I would like to lay out the disclaimer right now that I am a faithful Catholic, and do not intend to act as an apologist for Islam. I do intend to dispel misconceptions, nuance generalizations, and address other such issues that come up that I feel lead to negative trends toward Islam. I also intend to demonstrate that the Holy Father and his recent predecessors have taken great steps to dialogue peacefully and charitably with the Muslim community.
I think the Holy Father agrees. In addressing Muslim communities in 2005 he said:
“I am profoundly convinced that we must not yield to the negative pressures in our midst, but must affirm the values of mutual respect, solidarity and peace.” -Source
It is clear what he is referring to when he speaks of “negative pressures:” a cycle of fear and hatred that exists between many Christians and Muslims that perpetuates violence, persecution, and the marginalization of religious minorities in both Christian Europe and the Muslim Middle East. Xenophobia is running rampant in Europe, and it isn’t much better in America. What we must realize is that the more one persecutes and marginalizes a religious minority, the more closed off from and ultimately hostile to society they will become.
There are countless Papal speeches and decrees along these lines, but in closing this post I would like to hearken back to one of my favorite anecdotes from one of my favorite Saints, Francis of Assisi. In the midst of the Fifth Crusade, Francis travelled to the Holy Land, and was disgusted by the violence inflicted by Christians on local Muslims and Jews… and then he travelled to meet the Muslim Sultan to risk his life evangelizing. Francis did what no Crusader would have been able to do… he entered the Sultan’s court, unarmed, spoke before the Sultan explaining his Christian beliefs, and walked out unharmed. He accomplished this because he treated the Sultan as a brother, showed respect to the Sultan’s religion, and explained his own faith in a charitable manner. This is an example I believe we should all follow. The story in question is related quite well in this column, and is attested to in contemporary medieval written sources.