Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

On the Campaign for Islamic Prayer in a Cathedral of Mary

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Aug 18, 2010

The Archbishop of Cordoba has refused permission for Muslims to practice formal Islamic prayer in his cathedral, which is dedicated to Saint Mary of the Assumption. According to Mansur Escudero, who is leading the campaign for Islamic worship in the cathedral, the purpose of the campaign is not to win a victory for Islam, but a victory for mankind. He wants the cathedral to serve as a living symbol of religious harmony.

On his side Escudero has the dual heritage of the cathedral. Originally the site of a Catholic church dedicated to St. James, it was converted to a mosque after the Islamic conquest of southern Spain in the 8th century, and it was converted back to a cathedral when Spain’s Catholic monarchy wrested control of Cordoba from the Muslims in the 13th century. It is said that at times during the golden age of Islam, Christians and Muslims worshipped together peacefully in the mosque, though apparently never so peacefully that the Christians did not yearn to throw off their Muslim conquerors, fighting for some 700 years before they finally managed to reclaim all of Spain.

Against the sincerity of Escudero’s idea is the rather telling point that Escudero, though claiming to be motivated by sweetness and light, happens to be a convert to Islam. Yet, curiously, has not jump-started his campaign by seeking to open a currently active mosque to Catholic worship. Instead, he wishes to launch peace and harmony by insisting that a Catholic cathedral open itself to Islam.

Nor is Escudero’s own description of what he is trying to achieve particularly edifying:

They pretend that we are trying to conquer the mosque again. That's not the intention at all. We want it to be a place where anyone— whether Muslim, Christian or Jew— can do his meditation or his internal way of worshipping, or praying or whatever he wants to call it.

Of course, any Muslim or Jew can already enter the cathedral quietly and “do his meditation or his internal way of worshipping, or praying”. I don’t think the Archbishop is prepared to read hearts or assess the intentions of those quietly pursuing interior prayer. But public worship is something else, and the phrase “whatever he wants to call it” leaves one pondering the extent of Escudero’s spiritual eclecticism. Is it conceivable that he is more interested in religious indifferentism than in religious understanding? Or perhaps Catholic indifferentism?

We ought to respect those who sincerely hold deep religious beliefs contrary to our own. We ought to strive for better mutual understanding, and make ourselves more aware of the similarities—and the differences—in our respective beliefs. As a general norm, however, those who care deeply about their faith ought not to be anxious to open their places of worship to those who believe that faith is largely false. And those who have charge of buildings consecrated to the worship of Jesus Christ as Lord ought not to open them to gatherings and worship by those who deny Christ’s claims.

It is far better, I think, for those who disagree with each other in matters of faith to worship separately. The alternative, I fear, is that, along with disagreement, faith itself will disappear. Nor do I intend this merely as a matter of sensible sociological grouping, as if every religion is the same, and so we must simply respect differences that, having no real reason to exist, are nonetheless collectively important to the soul.

No: I believe that Jesus Christ is the sole and unique mediator between God and man, and that all salvation comes through him. I do not wish to see this blunted in any way. I hope and believe I speak in the great tradition reaffirmed so recently by Mansur Escudero: The triumph of the cross, after all, is for the good of humanity.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: - Aug. 25, 2010 10:47 PM ET USA

    There never was a "golden age of Islam. The advancements that Islam got credit for never came from Muslims from Mecca or Medina, but always from conquered peoples like the Spanish, who had years and years of culture behind them. All that really happened was that by virtue of being the conqueror, the Arab Muslims forced publication of science, medical, mechanical achievements in Arabic, rather than any previous language. That explains the "end" of Arab advances when Christianity triumphed.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 21, 2010 9:08 AM ET USA

    Red hat for the Archbishop.

  • Posted by: Lisa Nicholas, PhD - Aug. 20, 2010 6:02 PM ET USA

    I agree 100% with the Archbishop's refusal, for the reasons that you propose. If Escudero is a faithful follower of Mohammed and the Qu'ran, then his notion of "religious harmony" is "total submission to Islam." I would find it abhorrent for any Christian church to be opened to Islamic worship, particularly considering that many Muslim countries completely outlaw Christian worship.

  • Posted by: a son of Mary - Aug. 19, 2010 1:17 PM ET USA

    Notice the mosque/cultural center in NYC near Ground Zero of 9/11 is called Cordoba? That's not a coincidence.

  • Posted by: Moneo - Aug. 19, 2010 4:30 AM ET USA

    Manuel Escudero is being disingenuous, to put it mildly. As head of the Islamic Board of Spain, he has been maneuvering & pressuring the diocese for years. The Socialist government is sympathetic to the Muslims of course, but since the cathedral belongs to the diocese they haven't been able force the issue. Just one correction: prior to the Muslim conuest of Córdoba, the cathedral was a Visigothic church dedicated to St. Vincent of Zaragoza, martyred by the Emperor Diocletian in AD 304.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Aug. 18, 2010 7:21 PM ET USA

    I would add that Jesus Christ is not only "the sole and unique mediator between God and man..." He IS God and man. Even Mohammed does not enjoy such a position in Islam. The idea of playing games with blasphemy and sacrilege does not originate with the Holy Spirit. Neither side can easily claim much "wiggle room" with regard to their doctrines about God. God bless the good archbishop. Nonetheless, it does fly in the face of Assisi 1986, where formal, non-Christian prayer was encouraged.

  • Posted by: Justin8110 - Aug. 18, 2010 5:57 PM ET USA

    I can't say I agree with some of what you say sometimes Dr., but you hit the nail on the head here. There is so much religious indifferentism these days it's good to see others trying to combat it.