Splashed across the pages of history are the crimson reminders of those times the Crescent has encountered the Cross. Our modern age of silence and reserve – at least about all the important things – renders discussion of these encounters difficult. In times gone by religions could be weighed on the scales of rationality and debated by the juries of the world. There stood Christianity before the jury of Europe, and Europe (for a time) accepted it. There stood Puritanism before the jury of England and the English rejected it. But now one may not even consider the Crescent without being accused of suffering from a “phobia”, another reminder of how far science has intruded on our common discourse. ‘Phobia’ implies an unhealthy, extreme sort of fear; yet everyday we practice, very sensibly, a healthy moderated sort of fear. “Will that car hit me if I try to turn?” “Will this food give me gas and ruin my date?” “Is this door-to-door evangelist after my soul or my savings?” Yet, I cannot once think of an analysis of the Crescent being seen as this second sort of fear, the careful, rational kind. But despite the naysayers and the common enemies of free speech, I must voice my concerns about the Crescent and what its end is for my beloved Cross.
These reflections are prompted by a timidly worded headline in my local newspaper, here on the East Side of St. Paul: “St. John’s Church finds new owner: Will be an Islamic Faith Center.” The parish in question was recently “decommissioned” (an insipid word used to veil the reality that a congregation died). The priest of the neighboring St. Pascal Baylon, Fr. Byron, said, innocently enough, “It’s good that it’s going to continue to be used as a sacred space.” The director of the new Islamic Center, Hassan Hassan, “said the interior will stay roughly as is for now, noting that although his organization is of a different faith, there’s not going to be a significant change in use.” To these two points, I must beg to differ.
Firstly there is the simply fact of decoration. A former parishioner of St. John’s recounted that he walked by the parish during the dreadful process of decommissioning “and saw the giant cross from the top of the building [laying broken] in a large dumpster.” Before that same Cross men and women have given their lives in battle so that it may never fall and never break. Yet there it sits in ruin as the new Islamic Center rises above.
Secondly, the theological change in the use of St. John’s is in all respects significant. The god of the Crescent is unitarian, the God of Christianity is Trinitarian. From this first principle of faith comes all the difference in the world. In the great chasm between Islam and Christianity, a thousand questions may be raised. I will limit myself to repeating the question of Pope Benedict XVI, who asked at the University of Regensburg for a clarification concerning Allah’s relationship to rationality. The obscure volume which he cited in his lecture suggested that Allah is so transcendent as to be above all our categories, even that of rationality itself. Said the pontiff, “Ibn Hazm [one of the intellectual giants of Islam] went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God’s will, we would even have to practise idolatry.”
For Christianity, God is bound upon in rationality because rationality flows from God’s nature. Thomas Aquinas could demonstrate the existence of God from reason alone. Others have done the same from love, beauty, goodness and truth, for all roads lead to Rome. But if the Muslim faith holds that God is wholly transcendent, and thus wholly ‘other’; what roads, if any, lead to Mecca?
Sadly, the Pope’s question was shouted down by a torrent of ideological and anti-democratic noise. Protests came from within and without the Muslim world. The Pope was denied the first component of reasonable disagreement: that of discovering an interlocutor’s first principles. In days of old, a man may have been accused of thought crime against one creed or another. Yet, typically the accusation came from a man within that creed. One may have said a few imprudent words against the Virgin Mary in the presence of a Catholic and never made the mistake again. But today a bizarre situation has arisen, in which the creed of Islam finds its most ardent defenders in those men and women who have no regard for it’s creed whatsoever. They champion the acceptance of a faith that they themselves will not accept. It gives me the sensation one might experience driving down the right side of the road only to be pulled over by a police officer with a particular sensitivity to the British Isles. He will never move to Britain mind you, but he pulls me over for the grave offense I have offered the Brits by not driving down the left side of the road. Objecting that he himself is also avoiding the left side of the road is of no use. The fact is that Brits drive down the left side, I drive down the right and I therefore must harbor a hatred and a bigotry towards all things British, right up to the Queen herself.
