that this is really what God intended.”
Here again, it would have been refreshing if Khan had discussed some of these Qur’an verses and explained how they’re consistent with a message of mercy and not with being vengeful or violent:
2:191-193: “And slay them wherever you come upon them, and expel them from where they expelled you; persecution is more grievous than slaying. But fight them not by the Holy Mosque until they should fight you there; then, if they fight you, slay them — such is the recompense of unbelievers, but if they give over, surely Allah is All-forgiving, All-compassionate. Fight them, till there is no persecution and the religion is Allah’s; then if they give over, there shall be no enmity save for evildoers.”
4:34: “Men are the managers of the affairs of women for that Allah has preferred in bounty one of them over another, and for that they have expended of their property. Righteous women are therefore obedient, guarding the secret for Allah’s guarding. And those you fear may be rebellious admonish; banish them to their couches, and beat them. If they then obey you, look not for any way against them; Allah is All-high, All-great.”
4:89: “They wish that you should disbelieve as they disbelieve, and then you would be equal; therefore take not to yourselves friends of them, until they emigrate in the way of Allah; then, if they turn their backs, take them, and slay them wherever you find them; take not to yourselves any one of them as friend or helper.”
5:33: “This is the recompense of those who fight against Allah and His Messenger, and hasten about the earth, to do corruption there: they shall be slaughtered, or crucified, or their hands and feet shall alternately be struck off; or they shall be banished from the land. That is a degradation for them in this world; and in the world to come awaits them a mighty chastisement.”
5:38: “And the thief, male and female: cut off the hands of both, as a recompense for what they have earned, and a punishment exemplary from Allah; Allah is All-mighty, All-wise.”
8:12: “When thy Lord was revealing to the angels, ‘I am with you; so confirm the believers. I shall cast into the unbelievers’ hearts terror; so smite above the necks, and smite every finger of them!”
8:39: “Fight them, till there is no persecution and the religion is Allah’s entirely; then if they give over, surely Allah sees the things they do.”
8:60: “Make ready for them whatever force and strings of horses you can, to terrify thereby the enemy of Allah and your enemy, and others besides them that you know not; Allah knows them. And whatsoever you expend in the way of Allah shall be repaid you in full; you will not be wronged.”
9:5: “Then, when the sacred months are drawn away, slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them, and confine them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they repent, and perform the prayer, and pay the alms, then let them go their way; Allah is All-forgiving, All-compassionate.”
9:29: “Fight those who do not believe in Allah or the Last Day, and do not forbid what has been forbidden by Allah and his Apostle, and do not acknowledge the religion of Truth, even if they are of the People of the Book, until they pay the jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” (Qur’an 9:29)
9:111: “Allah has bought from the believers their selves and their possessions against the gift of Paradise; they fight in the way of Allah; they kill, and are killed; that is a promise binding upon Allah in the Torah, and the Gospel, and the Koran; and who fulfils his covenant truer than Allah? So rejoice in the bargain you have made with Him; that is the mighty triumph.”
9:123: “O believers, fight the unbelievers who are near to you; and let them find in you a harshness; and know that Allah is with the godfearing.”
47:4: “When you meet the unbelievers, smite their necks, then, when you have made wide slaughter among them, tie fast the bonds; then set them free, either by grace or ransom, till the war lays down its loads. So it shall be; and if Allah had willed, He would have avenged Himself upon them; but that He may try some of you by means of others. And those who are slain in the way of Allah, He will not send their works astray.”
The professor said that instead, to get to the heart of true Islam one has to go back to the sources of [sic] in order to see the real divine message and understand what God is really mandating.
Mercy, Khan said, “is so embedded in Islam that in several places within the Quran it says ‘and establish regular prayer and charity.’”
Regular prayer (salat) and charity (zakat) are two of the five pillars of Islam. Muslims are obligated to perform them. Zakat, however, is restricted to Muslims only. Khan doesn’t seem to have touched on the crucial question: does Islam extend mercy to unbelievers? Did he mention that sura 9, the chapter of the Qur’an containing the exhortation to wage war against and subjugate the People of the Book, is the only one of the Qur’an’s 114 chapters that does not begin with Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Rahim — “In the name of Allah, the compassionate, the merciful”? The Islamic scholar Al-Hakim says that Muhammad not only didn’t recite the Bismillah himself when reciting this chapter, but commanded that it not be recited. Why not? The Tafsir al-Jalalayn explains Muhammad’s command by saying that the Bismillah “is security, and [sura 9] was sent down when security was removed by the sword. One of Muhammad’s earliest followers, Ali ibn Abi Talib, agrees, saying that the Bismillah “conveys security while this sura was sent down with the sword. That is why it does not begin with security.” The Tafsir al-Jalalayn adds that “Hudhayfa reports that they called it the Sura of Repentance, while it is, in fact, the Sura of Punishment.” Punishment, that is, of the unbelievers.
He noted how two of the 99 attributes Muslims recognize in God are “all-merciful” and “ever-merciful.” These phrases, he added, are invoked at least 17 different times during the five daily prayers Muslims recite throughout the day.
Yes, because they’re in the Fatihah, the Qur’an’s first chapter, which pious Muslims will recite 17 times during the five daily prayers. The final two verses of the Fatihah ask Allah: “Guide us to the straight path, the path of those upon whom you have bestowed favor, not of those who have evoked anger or of those who are astray.” The traditional Islamic understanding of this is that the “straight path” is Islam — cf. Islamic apologist John Esposito’s book Islam: The Straight Path — while the path “of those who have evoked Allah’s anger” are the Jews, and those who have gone “astray” are the Christians. The classic Qur’anic commentator Ibn Kathir explains that “the two paths He described here are both misguided,” and that those “two paths are the paths of the Christians and Jews, a fact that the believer should beware of so that he avoids them. The path of the believers is knowledge of the truth and abiding by it. In comparison, the Jews abandoned practicing the religion, while the Christians lost the true knowledge. This is why ‘anger’ descended upon the Jews, while being described as ‘led astray’ is more appropriate of the Christians.” This is the view of Tabari, Zamakhshari, the Tafsir al-Jalalayn, the Tanwir al-Miqbas min Tafsir Ibn Abbas, and Ibn Arabi, as well as Ibn Kathir. Did Khan discuss this? Why not?
The terms are also invoked by Muslims before they embark on “any act or deed,” so therefore the concept of an all-merciful God also exists in Islam, the professor explained.
When it comes to verses in the Quran supporting vengeance and violence such as death by the sword, Khan said that Islam is “a totalistic religion” which also provides instructions on what to do in a time of war, persecution or when one’s life is threatened.
He acknowledged that there are sanctions for war and for committing physical violence in the Quran, but said they are “a last resort,” and are heavily regulated to societies that would otherwise be “very unregulated, very anarchic, even more brutal than they already are.”
It is a shame that none of the assembled Catholic theologians asked him at that point if he thought that the Islamic State was misusing these sanctions for war, and if so, in exactly what way.
But of course none of them did. “Catholic-Muslim dialogue,” you see, is not really about genuine discussion or trying to come to new understandings. It’s just a feelgood session for the Catholics, who go away congratulating themselves on how ecumenical and open-minded they are, and a sly dawah session for the Muslims. And this goes on right in the Vatican, where there ought to be at least someone who knows better, but clearly there isn’t.