Trying to Discern Islam Truthfully and Mercifully

I’ve been trying to fairly research Islam despite my sinfulness. I know we are to respect every Muslim for his/her intrinsic goodness, their human dignity and equality with us, their submission to God, and their commitment to the moral life.

I am not in the least wanting to offend Muslims, who may be living much better lives before God than myself. I’m also aware that I tend to focus on the negative–about everything–and that I am reacting in part to the politically correct approach to Islam which I find to be inaccurate.

I also know that Pope Francis has also said that authentic Islam and a proper reading of the Quran are opposed to every form of violence

Personally, I can’t figure out how he can say that. And that would not be a teaching on Catholic faith and morals, so would not be a matter of the ordinary Magisterium, would it?

I can understand speaking up very strongly for the dignity and intelligence and goodness of Muslims as our brothers in sisters. But why does that mean defending Islam itself?

In other words, I don’t understand such a seemingly-extreme defense of Islam itself as a belief system.

I’ve read, in the past, a book by Robert Spencer–I believe it was called “Islam Unveiled”–which was endorsed by Fr. Mitch Pacwa whom I respect. Spencer I believe is also connected with Catholic Answers. I’ve found articles or radio talks by him on the cite.

Spencer’s site–“Jihad Watch”–gives an article called Islam 101 which says that Islam itself–not Muslims as persons-- is a “fascist” religion and claims that Islam is purposed to conquer the world for Allah–by force, as needed, and by making second class citizens or virtual slaves of non-Muslims (see Quran 9:29, 9:5, 8:39, 2:190-193. if I remember right). He says that Islam itself involves telling people lies in order to make people believe that Islam is a religion of peace.

I don’t want to focus on the negative, but it does seem like we should have a clear idea of both the good and bad actions of Muhammad, since–as I understand it-- Islam bases everything they believe on his teachings and actions, as the basis of all their conduct.

It is obviously very good that he proclaimed the one God and rejected idolatry opposed such things as adultery and theft, and approved of charitable giving, prayer five times a day (a very good things!), and pilgrimage.

I need help seeing more of the good that Muhammad did.

Please correct me if you believe any of the below are inaccurate or misinterpretations of a passage in the Muslim writings. Again, I don’t want to be unfair or disrespectful to Islam, to Muslims, or to anyone. I’m just in the process of gathering evidence and forming an opinion of a belief system, not a critique of Muslims in general or Muslims as individuals.

I don’t remember many of the references, but from the quotations I’ve looked at in the Quran and Hadith, it appears that Muhammed also taught some very bad things.

The primary texts I used were from the University of Southern Calfornia’s Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement.

I’m aware that things can be very different from what they seem.

Apparently, Muhammad ordered Muslims to violently conquer the world world until everyone is either Muslim or subdued as a second class citizen. Also, sleeping even with married slaves. Also, that he married a nine year old named Aisha (in Bukhari). That he sanctioned rape of female war captives and the murder of women and children during war. That he had numerous sex slaves in addition to 13 wives in total. Apparently he said that Jews and Christians are cursed by God. It seems he approved the assassination of a man who wrote poetry which was negative toward Muslim women. as well as other assassinations. It seems that he granted men unrestricted sexual access to their wives (and sex slaves), referring to women as “fields” into which husbands can go when they will (Quran 2:223). That he approved the murder or performed himself the murder of 700 Jews of the tribe called Quraiza. And that he sanctioned wife battery (Quran 4:34) and hit his wife Aisha. and that he even told his wives when they could answer the call of nature.

It seems that Islam after Muhammed immediately continued Muhammed’s ways after his death, as the Islam belief system spread by brutal force through the Middle East, North Africa, Asia, and into Europe, Russia, Asia Minor, etc.

Of course, he was a sinner like all of us. However, again, since Islam believe his life is the perfect pattern of conduct, should not such things be discussed honestly and mercifully in the West so that we understand what Islam itself is?

Of course, as the Catholic Encyclopedia suggests, he began his preaching sincerely, and he also taught many sound principles of morality as I understand it–and I believe the Catholic Encyclopedia states that–and often affirmed the mercy of God, and also other things such as the virgin birth–and, I believe–the perpetual virginity of our Mother Mary.

