“Despite the fact that they lived among Muslims — who are the vast majority of the population in Jordan — my Christian host family bought into these Christian TV channels’ negative portrayals of Islam,” notes Jordan Denari Duffner’s new book. Such passages unintentionally reveal in Finding Jesus among Muslims: How Loving Islam Makes Me a Better Catholic the shocking superficiality of an emerging “expert” who ignores the oppression of Christians under Islam.
Duffner recently launched her book at her alma mater, Georgetown University, where she is currently a doctoral student studying Christianity and Islam. Her previous work has involved pro-Islam propaganda at the Bridge Initiative against “Islamophobia” of Georgetown’s Saudi-funded Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (ACMCU). Tellingly, in light of the currently criticized official Catholic Church approaches towards Islam, she has also worked for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
Duffner questioned her Catholic upbringing during college but “came back to Catholicism in response to the beauty I saw in Islam,” she notes in explaining her book title of how “Islam makes me a better Catholic.” At Georgetown, she “started going to events hosted by the Muslim Student Association [MSA], and eventually joined the group’s governing board,” despite the radical background of America’s first Muslim Brotherhood (MB) affiliate. She “attended Islamic liturgies on occasional Fridays and festive dinners during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan,” as well as a Muslim student retreat, and lived in Georgetown’s “Muslim living-learning community.” “Countless times, God has loved me through the Muslims I’ve met,” she notes.
Like her fellow “scholar” on “Islamophobia,” Todd Green, Duffner cites the late professor and Lutheran bishop Krister Stendahl, an interreligious dialogue advocate. He “coined the term ‘holy envy’ to describe his feeling of admiration, and even desire, for aspects of other faith traditions.” Accordingly, her “Catholicism is complemented, challenged, and bolstered all at the same time, due to my engagement with Islam.”
Duffner’s book accordingly opens with a detailed description of her reverential 2016 visit to the Umm Haram mosque in Cyprus, named after a foster aunt of Islam’s seventh-century prophet Muhammad. As her book elsewhere explains:
Since childhood, I have experienced a sense of reverence when approaching the consecrated Host, the Body of Christ, stored in the gilded tabernacle. A similar feeling also wells up in me today when I enter a mosque, like the one I visited in Cyprus, or when I hear the adhan, the melodic call to worship recited in Arabic before Islamic prayer.
Duffner notes the effect of the adhan upon her in Amman, Jordan, where she stayed both as a Georgetown undergraduate in a semester abroad and as a Fulbright scholar researching Christian-Muslim relations after college:
The first words of the adhan, the call to prayer, are Allahu Akbar, “God is greater.” Hearing these words when I lived in Amman was a constant reminder to me that God always exceeds our expectations and transcends the limited beliefs we have about him.
Yet Duffner’s infatuation with Islamic piety ignores the repressive supremacist nature of Islamic political doctrines. The Umm Haram mosque, for example, commemorates this woman’s death when she fell from a horse during a 649 Islamic raid upon Cyprus at the beginning of this island’s long struggles against ravaging Islamic invaders. Allahu Akbar, meanwhile, signifies that the supposed Islamic faith of Allah is greater than any other belief system; hence jihadists use this phrase as a war cry.
Duffner places her engagement with Islam in the context of Catholic teaching on religious groups outside of the Catholic Church, expressed in the 1965 Second Vatican Council document Nostra Aetate. “Emphasizing our commonalities first, and our differences down the line, is the approach the Catholic Church takes in Nostra Aetate,” she observes. “The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions” outside the Catholic Church, she quotes from Nostra Aetate.
Duffner therefore notes Catholic Church teaching that interfaith dialogue is a “walk together towards truth” and highlights Father Christian Chergé, a rather unsettling example of ecumenism portrayed in the acclaimed film Of Gods and Men. This French priest lived much of his life in Algeria and heroically continued his Christian witness in dialogue with friendly Muslims even as Algeria faced a brutal jihadist insurgency throughout the 1990s. Murdered by jihadists in 1996, he and 18 other Catholic clerics killed in Algeria’s bloodbath are now going through the Catholic Church’s canonization process for their martyrdom due to jihadist “odium fidei.”
Duffner emphasizes Chergé’s understanding of Christian-Muslim “dialogue as climbing on a ladder to God. One side-beam is Christianity, the other is Islam, and the many rungs are shared by both the Muslims and Christians who climb it.” Yet her focus on Christian-Muslim monotheistic commonalities often goes to extremes, such as when she discussed Islamic rejection of the Christian belief in Jesus’ divinity with a Muslim Amman cab driver. The cabbie’s questionable claim that this dispute means that merely a “strand of hair is what divides” Christians and Muslims reminded her of Islamic accounts of Muslim refugees in Ethiopia during Islam’s founding period.
