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Mary And The Moslems

by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

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  • Description:
    This interesting and timely article by the late Most Reverend Fulton J. Sheen first appeared in the Mindszenty Report of August 1991. It presents the Bishop's observations on whether Islam and Christianity can find common ground to co-exist in the coming decades. As editor John Boland says they are "more significant now perhaps than when written 49 years ago."
  • Larger Work:
    Mindszenty Report
  • Pages: 1 - 3
  • Publisher & Date:
    Cardinal Mindszenty Foundation, St. Louis, MO, October 2001

Editor's Note by John Boland

Editor's Note: Today over one billion persons — about one-sixth of the world's population — are followers of Islam, a religious movement, which began in the early seventh century. While found living virtually everywhere in the world, Muslims are concentrated in a belt of countries on both sides of the equator, stretching from Morocco to the Philippine Islands. These countries — notes historian Geoffrey Parrinder in World Religions: From Ancient History to the Present — "occupy territory of great historical and strategic significances, as they lie across the most important lines of trade and communications between the Old World and the New."

To Westerners, the beliefs and ways of the Moslems are mystifying and complicated — better to ignore than try to understand. Yet, more and more, what is happening in the Moslem world directly involves Western interests and concerns. Some examples: the late Ayatollah Khomeini and the U.S. hostages in Iran; the international furor over author Salman Rushdie's boring, but insulting Satanic Verses book, which forced Rushdie into hiding and a million-dollar Moslem assassination contract offer on his head; the Iraqi (97% Moslem population to 3% Christian) invasion of Kuwait (92% Moslem to 6% Christian); the Gulf War against Moslem Iraq involving the largest mobilization of U.S. military forces since WWII; and the megabillion-dollar B.C.C.I. banking scandal — entangling money-laundering for terrorists and drug kingpins — operating from (Moslem population 97%) Pakistan.

Certainly devout followers of the Moslem religious movement — the word Islam means, "surrender . . . commitment . . . submission" — can in no way be held responsible for the financial (B.C.C.I.) scandals or expansionist ambitions (Hussein's invasion of Kuwait) of such corrupt political and banking generals. No more so than the Catholic Church can be condemned over priests who give public scandal to teaching heresy; or the Bible dismissed because corrupt TV evangelists are found pocketing their congregations' alms.

At the same time, however, it must be remembered that Christian Europe was once nearly destroyed by Moslem invasions and — today — with the migration to Europe and the U.S. of vast numbers of Moslems, their influence on Western society is an important reality. The question: "Can Islam and Christianity find common ground to co-exist in the coming decades" is important and current; yet hardly new.

In 1952, the late Bishop Fulton Sheen devoted a chapter in his book The World's First Love (Garden City Books, Garden City, N.Y.) — entitled "Mary and the Moslems" — to this significant query. Following are Bishop Sheen's observations; more significant now perhaps than when written 49 years ago.

Mary And The Moslems

Moslemism is the only great post-Christian religion of the world. Because it had its origin in the seventh century under Mohammed, it was possible to unite, within it, some elements of Christianity and of Judaism, along with particular customs of Arabia. Moslemism takes the doctrine of the unity of God, His majesty and His creative power, and uses it, in part, as a basis for the reproduction of Christ, the Son of God. Misunderstanding the notion of the Trinity, Mohammed made Christ a prophet announcing Him just as to Christians, Isaiah and John the Baptist are prophets announcing Christ.

The Christian European West barely escaped destruction at the hands of the Moslems. At one point they were stopped near Tours and at another point, later on in time, outside the gates of Vienna. The Church throughout northern Africa was practically destroyed by Moslem power, and at the present hour, the Moslems are beginning to rise again.

If Moslemism is a heresy, as Hiliaire Belloc believes it to be, it is the only heresy that has never declined. Others have had a moment of vigor, then gone into doctrinal decay at the death of the leader, and finally evaporated in a vague social movement. Moslemism, on the contrary, has only had its first phase. There was never a time in which it declined, either in numbers, or in the devotion of its followers.

The missionary effort of the Church toward this group has been at least on the surface, a failure, for the Moslems are so far almost unconvertible. The reason is that for a follower of Mohammed to become a Christian is much like a Christian becoming a Jew. The Moslems believe that they have the final and definitive revelation of God to the world and that Christ was only a prophet announcing Mohammed, the last of God's real prophets.

At the present time, the hatred of the Moslem countries against the West is becoming a hatred against Christianity itself. Although the statesmen have not yet taken it into account, there is still grave danger that the temporal power of Islam may return and, with it, the menace that it may shake off a West which has ceased to by Christian, and affirm itself as a great anti-Christian world power. Moslem writers say, "When the locust swarms darken countries, they bear on their wings these Arabic words: 'We are God's host, each of us has ninety-nine eggs, and if we had a hundred, we should lay waste the world, with all that is in it.'"

