What does the Pope think about Islam?

Friday, January 06, 2006
In an interview of Father Joseph Fessio by Hugh Hewitt, Pope Benedict is reported to have doubts whether Islam can adapt to modernity because of the core article of the faith that the Koran is eternal and uncreated.
HH: Father Fessio, before the break, you were telling us that after the presentation at Castel Gandolfo by two scholars of Islam this summer with Benedict in attendance, as well as his former students, for the first time in your memory, the Pope did not allow his students to first comment and reserve comment, but in fact, went first. Why, and what did he say?

JF: Well, the thesis that was proposed by this scholar was that Islam can enter into the modern world if the Koran is reinterpreted by taking the specific legislation, and going back to the principles, and then adapting it to our times, especially with the dignity that we ascribe to women, which has come through Christianity, of course. And immediately, the Holy Father, in his beautiful calm but clear way, said well, there's a fundamental problem with that, because he said in the Islamic tradition, God has given His word to Mohammed, but it's an eternal word. It's not Mohammed's word. It's there for eternity the way it is. There's no possibility of adapting it or interpreting it, whereas in Christianity, and Judaism, the dynamism's completely different, that God has worked through His creatures. And so, it is not just the word of God, it's the word of Isaiah, not just the word of God, but the word of Mark. He's used His human creatures, and inspired them to speak His word to the world, and therefore by establishing a Church in which he gives authority to His followers to carry on the tradition and interpret it, there's an inner logic to the Christian Bible, which permits it and requires it to be adapted and applied to new situations. I was...I mean, Hugh, I wish I could say it as clearly and as beautifully as he did, but that's why he's Pope and I'm not, okay? That's one of the reasons. One of others, but his seeing that distinction when the Koran, which is seen as something dropped out of Heaven, which cannot be adapted or applied, even, and the Bible, which is a word of God that comes through a human community, it was stunning.

HH: And so, is it fair to describe him as a pessimist about the prospect of modernity truly engaging Islam in the way modernity has engaged Christianity?

JF: Well, the other way around.

HH: Yes. I meant that.

JF: Yeah, that Christianity can engage modernity just like it did...the Jews did Egypt, or Christians did to Greece, because we can take what's good there, and we can elevate it through the revelation of Christ in the Bible. But Islam is stuck. It's stuck with a text that cannot be adapted, or even be interpreted properly.

HH: And so the Pope is a pessimist about that changing, because it would require a radical reinterpretation of what the Koran is?

JF: Yeah, which is it's impossible, because it's against the very nature of the Koran, as it's understood by Muslims.

HH: And so, even the dialectic that was the Reformation is not possible within Islam?

JF: No.


MeaninglessHotAir said...

This is a well-known and widely held view of Islam. Of course one must remember that in the revealed religions there's always a lot of picking and choosing which goes on. No modern Christian or Jew really believes in the "eye for an eye" nonsense. The arguments are always about which parts we're going to ignore. I don't believe that Islam will not substantially change within my lifetime though.

terrye said...

I think that Muslims will want a better life for their children. This is universal to all but the most fanatical.

So I think that Islam will change or perish. This is the real war, the war within Islam itself.

truepeers said...

"No modern Christian or Jew really believes..."

-yes, but that's because the Bible is seen as part of a historically progressive revelation, from Abraham and Moses (and for Christians) through Jesus to the apostles. Some people take this tradition fo historicism as a license to become relativists - truth all depends on the times - while others would say that the Bible as part of an expanding universe of truths that all owe their debt to the original truth of the creator and creation.

Can Muslims adopt such ways of thinking, and remain confident Muslims, since the strategy of Islam's founders was precisely to avoid the historical game of the Jews and Christians and proclaim their monotheism to be the uncreated, eternal, truth?

MeaninglessHotAir said...

So I think that Islam will change or perish.

Or else the West will perish for lack of belief in itself.

terrye said...


I think the west is too in love with itself for that.

They like their drugs, sex and rock and roll too much.

Jamie Irons said...


I read the interview earlier today, and it gave me great respect for the new Pope.

But I wish Mr. Hewitt had deleted the last paragraph of his interlocutor's comments. That last was a bit of a saltation of the elasmobranch...


Jamie Irons

Peter UK said...

"They like their drugs, sex and rock and roll too much."

That is the bit the Islamic fundamentalists hate about us.

Syl said...


The picking and choosing has been settled after centuries of Islamic Scholars decisions. Their arguments have been honed such that nothing stands in their way anymore because they've already refuted everything contrary to their belief.

Anyway, between any two, the one that comes latest is the final word.

And Mr. M's brutality only increased as he aged.

If I were a glass-half-empty person, which I am on alternate days, I'd say we are royally f*'d.