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On the Fragility of Islam Print E-mail
By James V. Schall, S. J.   
Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Islam is the longest-lasting, closed, unchanging socio-religious culture to appear among men. Its very idea is that everyone worships Allah over time in the same way, with the same simple doctrine. The major change Islam looks to is not modernization or objective truth but, in a stable world, the submission to Allah of all men under a caliphate wherein no non-believers are found.

We still look back at communism, at least the non-oriental variety, with some astonishment in this regard. Almost no one thought it could “fall” without a major military encounter. That it disintegrated so quickly and so completely seems incomprehensible to anyone but a John Paul II. He understood its frailty, its failure to understand the human soul and its origins.

Islam is far older than Marxism. In the seventh century of our era, Islam appeared suddenly almost out of nowhere. It rapidly spread, mostly by military conquest. Its immediate victims were the Byzantine Christian lands and the Persian Empire. Both proved incapable of rising to their own defense. Islamic armies eventually conquered North Africa, the Mediterranean islands, much of Spain, the Balkans, the Near East, the vast land area from southern Russia to India and Afghanistan and even parts of China. Indonesia was a more commercial conquest.

Later efforts of Europe to regain some of these conquered lands worked for a while. The Crusades ultimately failed though they indirectly prevented further Muslim conquest of the rest of Europe. Spain, Greece, and parts of the Balkans managed to regain their lands. But the control of the Muslim lands by European powers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries made little real inroads into Islam itself. Islam was exposed to western power and science, but that did not effect any significant inner conversion, except perhaps for Muslim confusion about its own lack of science and technology.

The Muslim conversion of former Christian lands seems to be permanent. What few Christians are left in these lands are second-class citizens. They are under severe pressure to convert or emigrate. Many forces within Islam desire a complete enclosure of Islam that would exclude any foreign power or religion. The Muslim world is divided into the area of peace and the area of war; the latter is what Islam does not yet control.


  Is the Koran what it claims to be?

So with this background, why talk of the “fragility” of Islam? This instability arises from the status of the text of the Koran as an historical document. The Koran is said to have been dictated directly in Arabic by Allah. It has, as it were, no prehistory, even though it did not come into existence until a century or so after Mohammed.

Scholars, mostly German, have been working quietly for many decades to produce a critical edition of the Koran that takes into consideration the “pre-history” of the Koran. Due to the Muslim belief that any effort to question the Koran’s text is blasphemy, the enterprise is fraught with personal risk to the researchers. The idea that the text cannot be investigated, of course, only feeds suspicion that even Muslims worry about its integrity.

Much of the philosophy within Islam, as we know, had roots in scholars who were originally Christian or Persian. This is well recorded in Robert Reilly’s The Closing of the Muslim Mind. But even more, the Koran itself seems to be composed of many elements from Christian or Hebrew scripture. The very word Koran has roots in liturgical books.

The systematic denial in the Koran itself of the Trinity and the Incarnation, the reducing of Christ from the Messiah to another prophet, force us to inquire about the connection between the Koran and Judaeo-Christian Scriptures. The broader claim that Mohammed’s “revelation” rewrote and made obsolete the earlier revelation needs direct confrontation.

The ecumenical movement has limited relations to Islam pretty much to areas of mutual agreement. This is well enough. But one cannot ignore the issue of truth about a text and the grounds on which it is based.

Religion or faith, even in Islam through Averroes, has been conceived as a myth designed to keep the people quiet. The scholars could quietly let the caliphs and the imams rule if the intelligentsia were left free to pursue philosophy, which was conceived to be anti-Koranic in the sense that the Koran did not hold up under scrutiny about its claims.

The fragility of Islam, as I see it, lies in a sudden realization of the ambiguity of the text of the Koran. Is it what it claims to be? Islam is weak militarily. It is strong in social cohesion, often using severe moral and physical sanctions. But the grounding and unity of its basic document are highly suspect. Once this becomes clear, Islam may be as fragile as communism. 


James V. Schall, S.J., a professor at Georgetown University, is one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. His most recent book is The Mind That Is Catholic.

