Pope Francis Conflates Jihad with Jesus’ Great Commission
Jesus is clearly not a violent figure. The notion of violent conquest is entirely inimical to his message.
BY Immanuel Al-Manteeqi · @Al_Manteeqi | June 24, 2016
In a recent interview that the French Catholic newspaper La Croix conducted with Pope Francis, the Pope had some pretty shocking things to say about Islamic extremism and Europe.
The British Guardian reports that the Pope “appeared to reject any link between Islamic extremism within Europe and Islam itself,” and to believe that due to the very low European birthrate, Muslim integration into European society is “more necessary” than ever. However, Pope Francis, well-known for making overly liberal and controversial statements, went even further by stating the following to La Croix:
It is true that the idea of conquest is inherent in the soul of Islam. However, it is also possible to interpret the objective in Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus sends his disciples to all nations, in terms of the same idea of conquest.
“The Great Commission” is the name given to Jesus’ call to his followers “to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). The Pope here is ostensibly saying that it is plausible to interpret Jesus’ Great Commission in terms of the same idea of Islamic conquest or Jihad.
Hermeneutical evidence that he is talking about the plausibility of certain textual interpretations comes from Pope Francis’ words that “the idea of conquest is inherent in the soul of Islam” (indicating that he is talking about something that is plausibly Islamic). He also talks about “possible” interpretations, which seems to mean “plausible” in this context.
After all, he is certainly not talking about merely possible interpretations, since that would be trivial—it’s obviously possible for anyone to interpret any text however way they like. Therefore, the Pope’s statement here seems to wear its meaning on its sleeve. That this interpretation of the Pope’s words is correct is also borne out by the inductive evidence. For the Pope has made similar statements in the past, such as the following:
Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalizations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Qur’an are opposed to every form of violence [emphasis is mine].
Now, how the Great Commission can be interpreted “in terms of the same idea of” Islamic conquest or Jihad—which is primarily violent—is beyond belief. In fact, the Pope’s comparison seems to be unfortunate if not straightforwardly absurd. In the Gospels, our best historical sources for the life of Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus is clearly not a violent figure. The notion of violent conquest is entirely inimical to his message.
For example, the Gospel of Matthew, the same Gospel that contains the Great Commission, tells us that after his lead disciple, Peter, cuts off the ear of the guard who comes to arrest him in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus not only heals the ear of the guard, but chastises Peter, famously stating that “whoever uses the sword dies by the sword” (Matthew 26:52). Nowhere do we have a record of the historical Jesus advocating for violent conquests of the unbaptized in any way even mildly analogous to Islamic jihad. The only time where he tells his disciples to go forth and get swords is when he is speaking figuratively, as in Luke 22:36. That he is not being literal here is clear, since two verses later in 22:38, after the disciples say, “See, Lord, here are two swords,” he says “that’s enough!” This clearly means “that’s enough, I am not speaking literally here.” The Pope’s conflation between Jesus’ call to baptize all nations and the Islamic call to violently conquer infidels simply does not hold water. Whereas Jesus instructed his disciples to shake the dust off of their sandals if people reject their message, in Islam disbelievers are to be violently subjugated if they do not agree with the Islamic message. For example, in Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim, the two most trusted collections of Sunni ahadeeth, Muhammad states that he has
been commanded (by Allah) to fight people until they testify that there is no true god except Allah, and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and perform Salat [prayers]and pay Zakat [alms]. If they do so, they will have protection of their blood and property from me except when justified by Islam, and then account is left to Allah.
All this being said, Pope Francis is a liberal, and liberals have a penchant for a dosage of multiculturalism and religious pluralism that goes well beyond what is truthful or healthy for liberal democracy. Pace what many liberals often say, there is simply no equivalence between Islam and Christianity with respect to their inherent tendencies to produce violence. Ceteris paribus, the teachings of (mainstream) Islam make its adherents much more prone to violence than the teachings of Christianity make its adherents. There are no calls for violence against unbelievers in the New Testament. By contrast, there are many calls for violence against unbelievers in the Islamic source texts.