In these well-known accounts the ruling Negus of Ethiopia’s Christian kingdom makes ecumenical observations to the Muslims seeking refuge similar to the cabbie’s comments. Thus Duffner writes that Christian-Muslim “theological differences are thin, almost invisible.” Yet her astonishing assessment overlooks that the Negus’ minimization of Christian-Muslim theological differences derived precisely from his Christian heresy that divided Jesus’ divine and human natures (Nestorianism).
Duffner’s assertion of good Christian-Muslim relations in Jordan, oft-touted as a “country with a long history of interfaith coexistence,” defies facts documented by Open Doors, an organization monitoring global persecution of Christians. “There are few places — including the United States — where I have felt more comfortable visibly proclaiming my Christian faith,” she writes of her stays in Amman lasting over a year. Yet Open Doors has consistently placed Jordan (2018 ranking: #21) along with many other majority-Muslim countries on the organization’s annual World Watch List of the 50 worst persecutors worldwide of Christians.
Duffner’s own writing calls into question her expertise in evaluating countries such as Jordan. During her 2012 semester abroad, she once heard in her bedroom in her host family’s Amman home a
loud voice echoing through a megaphone outside. Only a couple of weeks into my study abroad experience, I was startled by a man’s garbled Arabic speech and his rushed, emphatic tone.
Duffner “wondered. He sounds angry. Is he calling his fellow Jordanians to rise up!” Yet it was merely a taped advertising message played from the truck of a neighborhood produce seller. Still struggling with Arabic, she received a proper translation from her Arab Christian (Roman Catholic) host family.
Yet Duffner presumed to know better about Islam than her indigenous hosts with their previously noted approval of North American-produced television concerning Islam. These programs often presented “Islam using the same stereotypes and false claims about violence, misogyny, and intolerance that I heard on cable news in the United States.” Two extended host family members, a host mother’s cousin and an “older Catholic priest who wore a cassock and a big silver cross around his neck,” only added their own confirmation of this televised message when they visited.
Duffner told the visitors of her studies of “Muslim-Christian relations” (why this non-alphabetical formulation, as in ACMCU?), and the “conversation quickly turned to Islam.” For the visitors, the “Qur’an and the Prophet Muhammad encouraged violence, mistreatment of women, and oppression of non-Muslims.” The visitors’ approving knowledge of American writers who promoted “Islamophobia” shocked her.
Duffner remembered the visit:
Throughout the conversation, the cousin kept repeating the refrain, “We don’t hate Muslims, we just hate Islam.” The priest was even less charitable — “I hate both,” he said. When he took off his jacket, I noticed he carried a gun, an uncommon thing to see in Amman. Later he said to my nine-year-old host brother, “Never trust a Muslim.”
Duffner recalled that the “conversation at my Jordanian host family’s house hurt me,” given her close relationship with Muslims, but she bizarrely dismissed the host family’s sentiments as resulting from ignorance. “Knowing that my host family had Muslim acquaintances and neighbors, I wondered how they could have such negative views of Muslims and Islam.” She summarily concluded without any evidence that the family member relationships “with Muslims were not all that close or personal.” Thus she could only tritely claim that “in the absence of deep, substantive relationships, the negative media — which seemed more intent on sowing conflict than improving understanding — filled in the void.”
Yet Duffner’s Jordanian host family is no anomaly, as numerous Christians from Muslim-majority countries like Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Syria as well as the Jewish state of Israel have expressed similar thoughts to this author. By contrast, her ACMCU echo chamber only hosts Christian speakers like a uniquely pro-MB Egyptian Copt who had to rescind his 2013 Georgetown speaking engagement upon revelation of his neo-Nazi past. For perspective, she could venture out in Washington, DC, to meet other Middle Eastern Christians from Jordan and elsewhere at In Defense of Christians (IDC) annual conference. Here Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, a central actor in obtaining American recognition of Islamic State genocide against Christians, has argued that Islamic dhimmi oppression of non-Muslims is a “precursor to genocide.” Any true scholar would accurately assess these Christian real-life encounters with Islam, but as further analysis of Duffner’s understanding of Islamic theology will reveal, she is more interested in ACMCU’s agitprop than real knowledge.