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Comments (27)Add Comment
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written by Katharine Gorka, August 23, 2011
This is a very important argument, one that has been too long neglected! Robert Reilly's book mentioned in the article makes a very important contribution. See also the work of Ibn Warraq in bringing making the work of Koranic analysts accessible to a broader public.
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written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., August 23, 2011
As long as the powers that exist in the the so-called World of Peace refuse to enetertain any possiblity of errancy or contradiction in Islam's founding texts there will be enough true believers to threaten the peace of the world. Some of those powers that exist will soon have the ablity to mandfacutre weapons of mass destruction and put them in the hands of those who want to see paradise as soon as possible. Much of what is left of Christendom has been rendered harmless by the politically correct belief that Islam is a "religion of peace and tolerance." As for the fragility of Communism, while Blessed John Paul II might have been right about the Soviet Union, Marxism still permeates and corrupts nearly every aspcet of the Western world. doees anyone really imgagine that with the collapse of the Soviet sysytem Marxist academics all over the world ran off and demanded to be Baptized? On the contrary, they have only redoubled their efforts to poison the minds of our youth with hatred of Christianity and marriage. We are most surely at war on many fronts, what appears to be the fragility of our enemies is really their ability to mutate and adapt. thier name is Legion.
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written by Mariusz Wesolowski, August 23, 2011
If I understand you correctly, Father Schall, you propose to unleash higher criticism onto Islam in order to destroy it. This, I'm afraid, will not work - the rank and file of Muslims will carry on as usual because they won't be interested in intellectual hair-splitting. Just look at the evangelical Christianity in the US and elsewhere after almost 200 years of the Biblical higher criticism, "death of God" theology, etc., etc. Higher criticism has certainly damaged the faith of the intellectual elite in the main Christian denominations but has done very little to the popular piety. I also feel that this is somewhat akin to giving the Muslims blankets used by our smallpox victims - rather dishonorable. By the way, Father, I highly value your books and I am honored by making your acquaintance, even by such remote means. God Bless!
..., Low-rated comment [Show]
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written by John Mack, August 23, 2011
Scholars have known for quite awhile that the "70 virgins" supposedly promised to the terrorists who style themselves "martyrs" is a textual error. The original Koranic text promises 70 white raisins, a symbol at that time of great riches, not necessarily material. The original text is not that dissimilar to Christ's talking about "laying up treasures in heaven."
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written by jason taylor, August 23, 2011
And what will replace Islam? The fall of the Bourbon, Habsburg, Hohenzollern and Romanov clans was quite pleasurable to many people. For a while.
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written by Dick Rolwing, August 23, 2011
Fr. Schall may be right but his hope could be stronger. What Catholics need to do is to locate Islam somewhere in God's salvation history or providence. The church does not deny that some individuals, saints, mystics, and theologians have had mystical and revelatory experiences beyond public revelation that ended with the apostles. Some, like Bernadette were not even adults. There is much truth in Islam and much devotion toward God (and it has had many great religious figures). It is not necessary to deny that Mohammed received revelations from God. But as Karl Rahner says a genuine private revelation can always be somewhat distorted by the receiver. And no one is bound to believe it. How did Mohammed distort his mystical experiences? By not fully becoming a superseccessionist over the warfare culture of his time and area. Sadly, he had had some Christian examples by 600AD. Satan, who always promotes hatred, violence, injustice, and war, helped him distort the meaning of his spiritual experience. The history of Jihad (a 700 page book) reads like Satan's diary. The Jews had ths story of Joshua, and even Aquinas approved of force against heretics and apostates. Catholics should say yes and no to Islam. God blessed him and his but they distorted it. Communists provoked revolutions everywhere but they were not wholesale assassins. Peaceful Muslims should not be permitted to simply say Jihadists misinterpret the Koran. They should admit, insist, that demons infest their brethren. But we cannot get western politicians to even get righteously indignant about Muslim governments murdering their citizen protestors. "That leader should go" is but a pragmatic suggestion. However, I grant that NATO's attack on Gadafhi expressed moral indignation as our Declaration of Independence did. So we have atheistic secularists on the front porch and diabolical monotheists on the back porch. Catholic leaders the world over should constantly denounce Jihadism as a perversion of God's (private) revelation to Mohammed, and not merely a misinterpretation of the Koran -- which no Muslim can prove or make official.
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written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, August 24, 2011
If belief in the authenticity of the Book of Mormon can survive textual criticism, what hope is there for critics of the Qur'an?

