Islam: a political issue. Interview with Archbishop Giampaolo Crepaldi on the X Report on the Social Doctrine of the Church

Fresh off the Cantagalli presses is the tenth Report on the Social Doctrine of the Church in the World of the Observatory Cardinal Van Thuân. This year, as its title indicates, the Report is dedicated to a burning topic, “Islam, a political issue”. We posed a few questions to the President of the Observatory and Bishop of Trieste, Most Rev. Mons. Giampaolo Crepaldi.

Your Excellency, why this topic?

Our Reports’ core themes emerge from an analysis of the main dynamics at work in the world. We don’t invent them on our own  and see them at work in reality. In my opinion that is no doubt that a political assessment of Islam, especially in Europe, but not there alone, is a clearly emerging issue right before our eyes, but not always suitably discussed.

Aren’t you afraid of bothering someone?

This certainly is a controversial and very delicate subject. In previous Reports we dealt  with immigration and Europe, and avoided adopting a politically correct stance. We have adopted the same approach in this Report, doing our work with no fears at all.

The Catholic Church favors receptivity and dialogue with Islam, supporting the construction of mosques, and sustains that it is a religion of peace. You, however, consider it a political issue. Is there any contrast there?

In our Report we have done something that no one ordinarily does: assess Islam in the light of the principles of the organization of the social and political community set forth in the Social Doctrine of the Church. One thing is interreligious dialogue with Islam, and another thing is to consider the contents, the substance of the public ethics of Islam. Then again, this religion is a political project in a direct and essential way. Verifying if Islam is advancing proposals acceptable by the Social Doctrine of the Church is a service of truth for one and all; for the Church which must also take into consideration its own social doctrine in the encounter with religions, and for politics insofar as the social doctrine of the Church also embodies natural principles and values.

What approach did you use in your analysis of political Islam?

The Report consists of four specialized studies on Islam, an extensive introductory synthesis, and a presentation on my part. All these elements analyze Islam on the basis of the face of God according to this religion. There is an internal consistency in religions. Everything stems from how God is conceived, and this applies to Islam as well. We can also assert practically everything, but it all depends on how a revealed religion conceives revelation.

Just how does Islam conceive God?

Coming to the surface in the Report is Islam’s conception of God as will and omnipotence, not as truth and essence. God issues decrees that call for literal and blind obedience. As Benedict XVII said at Regensburg in 2006,  the God of Islam is beyond any category, with no analogy with the world founded on truth, and could have even given us precepts contrary to the ones He gave us. Such an approach therefore has no need for the relationship between faith and reason that is essential in Catholicism. Islam says: in the beginning was the Will, not the Lagos.

Islam as well, however, speaks about creation by God, and hence Islam will also see an order in creation, a law impressed therein by God.

Yes, Islam does think the world is divine creation. This creation, however, was an act of will that had nothing to do with the requirements of truth; it was a divine decree and not the expression of a Logos. Hence, the precepts of moral order do not stem from an finalistic order expressed by created nature where reason and revelation may encounter one another. In other words, there can be neither a natural law nor a natural moral law. Moral precepts stem from divine decisions contained in the Qu’ran or in the life (words and deeds) of Muhammed, and are to be complied with in a state of total submission. Islam is a juridical religion.

What notion of law emerged during your analysis of Islam?

The Islamic conception of law derives from the points just considered, and lastly from the vision of God. It is most difficult for a Muslim to distinguish between the divine law derived from the will of God and communicated to Muhammed, that is to say religious law, and the law established by the political community or the national authorities, this being civil law.  Moreover, our Report recalls that underway in many Arab countries for some time has been a process of ‘constitutionalization’, that is to say the insertion of the charia, or Islamic law into the text of the respective national Constitutions. Then again, if the law is a decree of the divine will, it cannot, as we have said, know anything about the mediation of natural and rational law which, in the Christian tradition, has placed reason and revelation in relationship with one another, and at the same time guaranteed mutual and legitimate autonomy.

Nowadays, many people are talking about a moderate Islam and a radical one. Is there any truth in such a distinction?

Our Report feels that when we consider the selfsame person of believers in Islam, there is a certain degree of sense in this distinction. There are those who are more open minded and receptive, and others less so. However, if we concentrate on the internal coherence of Islam beginning from the vision of God, this distinction becomes weaker. Let us not forget that the divine decrees or Islamic law constitute the umma, the Muslim community, with its absolute exclusivity and conquest bound outlook. Embodied in Islamic law is the distinction between Muslims and non Muslims as anthropological categories. In addition, the umma is universal in nature and must spread throughout the entire world, also travelling the pathway of direct conquest. When we consider aspects such as these, the distinction to which you refer can well exist in contingent situations, but does not correspond to the essence of Islam.

At times Catholics think Muslims can join forces with them in the defense of life and the family in opposition to laws and policies contrary to life and the family. Are there any true grounds for such an expectation?

Dialogue with Muslims on points such as these has to be pursued, but clearly recalling two aspects. The first one has to do with the fact that Islam often has different ideas compared to what Catholics think about these themes. This happens, for example, when considering the relationship between man and woman within family life. Secondly,  it must be kept in mind that the fundamental motives for taking action are different. It is one thing to take action against abortion because it is an evil according to natural reason and revelation, and another thing to take action because thus has God decreed with an act of His will.

This is the Observatory’s tenth report; quite an accomplishment. What’s your assessment of this decade?

We began ten years ago with the first Report whose topic was the financial crisis. We then plowed ahead focusing our attention on major emerging issues in the light of the Social Doctrine of the Church. We have been faithful to the commitment to render manifest the fecundity of that social doctrine and the ability of the Catholic faith to create culture, Catholic culture. We are therefore pleased to have done what our Observatory was born to do.

Giuseppe Tires