I would like help in understanding more of the good side of Muhammed and how God has brought good out of Muhammad’s life and preaching and religion. And how God was at work in Muhamad’s life.

Please help me to process these things and to have a balanced picture of Islam.

Another question I have as a Catholic, and in response to the Oxford UNion debate involving a man named Hassan regarding whether Islam is a “religion of peace”…

Would it be true to say that Christian countries–despite such non-CHristian horrors as Soviet Communism, the Nazi Holocaust, the wars between Catholics and Protestants, etc–have been better at safeguarding human rights and dignity?

Anyway, I hope I am asking things fairly and being respectful as I wrestle with these issues on this feast of Mary the Mother of God, who is the Mother of all human beings.

Thank you. Peace of Mary and Jesus, Pat

the problem is, you can’t separate out the muslims committing violence for their own (often political) reasons, from the ones who believe they are carrying our allah’s will. and a proper reading of the koran is even more difficult than a proper reading of the bible.

your best hope is to focus on Jesus, do all the good you can while on this earth, and keep heaven in your sight at all times. there will be no hatred there, just the love of God. blessings!

I also know that Pope Francis has also said that authentic Islam and a proper reading of the Quran are opposed to every form of violence

Personally, I can’t figure out how he can say that. And that would not be a teaching on Catholic faith and morals, so would not be a matter of the ordinary Magisterium, would it?

On the question of violence, we shouldn’t pretend that this is something unique to Muslims or their sacred scriptures. The Old Testament is full of violence. For example, in 1 Samuel 15:1-3:

1 Samuel said to Saul, “The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the Lord. 2 Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did in opposing the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt. 3 Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’”

There are numerous instances of violence, some commanded by God, in the Old Testament. Pope John Paul II also apologized for injustices carried out by the Church:

  1. The conquest of Mesoamerica by Spain in the name of the Church

  2. The Church’s role in burnings at the stake and the religious wars that followed the Protestant Reformation

  3. For the actions of the Crusader attack on Constantinople in 1204.

Does all of this mean that Judaism or Christianity are therefore inherently violent religions? Of course not.

-The way to discern Islam truthfully and mercifully is through the lens of the Church. Non-Church scholars can give you information about Islam, but in order to understand what is truthful within its teachings and what is not one needs to use the Church’s teachings as the guideline and reference her Islamic scholars.
-While I agree with a great extent of what the Holy Father has stated about Islam, I don’t believe his statements rise to the level in which all Catholics must agree with him on the matter.
-The defense of Islam and Muslims that we Catholics are called to put forth isn’t the defense of Islam itself, but the defense of the truths found within its teachings and the practices of its followers. This also includes, and which some Islamic apologists seem to forget or take offense at, ensuring that the errors within Islamic teachings aren’t ignored or white washed over. Saying that Muslims worship the same God we do and that Muslims falsely believe that Muhammad is a prophet are actually both defensive statements of Islam. Both accurately report what Muslims believe and both accurately report the truthfulness of their beliefs (as in how true the beliefs are, not if they really believe what they are claiming).
-Mr. Spencer is not someone I would suggest in trying to learn about Islam. I would instead suggest you read the works of those actually employed by the Church to research Islam and develop dialogue with Muslims.
-Islam being a religion of peace depends greatly on how you define peace.
-I think it would be more accurate to state that Christianity has had a greater impact on society and culture in promoting and ingraining into the fabric of the society/culture itself a just understanding and practice of safeguarding human rights and dignity than Islam has.

The report that Aisha was 9 comes from Bukhari who was born almost two centuries after the death of Muhammad. Not all his reports are accurate. We don’t actually know how old Aisha was and some scholars believe that she was perhaps 10 years older (i.e. 19). For an intelligent overview of this, here is part of an article in The Guardian:

Critics allege that Aisha was just six years old when she was betrothed to Muhammad, himself in his 50s, and only nine when the marriage was consummated. They base this on a saying attributed to Aisha herself (Sahih Bukhari volume 5, book 58, number 234), and the debate on this issue is further complicated by the fact that some Muslims believe this to be a historically accurate account. Although most Muslims would not consider marrying off their nine-year-old daughters, those who accept this saying argue that since the Qur’an states that marriage is void unless entered into by consenting adults, Aisha must have entered puberty early.