Critics of the former can rely on a vast amount of evidence, extrinsic to the text itself, archaeological, genetic and philological, to rebut the historicity of its contents, none of which are available to critics of the Qur'an.

But consider a closer parallel; since the 16th century, scholars have identified a great many interpolations by the compilers of Justinian's Corpus Juris,as well as subsequent corruptions in the text. As long as the Corpus Juris remained living law (as it did in the German Empire until 1900) the jurists and the courts simply refused to consider them, because of the challenge their acknowledgement would have posed to the legal, social and political order. In the final analysis, the civil magistrate simply supported his interpretation with the power of the sword. Any criticisms that undermine the authority of Shari'ah, which is the law of millions, would meet with a similar response by the authorities.
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written by Vic Oro, August 24, 2011
John Mack,

written by John Mack, August 23, 2011
"This a very naive view. You cannot moderate the beliefs of Fundamentalist Christians in the United States with facts, about the Bible, about evolution, about the American Founders. Faith is blind to facts. No amount of research or facts will diminish Muslim beliefs."

The author may be naive, but your comment indicates pure ignorance. Last time I checked the Catholic church has it's share of buffoons. The reformed faith was a reaction to equally vile and corrupt actions of a powerful few who had lost their way.

I suggest you broaden your reading material a little bit and increase your knowledge so you can form more credible views.

Vic Oro
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written by Yezhov, August 24, 2011
Somewhere, some stone age minded mulla is getting ready to issue a fatwah for the death of Father Schall. Such black ingratitude on the part of Georgetown after gobbling up all those crumbs swept off the Saudi table!
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written by stosh, August 24, 2011
Famous phrase from classic Russian film, "White Sun of the Desert" - 'Vostok - delo tonkoe'. Translated, 'The East - is a delicate matter'.
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written by Leonard Kramer, August 24, 2011
I read Schall to be simply saying that Islam may be fragile because many claims it makes can be proven false. That the ferocious sensitivity Muslims exhibit to these questions reveals their own uncertainty in the veracity of those claims. I think Muslim regard for god as an unknowable force as contrasted with the Christian understanding of god as a person constrained by reason and logic makes that difference.
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written by SW, August 24, 2011
What is certain -- apart from the nitpicking about this article -- is that Islam as a monolithic entity is unprepared to move into the future in a fast changing modern world. While the Catholic Church has revisited its underpinnings and while faith is most assuredly belief and not fact, this Jewish reader appreciates the article's longer view, and suggests that the "fragility of Islam" is evident from many perspectives as it faces its Reformation-like moment. Currently the Roman Church has outreach to Jews as well as other Christian denominations, not to mention "moderate" Islam. The militant, radical Muslims cannot fathom this and are essentially exploding from their fragility. While this looks like militancy, it seems to me to be weakness and fracture. Thank you for a most interesting article.
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written by H.D., August 24, 2011
I wish Pop and Catholics spend their energy and time saving what is remained of christianity instead of getting entangled in conspiracies to subvert other faiths. I mean what kind of satanic anti-God crusade is that? As for Qoran: the whole Arabic grammer was organized by Islamic scholars who endlessly investigated every letter of Qoran and its roots. Somebody who works in Academia surely can search the library and find out for himself that thousands of Qoranic investigations exist, so the chance of ruining it for muslims is exactly zero. Overall, I wish Americans stop the radicalization of the world and spreading the combative ideologies, which later on comes to haunt us from all around the world.
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written by jason taylor, August 24, 2011
written by Dick Rolwing, August 23, 2011
"Fr. Schall may be right but his hope could be stronger. What Catholics need to do is to locate Islam somewhere in God's salvation history or providence. The church does not deny that some individuals, saints, mystics, and theologians have had mystical and revelatory experiences beyond public revelation that ended with the apostles. Some, like Bernadette were not even adults. There is much truth in Islam and much devotion toward God (and it has had many great religious figures). It is not necessary to deny that Mohammed received revelations from God. But as Karl Rahner says a genuine private revelation can always be somewhat distorted by the receiver. And no one is bound to believe it. How did Mohammed distort his mystical experiences? By not fully becoming a superseccessionist over the warfare culture of his time and area. Sadly, he had had some Christian examples by 600AD. Satan, who always promotes hatred, violence, injustice, and war, helped him distort the meaning of his spiritual experience. The history of Jihad (a 700 page book) reads like Satan's diary. The Jews had ths story of Joshua, and even Aquinas approved of force against heretics and apostates. Catholics should say yes and no to Islam. God blessed him and his but they distorted it. Communists provoked revolutions everywhere but they were not wholesale assassins. Peaceful Muslims should not be permitted to simply say Jihadists misinterpret the Koran. They should admit, insist, that demons infest their brethren. But we cannot get western politicians to even get righteously indignant about Muslim governments murdering their citizen protestors. "That leader should go" is but a pragmatic suggestion. However, I grant that NATO's attack on Gadafhi expressed moral indignation as our Declaration of Independence did. So we have atheistic secularists on the front porch and diabolical monotheists on the back porch. Catholic leaders the world over should constantly denounce Jihadism as a perversion of God's (private) revelation to Mohammed, and not merely a misinterpretation of the Koran -- which no Muslim can prove or make official."