Such is the treatment of those who raise questions about Islam. I agree with the bombastic Mr. Christopher Hitchens who pointed out time and time again that Muslim pundits were given free reign to publish anti-Semitic cartoons, but as soon as the prophet was depicted, riots ensued. Why is there such an obvious double standard, especially among Westerners, who used to take pride in the First Amendment? We who question Islam are not demanding that pigs be slaughtered in mosques. We offer an intellectual critique. Is even that unacceptable to the contemporary worship of all things politically correct?
After pressing this point, one may be treated by a secular defender of Islam to a recitation of “First They Came for the Jews.” In principle I see nothing wrong with this particular poem, by I do see a very large problem with those who recite it. ‘Tis true, at times, that the Jews have been the first to experience the wrath of an oppressive and totalitarian regime. The shards of Jewish glass which crowded the streets of Germany in the middle of the twentieth century and the broken bodies of Jewish Europeans which still lie beneath the German countryside more than attest to this truth. No, the problem is that those on the left who throw all their breath into denunciations of the abuses of yesteryear blind themselves to the abuses of today. The plain fact of the matter is that those who question Islam are not “coming for” Islam. Rather, we wish to discover the essence of a religion which is gaining a renewed prominence on the world stage. A new Islamic offshoot is currently storming over the land know as Iraq. The Islamic State, as they wish to be called, has claimed city after city and street after street. For the first time in 1600 years, the Church bells have fallen silent in Mosul, and like my little St. John’s down the street, the Mass will no longer be celebrated. The bruised and bloodied bodies of Mosul’s raped women stand as testament to the violence perpetrated in the name of the Islamic faith. The blood of a slain father reminds his sons and daughters of the price for signing oneself with the Cross. Islam has crossed the nation of Iraq as a tsunami, leaving carnage in its wake. It will do no good to tell the young Christian man who is penniless, homeless and without a family that “first they came for the Jews.” Today here and now the fact is plain: first they came for the Christians.
Furthermore, the bruised flesh of a woman ought to rouse any man of virtue to action. I stand in defiance of anyone who suggests that the male vocation is not first and foremost one of protection. This is what makes the Meriam Ibrahim case so appalling. If we are to take her captors and abusers at their word, they have chained her to the floor and torn her flesh with whips because of their allegiance to Allah. They have denied the most basic component of their masculinity to impose violence upon the oldest symbol of the Christian Church: that of a loving mother and child. I hear already the protests from other followers of Islam who insist that their faith does not condone or command such behavior. Fair enough. To their objection I raise again the query of Pope Benedict: Is Allah wholly transcendent and above even the category of rationality? If he is, then the ground with which to criticize these terrorists and rapists crumbles to dust beneath our feet. “You are being irrational!” a Christian might scream against the Sudanese prison guards, or the armed militants in Iraq. Can they, in full compliance with Sharia and the teachings of the Qur’an reply: “So is Allah.”? I pray that they cannot.
I pray also that the world is not as it seems. For when I turn my eyes to St. John’s and see the cracked Cross sitting in a dumpster, making way for the rise of the Crescent; when I consider the bruised Meriam breastfeeding her baby on the chilled concrete of a prison simply for proclaiming that Jesus is her Lord and Savior; when I glance at Iraq and see the blood of Christians spilled on their altars, altars which have been overturned to clear the way for worship of Allah; when I recall that the Mass will not be celebrated for the first time in 1600 years in Mosul; when I look to the Middle East and see the purging of Christianity from the very land in which it grew; when I see all these things and the great losses endured by the Cross to be handed over to the Crescent, all the citizens and land and cities given over to the followers of Muhammad, I hear the reassuring words of Fr. Byron. Over the land that gave birth to Christendom, I hear the cheerful declaration: “It’s good that it’s going to continue to be used as a sacred space.” I see all this as the Crescent rises and wonder if it is not unlike the harvest moon: a sign of gathering, dripping blood-red.