Sandro Magister carries a report on Islam in the recent Papal Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium by Fr. Samir Khalil Samir, the eminent Islamologist, and previous advisor on Islam to Pope Benedict XVI. Magister writes:
Fr. Samir teaches in Beirut, Rome, and Paris. He is the author of books and essays on Islam and on its relationship with Christianity and with the West, the latest published this year by EMI with the title: "Those tenacious Arab springs." During the pontificate of Benedict XVI he was one of the experts most closely listened to by the Vatican authorities and by the pope himself. Last December 19, he published on the important agency "Asia News" of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions an extensive commentary on the passages of "Evangelii Gaudium" dedicated to Islam.A commentary with two faces. In the first part, Fr. Samir brings to light the "many positive things" said by the pope on this issue. But in the second part, he surveys their limitations. With rare frankness.
1. Muslims "together with us adore the One, merciful God" (No. 252)
I would advise caution here. It is true Muslims worship one and merciful God. However, this sentence suggests that the two conceptions of God are equal. Yet in Christianity God is the Trinity in its essence, plurality united by love: He is a bit more than just clemency and mercy. We have two quite different conceptions of the Divine One. Muslims characterize God as inaccessible. The Christian vision of the Oneness of the Trinity emphasizes that God is Love which is communicated: Father-Son-Spirit, or Lover-Beloved-Love, as St. Augustine suggested.
Moreover, what does the mercy of the God of Islam mean? He has mercy for whom he wants and not on those whom displease him. "Allah might admit to His mercy whom He willed" (Koran 48:25). These expressions are, almost literally, in the Old Testament (Exodus 33:19). But never arrive at saying that "God is love" (1 John 4:16), like St John.
Mercy in the case of Islam is that of the rich man who stoops over the poor and gives him something. But the Christian God is the one who lowers Himself to the level of the poor man in order to raise him up; He does not show his wealth to be respected (or feared) by the poor: he gives Himself in order the poor should live.
2. "The sacred writings of Islam have retained some Christian teachings" (No. 252)
This is true in a sense, but it is somewhat ambiguous. It is true that Muslims retain words or facts from the canonical gospels, such as the story of the Annunciation which is found almost literally in chapters 3 (The Family of Imr?n) and 19 (Mariam).
But more frequently the Koran is inspired by the pious tales of the apocryphal Gospels, and do not draw from them the theological sense they contain, and do not give these facts or words the meaning that they actually have, not out of malice, but because they do not contain the overall vision of the Christian message.
3. The figure of Christ in the Koran and the Gospel (No. 252)
The Koran refers to "Jesus and Mary [who] are the object of profound veneration". To tell the truth, Jesus is not an object of veneration in the Muslim tradition. Instead, Mary is venerated, especially by Muslim women, who willingly go to the places of pilgrimage.
The lack of veneration for Jesus Christ is probably explained by the fact that, in the Koran, Jesus is a great prophet, famous for his miracles on behalf of a poor and sick humanity, but he is not the equal of Muhammad. Only mystics have a certain devotion to him, as the sol-called "Spirit of God".
In fact, all that is said of Jesus in the Koran is the exact opposite of Christian teachings. He is not the Son of God, but a prophet and that's it. He is not even the last of the prophets, because instead the "seal of the prophets" is Muhammad (Koran 33:40). Christian revelation is only seen as a step towards the ultimate revelation brought by Muhammad, i.e. Islam