One wonders whether Pope Francis consults with Fr. Samir Khalil Samir S.J., the former adviser to Pope Benedict XVI on Islam and the Middle East, and current interim rector for the Pontifical Institute for Oriental Studies. Fr. Samir, a native Arabic speaker with two doctorates and a world-class scholar of Islam and Muslim-Christian relations, was one of the (main) reasons why the Catholic Church did not join many evangelical groups in approving “A Common Word Between Us and You,” a Muslim declaration addressed to Christians that was drafted by a plethora of Muslim scholars, following the controversy caused by Pope Benedict’s Regensburg address. Pope Benedict XVI greatly respected the consul of Fr. Samir. However, it seems like the current Pope does not take Fr. Samir’s advice too seriously, as Fr. Samir has made it quite clear where he stands vis-a-vis violence in Islam. For example, he says that “Al-Sharia is founded on a threefold inequality: the inequality between man and woman, the inequality between Muslim and non-Muslim, and the inequality between freeman and slave. Furthermore, he says that
[much of what ISIS is doing] is a part of Islam, and we can find it in the Quran itself and much more in the life of Mohammed, who had a very strong and violent attitude toward unbelievers. Mohammed was somewhat tolerant towards Jews and Christians. But he was absolutely intolerant to those who were neither Jews nor Christians. The only solution for them in the Quran and in the life of Mohammed was to convert or die.
Another native Arabic speaker and Catholic priest, Fr. Douglas Al-Bazi, has stated that there is no such thing as moderate Islam, that Islam is “the face of evil,” that “ISIS represents Islam 100%,” and that “the cancer is at the door of [the West],” ostensibly alluding to the mass Muslim immigration into Europe.
Significantly, Fr. Bazi is no ordinary priest, but someone who personally felt ISIS’ Islamic ire. He is an Iraqi priest who was kidnapped by ISIS for nine days and tortured. When he speaks of the danger that Islam poses to the West if it should be allowed to influence power, he does not speak as merely a theoretician, but as someone who has courageously faced the menace. Perhaps Pope Francis should try personally telling Fr. Bazi that Jihad and Jesus’ Great Commission can be plausibly interpreted along the same lines. My guess is that Fr. Bazi will not take too kindly to the Pope’s words.
Yet another example of a native Arabic speaker and Catholic clergyman who has spoken out against Islam is Emil Shimoun Nona, the former Archbishop of Mosul, Iraq. Currently residing in Sydney, Australia, he was forced to abandon his diocese after ISIS conquered it in June 2014. Bishop Nona warns the West that “Islam does not say that all men are equal,” and that “if you do not understand this soon enough, you will become the victims of the enemy you have welcomed in your homes.”
Why does this current Pope not seriously heed the words of people like these Catholic clergymen from majority Muslim countries who know and can read the Qur’an in its original language, have lived with Muslims most of their lives, and who are far more acquainted with Islam than he is? If Pope Francis were to listen to the above priests who work under him, then he would not make the unfortunate and unsubstantiated statements that he does concerning Islam.
 That “authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Qur’an are opposed to every form of violence” is clearly absurd. For example, the notorious sword verses in the ninth chapter of the Qur’an, which is generally agreed by (the much maligned) orientalists and Islamic scholars to be the last significant chapter of the Qur’an “to be revealed,” mandates violence against polytheists and People of the Book. Indeed, even Westernized Muslims would say that some form of violence is permissible in Islam—viz., violence or jihad that is undertaken in self-defense.
 Granted that the Pope is trying to appease Muslims and not make them further persecute Christian in their midst like in Syria or Pakistan. So he is being political.
 Pope Benedict’s Regensburg lecture is a controversial lecture that the Pope gave at a university in Regensburg, Germany, where he cited the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaiologos’ statement: “show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”
 Samir Khalil Samir, 111 Questions on Islam: Samir Khalil Samir, S.J. on Islam and the West: A Series of Interviews Conducted by Giorgio Paolucci and Camille Eid, ed. Wafik Nasry, and translated by Wafik Nasry and Camille Eid, English ed (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2008), 91.
Immanuel Al-Manteeqi is a lecturer in the Humanities.
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