That is a contradiction. The Declaration of Independence was also a Declaration of war. In any case condemning Islam because it is warlike is limited unless one holds to a pacifist position. Without revelation to the contrary one cannot say it is more wrong to fight for one's religion then for one's tribe or nation. And if Islam is true then everyone else is a rebel and there is no way to say that if Allah is real that he would not command his followers to subjugate all rebels by force of arms. Our distaste for Islam comes from habits of thought inherent specifically in Christianity which separate the Church from the World. And from the historical coincidence of them being our present enemy. And from our anger at them making war in a dishonorable manner. The first reason assumes the premise of our rightness, the second is irrelevant, and the third is not intrinsically necessary to a Jihadist Islam as it is theoretically possible for Muslims to fight without killing random civilians.

Jihadists are a threat to us because they are attacking us. Adding to that by, making ado about their moral failings in attacking us is spouting hot air. A man attacked in the street does not need to know that his opponent is sinning before hitting him, does he?
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written by rewinn, August 24, 2011
If scholarly analysis of texts could persuade millions to change their faith, then surely by now the entire planet would all agree with the Jesuits ...

... unless, of course, there were some flaw in the analysis of the Jesuits.
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written by Deacon Jim Stagg, August 24, 2011
My goodness, Fr. Schall. You seem to have hit a nerve.

Well done!

Watch your back.
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written by rewinn, August 24, 2011
@Jason Taylor wrote:
"... there is no way to say that if Allah is real that he would not command his followers to subjugate all rebels by force of arms."

And yet, in the real world, most Muslims say that (A) Allah is real and (B) Allah has not commanded his followers to subjugate the rest of us.

Perhaps talking it over with Muslims would enable you to discover how they can be so mistaken in their faith, and yet would you want to succeed? Perhaps it is in the interests of us Christians not to instruct Muslims that it is their religious duty to attack us. After all, most of them are our valued allies against a violent minority.
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written by Francis Sparling, August 25, 2011
First: The Koran is said to be dictated by Jibril (the Archangel Gabriel), not Allah himself.
Second: The credibility of Muhamed as a prophet is the weakness of Islam. The 'pre-history' of the Koran is not relevant. What is important is that the life of Muhamed is not the life of a real prophet. A text in which the Hadith and the Koran are told in chronological order would make that clear. The Koran and the Hadith today are carefully edited to hide that truth. We need an editor who can get permission from the imams to publish in date order. The we have a halal text which all people can read. Today Islam is largely learned by word of mouth, so it is a very socialised process. Once people can read it for themselves the truth will make us free.
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written by stosh, August 25, 2011
I love how Philosoper Eric Voegelin cuts to the chase. He says...."We have a mass of historical documents and now even more scholarly analysis of these documents. What we don't have is analysis of whether any of it is true or not."

