Islam is an incomplete and primitive religion, but it offers something that Catholics and Western society need, says Catholic philosopher and author Peter Kreeft.
“Fear of God is the beginning, and if we erect a love of God on any other foundation than a fear of God, then it’s a weak foundation,” Kreeft said in an interview with Our Sunday Visitor. “Islam is … a regression to something more primitive like Old Testament Judaism. But when we’ve forgotten that fear of God, we learn our own roots from the Muslims, who have not forgotten that. The genuine fear of God is awe, and worship, and adoration.”
“Islam crucially lacks the Cross, and Christ, and his radical love. But as a Christian I also say Islam has great and deep sources of morality and sanctity that should inspire us and shame us and prod us to admiration and imitation,” the Boston College philosophy professor writes in “Between Allah and Jesus: What Christians Can Learn From Muslims” (InterVarsity Press, $16), coming out in March.
‘Fear of the Lord’
In the book, Kreeft sets up a dialogue between his Muslim character, Issa Ben Adam, and five Christians who span the ideological spectrum. They include a pro-choice radical feminist, a secular-humanist-trending Catholic priest, a strict Dutch Calvinist, a more traditional priest and professor, and a nurturing, practical boardinghouse mother.
Issa Ben Adam is featured additionally as narrator of Kreeft’s first novel, “An Ocean Full of Angels” (St. Augustine Press, $37.50), also due for publication in March. On his website, Kreeft says Issa is “one of the most interesting persons I have ever met, though I have met him only in my imagination. He is also half of myself (for instance he is both a philosopher and a surfer), though unlike myself he is young, courageous, arrogant and a Muslim.”
Kreeft is a professor of philosophy at Boston College and at King’s College in New York City. He is the author of more than 60 books, including “Handbook of Christian Apologetics” (InterVarsity Press, $22), “Christianity for Modern Pagans” (Ignatius Press, $16.95) and “Fundamentals of the Faith” (Ignatius Press, $14.95).
In his introduction and first chapter of “Between Jesus and Allah,” Kreeft speaks in the first person to present his main point, which he illustrates in the remainder in the book. “For the fear of the Lord is present in the end of wisdom as well as the beginning. ‘The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever,’ says the Psalmist. It is transformed by love but not replaced,” Kreeft writes.
Islam means literally submission, Kreeft notes, and it is that fear and awe before God that animates all forms of Islam, whether the disfigured Islam of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists and military psychiatrist Dr. Maj. Nidal Hasan, charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder in the Nov. 5, 2009, attack at Fort Hood, Texas, or the more peaceful version practiced by most Muslims in this country.
Shining the light
Kreeft notes that the Catholic Church respects Islam as a genuine religion inspired by divine revelation.
“Pope Benedict has said, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church has said, that Islam is a great religion that worships the true God because they learned about God from the same people that we did, the Jews. So it is a religion based on divine revelation. That is not to say the Quran is Scripture. It certainly isn’t,” Kreeft said.
“The other point the bishops keep making is the crucial importance of open dialogue between religions. To get something in the light, even if it’s wicked, is to take away half its power,” Kreeft said. “So one of the reasons I wrote this book was to stimulate dialogue.”
In “Between Allah and Jesus” Kreeft writes: “Many Christians today have a deep fear of Islam, as of no other religion. They have reasons: over 3,000 of them after 9/11. Yet many Muslims, most Muslims in the West, and the vast majority in America, want to be our friends, not our enemies in our battle against our real common enemy, which is sin, Satan, selfishness, and secularism.”
“There are good and bad people in every religion, and our own history is spotted with a lot of violence and intolerance,” Kreeft told OSV. “Fortunately, we’ve grown out of most of that. The Muslims have a lot farther to go in that direction than we do, but I don’t think the Muslims are the only ones who are guilty of terrorism and intolerance and hate.”
Islam suffers from a structural problem that also plagues Protestantism, Kreeft said: the lack of a living magisterium.
“So, Muslims can find verses in the Quran that support peace, and they can find verses in the Quran that support war. So Islam can change rather like Protestantism can change,” Kreeft said.
What does that mean for the future of Islam? Said Kreeft: “It means the future is open. It can become a more peaceful religion, a more rational religion, or it can become a more hate-filled terrorist religion.”
Valerie Schmalz is an OSV contributing editor.
The Good (sidebar)
The foremost thing that Christians need to learn from Muslims is “strength of will” or “spiritual toughness,” Peter Kreeft writes. “It is the spiritual power of moral conviction in a person’s soul.”
In addition, Kreeft offers a list of “things which we already know and believe, though we do not practice them very well.” For instance:
1. Faithfulness in prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
2. The sacredness of the family and children and hospitality.
3. The absoluteness of moral laws and of the demand to be just and charitable.
4. The absoluteness of God and the need for absolute submission, surrender and obedience (“islam”) to him.
... And the Bad (sidebar)
Kreeft offers a list of 12 things Christians should not learn from Muslims.
1. Anger at or jealousy of Western civilization
2. Proneness or addiction to violence
3. Politicizing religion
4. Preventing apostasy by murdering apostates
5. Treating women like slaves
6. Prioritizing justice over mercy and forgiveness
7. The continued chewing of centuries-old grudges
8. Fear of freedom
9. Fear of reasoning and dialogue
11. Theological voluntarism (the doctrine that God’s will has no reason)
12. Unitarianism (the theology that insists that the one God is only one Person, not three, and that Christ is only human, not divine)
Says Kreeft: “With the exception of the last item, these are not essential parts of Islamic orthodoxy. If these ideas appear in the Quran at all, they are disapproved rather than approved. And they are not typical of all or most Muslims in the world today, especially in the West, though they are typical of the ones we usually hear about in the news.
“For quiet piety does not make headlines; loud terrorist explosions do.”