They point out that, in seventh-century Arabia, adulthood was defined as the onset of puberty. (This much is true, and was also the case in Europe: five centuries after Muhammad’s marriage to Aisha, 33-year-old King John of England married 12-year-old Isabella of Angoulême.) Interestingly, of the many criticisms of Muhammad made at the time by his opponents, none focused on Aisha’s age at marriage.

According to this perspective, Aisha may have been young, but she was not younger than was the norm at the time. Other Muslims doubt the very idea that Aisha was six at the time of marriage, referring to historians who have questioned the reliability of Aisha’s age as given in the saying. In a society without a birth registry and where people did not celebrate birthdays, most people estimated their own age and that of others. Aisha would have been no different. What’s more, Aisha had already been engaged to someone else before she married Muhammad, suggesting she had already been mature enough by the standards of her society to consider marriage for a while. It seems difficult to reconcile this with her being six.

In addition, some modern Muslim scholars have more recently cast doubt on the veracity of the saying, or hadith, used to assert Aisha’s young age. In Islam, the hadith literature (sayings of the prophet) is considered secondary to the Qur’an. While the Qur’an is considered to be the verbatim word of God, the hadiths were transmitted over time through a rigorous but not infallible methodology. Taking all known accounts and records of Aisha’s age at marriage, estimates of her age range from nine to 19.

Because of this, it is impossible to know with any certainty how old Aisha was. What we do know is what the Qur’an says about marriage: that it is valid only between consenting adults, and that a woman has the right to choose her own spouse. As the living embodiment of Islam, Muhammad’s actions reflect the Qur’an’s teachings on marriage, even if the actions of some Muslim regimes and individuals do not.

To have an honest assessment of islam would likely get you thrown out of this website for violations

So what you are saying is that this website supports dishonesty by not allowing honest discussions. Um, ok…that’s not a very nice thing to say about a site you use for free.

According to Qur’an 2:62:

Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians – whoever believes in God and the Last Day and does good, they shall have their reward from their Lord. And there will be no fear for them, nor shall they grieve.

huh, a defender of islam, who woulda thunk.:confused:

A good short biography of Muhammad is Karen Armstrong’s Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time (HarperOne, 2007)

Another good book on Muhammad is University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill professor Omid Safi’s book Memories of Muhammad: Why the Prophet Matters (HarperOne, 2009)

I lived in Egypt for three years and speak Arabic (as well as a little Turkish and Persian). I’ve also traveled extensively throughout the region including Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Israel/Palestine, Tunisia and Morocco. I have many Muslim friends.

I honestly don’t know what to think as far as orthodox Islam goes. It seems to have started off peacefully then later developed into violence and conquest. It’s a popular belief Muhammad’s last words were a curse to Christians and Jews. Abu Bakr the direct successor of Muhammad went on conquest campaigns. Even looking at this hadith below:
Abu Burda reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: There would come people amongst the Muslims on the Day of Resurrection with as heavy sins as a mountain, and Allah would forgive them and He would place in their stead the Jews and the Christians* -** Sahih Muslim Book 037, Hadith Number 6668**

I respect the modern peaceful Muslims but it seems they may be ignorant or biased regarding Islam in the context of early Islamic history.

makes sense. why all the unrest? if you can call decapitating people with a blunt knife unrest.

I think we need to make a distinction between radical jihadists and peaceful Muslims.

According to a retired CIA analyst who specialized on Islam only 15-20% of Muslims are the radical type. That means there are about 200-300 million jihadists.

All the Muslims I have personally met have been peaceful, friendly, and productive people.

ya, that’s what the neighbors of the 911 jihadists said. ‘they were nice people, invited us for cookouts, babysat our kids, who knew?’:eek:

I don’t know who wrote that article but it is not true. Aisha was 7 years old when she was married to Muhammad(pbuh)

Why did he marry a girl so young?