The crux of the article is the line "its failure to understand the human soul and its origins".

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written by Jon Woods, August 26, 2011
I agree with Father Schall that Islam needs to be confronted with regard to its appropriation and distortion of Jesus and the prophets. In a deeper sense, though, isn't it incumbent on us as Christians to speak the truth about who God is?
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written by Mike, August 26, 2011
As a former academic, specializing in Soviet politics, I think the comparison is highly untenable. The political concepts of socialism were based on a reductionist and limited economic program - leaving signficant room for variations - but was very poor in defining the social arrangements of the ideal society. Also, socialism failed to deliver on it's promises, especially when compared to the West. Islam does not suffer from this as it is based on the ideas of spiritual community, which looks good in comparison to Western culture. Huntington's clash of civilizations is very telling in this regard. One major flaw in Islam is the idea that by being faithful Muslims will be successful in this world (the original version of the "prosperity gospel"). Failure is unthinkable to many Muslims and a sign that they need to work even harder at either (1) being better Muslims, often through more literalistic interpretations of the Koran or (2) be better Muslims through spreading the World of Islam into the World of War - hence the rise of the external jihadists in the last three decades.
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written by Strider55, August 27, 2011
I find it interesting that Fr. Schall makes no mention of the "schism" (if that's the right word) between the Sunni and Shiite Muslims. Much of the violence in Iraq after the US invasion was the ethnic cleansing of Sunnis, Shiite and Kurds out of the areas where the other factions predominated. Perhaps the ultimate fragility of Islam is the potential for the two sects to annihilate one another
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written by cc, August 27, 2011
muhammed said:
no more information from God.
So.
In islam, God is dead.
By who?
By muhammef himself.
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written by James, August 28, 2011
Father Schall and others interested in the fragility of Islam should look into "Unmasking Muhammed" by S. Das
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written by dj, September 04, 2011
I was interested in Fr Schall's mention of communism (and its downfall) in an article about Islam.
This raises a question in my mind about praying: in 1917 when Communism was just getting started in Russia, Our Lady requested prayers for the conversion of Russia to prevent the spread of errors around the world. 30 years later, that request found a particular response in the founding of the Blue Army by Father Colgan.
Question: does anyone know if Our Lady (in any approved apparitions) has requested prayers for the conversion of Moslems so as to prevent the spread of error akin to 1917 vis-a-vis Communists?
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written by veritas, September 24, 2011
The well known saying that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it was rephrased by some observant soul to read History does not repeat so much as it Echoes. Islam did not win conversions the real way. Islam conquered peoples who were left to either embrace Islam or embrace the sword. Once conquered Islam controlled the schools and the rest as they say is "History". With the emergence of a militant Secularism we in America and all of what once was termed Christendom are now facing an "Echo" of Islam. Prayer and God were banished first from the schools; next Teachers, Scholars, Professors and even simple Professionals such as Meteorologists must burn incense before the altars of that Trojan horse called Climate Change; a false front for Zero Population Growth or they are barred from or loose employment. Medical students must learn the dark arts of abortion or fail to matriculate. Those who should be calling the alarm are largely in cahoots with the invaders. Face it we are just like the Byzantine Empire. We are experiencing our own modern version of the Islamic echo of history. We are driven from the public square by the "brights" and largely with the help of volunteer Janissaries; many of whom have squandered a Catholic education and just like a Janissary of the 7th century they collect their double portions and their 30 pieces of silver. Compared to these turncoats we at least have to grant the Muslims the fact that they have the beginnings of Wisdom in that at least they fear God. They are thus at least a half penny candle in the darkness that has enveloped much of Europe and most of DC.

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