The problem is, how shall we prevent the hatching of the hundredth egg? It is our firm belief that the fears some entertain concerning the Moslems are not to be realized, but the Moslemism, instead, will eventually be converted to Christianity — and in a way that even some of our missionaries never suspect. It is our belief that this will happen not through the direct teachings of Christianity, but through a summoning of the Moslems to a veneration of the Mother of God. This is the line of argument:

Mary

The Koran, which is the Bible of the Moslems, has many passages concerning the Blessed Virgin. First of all, the Koran believes in her Immaculate Conception, and also, in her Virgin Birth. The third chapter of the Koran places the history of Mary's family in a genealogy, which goes back through Abraham, Noah, and Adam. When one compares the Koran's description of the birth of Mary with the apocryphal Gospel of the birth of Mary, one is tempted to believe that Mohammed very much depended upon the latter. Both books describe the old age and the definite sterility of the mother of Mary. When, however, she conceives, the mother of Mary is made to say in the Koran; "O Lord, I vow and consecrate to you what is already within me. Accept it from me."

When Mary is born, the mother says: "And I consecrate her with all of her posterity under thy protection, O Lord, against Satan!"

The Koran passes over Joseph in the life of Mary, but the Moslem tradition know his name and has some familiarity with him. In this tradition, Joseph is made to speak to Mary, who is a virgin. As he inquired how she conceived Jesus without a father, Mary answered: "Do you not know that God, when He created the wheat had no need of seed, and that God by His power made the trees grow without the help of rain? All that God had to do was to say, 'So be it, and it was done.'"

The Koran has also verses on the Annunciation, Visitation, and Nativity. Angels are pictured as accompanying the Blessed Mother and saying: "Oh, Mary, God has chosen you and purified you, and elected you above all the women of the earth." In the nineteenth chapter of the Koran there are 41 verses on Jesus and Mary. There is such a strong defense of the virginity of Mary here that the Koran, in the fourth book, attributed the condemnation of the Jews to their monstrous calumny against the Virgin Mary.

Fatima

Mary, then, is for the Moslems the true Sayyida, or Lady. The only possible serious rival to her in their creed would be Fatima, the daughter of Mohammed himself. But after the death of Fatima, Mohammed wrote: "Thou shalt be the most blessed of all the women in Paradise, after Mary." In a variant of the text, Fatima is made to say, "I surpass all the women, except Mary."

This brings us to our second point: namely, why the Blessed Mother, in the 20th century should have revealed herself in the significant little village of Fatima, so that to all future generations she would be known as "Our Lady of Fatima." Since nothing ever happens out of Heaven except with a finesse of all details, I believe that the Blessed Virgin chose to be known as "Our Lady of Fatima" as a pledge and a sign of hope to the Moslem people, and as an assurance that they, who show her so much respect, will one day accept her divine Son too.

Evidence to support these views is found in the historical fact that the Moslems occupied Portugal for centuries. At the time when they were finally driven out, the last Moslem chief had a beautiful daughter by the name of Fatima. A Catholic boy fell in love with her, and for him she not only stayed behind when the Moslems left, but even embraced the Faith. The young husband was so much in love with her that he changed the name of the town where he lived to Fatima. Thus, the very place where our Lady appeared in 1917 bears a historical connection to Fatima, the daughter of Mohammed.

The final evidence of the relationship of Fatima to the Moslems is the enthusiastic reception, which the Moslems in Africa and India and elsewhere gave to the Pilgrim statue of Our Lady of Fatima, as mentioned earlier. Moslems attended the church services in honor of Our Lady, they allowed religious processions and even prayers before their mosques; and in Mozambique the Moslems who were unconverted, began to be Christian as soon as the statue of Our Lady of Fatima was erected.

Missionaries

Missionaries in the future will, more and more, see that their apostolate among the Moslems will be successful in the measure that they preach Our Lady of Fatima. Mary is the advent of Christ, bringing Christ to the people before Christ Himself is born. In an apologetic endeavor, it is always best to start with that which people already accept. Because the Moslems have a devotion to Mary, our missionaries should be satisfied merely to expand and to develop that devotion, with the full realization that Our Blessed Lady will carry the Moslems the rest of the way to her divine Son. She is forever a "traitor," in the sense that she will not accept any devotion for herself, but will always bring anyone who is devoted to her to her divine Son. As those who lose devotion to her lose belief in the divinity of Christ, so those who intensify devotion to her gradually acquire that belief.

Many of our great missionaries in Africa have already broken down the bitter hatred and prejudices of the Moslems against the Christians through their acts of charity, their schools and hospitals. It now remains to use another approach, namely, that of taking the 41st chapter of the Koran and showing them that it was taken out of the Gospel of Luke, that Mary could not be, even in their own eyes, the most blessed of all the women of Heaven if she had not also borne One who was the Savior of the world. If Judith and Esther of the Old Testament were pre-figures of Mary, then it may well be that Fatima herself was a post-figure of Mary! The Moslems should be prepared to acknowledge that, if Fatima must give way in honor to the Blessed Mother, it is because she is different from all the other mothers of the world and that without Christ she would be nothing.

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