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First just a brief note: the Quran is not chronological. So part of the difficulty is knowing which verses came later and thus abrogated any earlier verses which may contradict them.

Then, thanks for the comments.

As I understand it, according to the Hadith considered sacred and reliable by Muslims–such as especially Bukhari–Aisha was 9. Muhammed I believe was 53.

It’s important to keep in mind, it seems to me, that whatever we may believe, Islam itself sees the Quran and Muhammad’s way of life (in the Hadith and the Sira) as the absolute last word of God on everything. There is no, as understand it, dispute about this in any of the main schools of Islamic thought. Nor is there any dispute about the responsibility of Muslims to wage war until everyone is Islamic or subdued as a second class citizen

Of course, I may be wrong so I need help understanding specific passages and references to sources which I can trust. I would not trust Karen Armstrong, the Guardian, or other secular/secularistic sources personally. I find the liberal/feminist liking for Islam and simultaneous disdain for Catholicism to be quite strange and disturbing.

Moreover the Quran states something which SEEMS to ME to be very concerning. In its chapter on divorce it apparently sanctions marriage to prebuscent girls

YUSUFALI: Thus when they fulfil their term appointed, either take them back on equitable terms or part with them on equitable terms; and take for witness two persons from among you, endued with justice, and establish the evidence (as) before Allah. Such is the admonition given to him who believes in Allah and the Last Day. And for those who fear Allah, He (ever) prepares a way out,

YUSUFALI: Such of your women as have passed the age of monthly courses, for them the prescribed period, if ye have any doubts, is three months, and for those who have no courses (it is the same): for those who carry (life within their wombs), their period is until they deliver their burdens: and for those who fear Allah, He will make their path easy.

As to the issue of respect for CHristians and Jews, my understanding–which could be wrong–is that the verse quoted above was when Muhammed was still as Mecca and was a peaceful and persecuted man.

ANd that this scripture was abrogated by his later violent verses written from Medina, from which he launched a brutal, offensive war in the name of God, involving his approval–according to the Islamic sources, or rape, plunder, cutting off hands and feet, crucifixion, murder, sex slavery, slave trade, etc

YUSUFALI: Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.
PICKTHAL: Fight against such of those who have been given the Scripture as believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, and forbid not that which Allah hath forbidden by His messenger, and follow not the Religion of Truth, until they pay the tribute readily, being brought low.
SHAKIR: Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Messenger have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book, until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection.

Again, i’m no scholar of Islam or anything and I’m a a sinner and am just wrestling with these things. I would love to know how the Church’s scholars see the passages in the Islamic sources which concern me.

And I know Mary and Jesus love every Muslim just the same as me and in questioning the intrinsic character of Islam I am in no way judging any Muslims.
Peace of Mary,


Again, as I understand it, this thread is not about whether Muslims are good people. It is about the objective nature of Islam as a specific, unified belief system believing itself to be the absolute last word of God to all humanity.

Right. It’s a great statement of tolerance. But was it abrograted by a later verse which Islam regards as the last word of God? As I understand it, Bukhari has Muhammed saying that Christians and Jews are cursed, and that after Muhammad conquered Mecca he said that the end of the world wouldn’t come until Islam killed the Jews and the very stones told the Muslims to kill the Jews

Here is the Quran saying that Jews and Christians are cursed. What do you believe is the correct way to interpret these verses?:

YUSUFALI: The Jews call 'Uzair a son of Allah, and the Christians call Christ the son of Allah. That is a saying from their mouth; (in this) they but imitate what the unbelievers of old used to say. Allah’s curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth!
PICKTHAL: And the Jews say: Ezra is the son of Allah, and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah. That is their saying with their mouths. They imitate the saying of those who disbelieved of old. Allah (Himself) fighteth against them. How perverse are they!
SHAKIR: And the Jews say: Uzair is the son of Allah; and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah; these are the words of their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved before; may Allah destroy them; how they are turned away!

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