Beirut (AsiaNews) – Last 20 March various news agencies reported the following news from Riyadh: “No churches should be permitted in Saudi Arabia, unless Pope Benedict XVI recognised the prophet Mohammed.” This is the proposal put forward by some mediators in Riyadh who are negotiating with Vatican authorities the possibility of building a Catholic place of worship in the kingdom.
Anwar Ashiqi, president of the Saudi Centre for Middle East Strategic Studies, expressed this view in an interview on the site of Arab satellite TV network, al-Arabiya.
“I haven taken part in several meetings related to Islamic-Christian dialogue and there have been negotiations on this issue,” he said. “It would be possible to launch official negotiations to construct a church in Saudi Arabia only after the Pope and all the Christian Churches recognise the prophet Mohammed.”*
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There is some misunderstanding that must be cleared up. Sheikh Anwar Ashiqi said: “Since our religion recognises the Christian religion and the figures of Jesus, Moses and other prophets . . .”
Does Islam recognise the Christian religion and the figure of Jesus? What does “recognises the Christian religion” mean? If it means that it “recognises the truth of the Christian religion as it defines itself,” then Islam is no longer Islam. How can Anwar Ashiqi recognise the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Redemption and every Christian dogma when the Qur’an clearly denies them?
It denies the Trinity (“O followers of the Book! Do not exceed the limits in your religion, and do not speak (lies) against Allah, but (speak) the truth; the Messiah, Jesus son of Meriem is only an apostle of Allah and His Word which He communicated to Meriem and a spirit from Him; believe therefore in Allah and His apostles, and say not, Three. Desist, it is better for you; Allah is only one God; far be It from His glory that He should have a son,” Qur‘an, 4:171). It denies Christ’s divinity (“O Jesus son of Meriem! Did you say to men, Take me and my mother for two gods besides Allah”? Qur‘an, 5:116). It denies Christ’s death on the cross (“they did not kill him nor did they crucify him, but it appeared to them so,” Qur‘an, 4:157). In short the Qur‘an and Muslims deny the essential dogmas of Christianity. And this is Muslims’ most absolute right!
What does it mean that Islam “recognises the figures of Jesus, Moses and other prophets”? The Qur‘an presents a Jesus all of its own, which coincides with the Gospels in some respects, but not in others. Some might even find the Qur‘anic version of Jesus more beautiful than that of the Gospels. What matters though, is the fact that it does not coincide with the one found in the Gospels. And this Muslims’ most absolute right provided that it is clear that we are talking about the Qur‘anic version of Jesus!
And the same can be said about those whom Muslims call “prophets”, i.e. Biblical figures who are not necessarily prophets. As for the great prophets of the Bible (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, etc.) they are not even mentioned in either the Qur‘an or the Sunnah.
Can the Pope and Christians recognise Muhammad as prophet?
What does it mean “the Pope and all the Christian Churches” must recognise the “Prophet Muhammad?” What has the Pope got to do with “all the Christian Churches?” since the issue is only about the eventual building of a church for Catholics, which was the request made last 6 December during the meeting between the Pope and King Abdallah. What authority does the Pope have anyway over other Churches . . . or vice versa!
But the strangest thing of all is the request that the Pope recognise Muhammad’s prophetic character. How do you do that? How do you recognise that he is the “seal of the prophets” to quote the Qur‘anic expression that runs through the Muslim tradition? How can Christians believe at the same time that Christ is the Word of God, God’s final message to humanity, the Divine Word incarnate, and that after him God, his Father, sent another prophet to seal the Revelation, i.e. complete, correct, contradict what is said about him in the Gospels?
In addition to questions about dogmas, there is a principle of coherence and non self-contradiction that prevents the Pope as a simple believer to assert that Muhammad was sent by God to the whole world (rather than just the Arabs) to proclaim the divine Message put in Abraham’s heart (a Muslim according to the Qur‘an) and fully revealed in him.
I can understand that Muslims might feel bad about the fact that no Christian in his or her right mind can proclaim that God has sent messengers after Christ, unless only to follow Christ, imitate him and proclaim his message. Indeed for Muslims this might be seen as a kind of injustice. After all, “we recognise Jesus as prophet of God, why can’t you recognise Muhammad as a prophet of God?”
The answer is that it is not a matter of mutual favours: “I give you this and you give me that!” We are not in a market. It is about our own sincerely and honestly held faith, which is not meant to attack or humiliate anyone, but only to avoid falling into hypocrisy or doubletalk.
As a Christian I cannot ask Muslims to believe in Christ’s divinity in exchange for recognising Muhammad’s prophetic nature. If a Muslim was willing to do that, he should then get baptised and become a Christian. By the same token, if a Christian recognised Muhammad as a prophet he should be recognised as a Muslim.
Why? Because one is a Muslim if one makes the dual profession of faith: “"I testify that there is no god worthy of worship but God (Allah), and I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of God.”
Now, we bear witness to the first every day; if I add the second I irremediably become Muslim.
Can one be Muslim and Christian?
I would like very much to be both Muslim and Christian, but it cannot be done, because on some points the two religions are not just different but they are opposed. And this is not something bad. As Muhammad said to the disbelievers in the Qur’an: “You shall have your religion and I shall have my religion.” The important thing is the respect we have for one another. More than respect, it is affection and love.
Dear Muslim brother, God loves you as he loves all other human creatures. Be faithful to your faith, and push me to be faithful to mine. I too have a duty to be faithful to my faith and to push you to be faithful to yours. But you cannot blackmail anyone by saying: “No churches should be permitted in Saudi Arabia, unless Pope Benedict XVI recognised the prophet Mohammed!” By the same token no one ought to be blackmailed, saying: ‘If Muslims do not recognise the figure of Christ, Son of God, there shall be no mosque in the West.”
True tolerance means recognising the other as he or she is, not as one would like them to be! You cannot recognise the divinity of Christ (even though is an essential dogma for Christians) and I cannot recognise Muhammad’s prophetic nature (even though it is an essential dogma for Muslims).
I can however try to understand why it is fundamental for you that Muhammad be God’s prophet, indeed the “seal of prophets”, and for this reason respect the figure of Muhammad. And you could try to understand why it is fundamental for me that Christ be the “Son of God” and for this reason respect the figure of Jesus. Should this be the case we can live together as good friends or even as brothers, having recognised that we are different and yet happy about that difference.