|A glimpse of a transcendant mystery.|
It sets out a very simple argument which seems difficult to deny. It goes like this.
1. Engagement with Islam (whether with a view to mutual understanding or evangelisation) is facilitated by common ground with Islam. The more common ground one has, whether cultural or theological, the better one can talk productively with people of other religions.
2. There is a great deal more common ground between Islam and that aspect of Catholicism exemplified by the Traditional liturgy, than there is between Islam and what is manifested by the reformed liturgy. In this, the Traditional Catholics are close to the situation of the ancient Christian churches in majority-Muslim countries.
What do I have in mind? Well, the ancient liturgy, and to a large extent the people who attend it, like the ancient churches of the Middle East, take (more) seriously the differences between the sexes; they use a sacred language, chant, and ritual; and they have more to say about fasting. The Novus Ordo has, from a strictly liturgical and also from a cultural standpoint, systematically eroded this common ground with Islam, just as it has eroded the common ground with the Oriental Churches.
Another point the paper makes is that Evangelical Christianity has its own approach to engaging with Islam which takes the opposite tack. They have common ground with Islam in placing great emphasis on a holy book, and in downplaying sacramental and incarnational theology and practice. They have an interesting, if adversarial, dialogue with Muslim apologists, in which the Muslims criticise Evangelical Christianity for giving God a super-human 'partner' and mediator, Jesus Christ, and the Evangelicals criticise Islam for giving a role in religious practice to a holy place (Mecca), and for an attitude to the Qu'ran which places its sacredness as a text (for example, in ritual proclamation) above its comprehension.
This approach is obviously not available to Catholics, and it is apparant that the general atmosphere and attitude to be found in the Church today falls between the two stools. It neither engages effectively with the ritual, aesetic, and 'family values' side of Islam, nor with what we might call the 'Low Church' side of Islam. Even the common ground the Holy See finds with Muslim countries in debates in the United Nations, notably about 'reproductive rights', is undermined by liberal Catholic attitudes to moral questions.
Since Islam is clearly going to be of major importance in the West as well as in traditionally-Muslim countries for the forseeable future, this is of no small importance.
A historical issue which is worth noting along the way is the retreat of Sufism and the advance of Salafism and Wahhabism in Sunni Islam in the 20th century. Until the early 20th century Sufism was a major and normal part of Muslim life in the Sunni world. Like Shia Islam, Sufism acknowledges 'saints' and encourages pilgrimages to their shrines. It elaborates Muslim ritual, most famously with the 'whirling' dances of the Dervishes. And its mystical theology emphasises a disinterested love of God, and the possibility of union with God, which contrasts with a literal-minded reading of the paradise offered to good Muslims in the Qu'ran. Like syncretistic 'folk' Islam in Africa and Asia, this is opposed by, and to an extent, has been successfully cleared away by, the purifying, reformist project represented by Salafism and Wahhabism.
It would be simplistic to look at this through the lens of Catholic and Protestant conflict within Christianity, but the net result is a form of Islam where the common ground with Evangelical Protestantism has been somewhat expanded, and the common ground with Catholicism somewhat contracted. In engaging with Islam, it is worth bearing in mind that some of the things Muslim apologists criticise in Christianity, and particularly in Catholicism, can be found in widespread Muslim practice of the recent past.
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