Islam is presently going through a major crisis of identity. It is tearing apart its faith and causing enormous problems for the entire world community. Like most gigantic issues, at the bottom of it all is a clash of ideas: how to reconcile this age-old faith to the modern world. Or, perhaps on an even more basic level, the question is what is or should be the relationship between faith and reason.
Saudi Arabia has been exporting an answer to that question called Wahhabism. Its response is essentially: no surrender to the modern world; the modern world is irreligious and Islam is the answer. It will free the world and make it obedient to Allah, even if it means war, terrorism or the slower transformation by immigration and a very high birth rate. At this rate, Democracy sounds like a gift from God!
Islam is by its nature a very conservative religion, that is, it tries to preserve and conserve the original meaning of the Koran as it was dictated to Muhammed. They believe that God tried first with the Jewish Torah and the Christian Gospels, but both evolved away from God’s will. Hence they do not want this happening to Islam. The brand of Islam exported by the Saudis is the most radically conservative. ISIS is the result.
In the Middle Ages, Christianity was connected intimately with the other-worldly philosophy of Plato. Two Muslim scholars named Avicenna and Averroes (their Latin names) tried to introduce the philosophy of Aristotle to Islam. Aristotle’s philosophy was more this worldly. In fact, Aristotle was also an early variety of scientist who did not see any conflict between his pagan faith and science.
Averroes and Avicenna were silenced by Islamic authorities for what they termed a heresy; but St. Thomas Aquinas read these two Muslim scholars and Aristotle himself. In his Summa Theologica, St. Thomas integrated the faith of Christianity with the philosophy of Aristotle. It was first, like in Islam, opposed by the Church, but, gradually, St. Thomas won the Church over by his reasoning and his faith.
Up until that time, Islam was ahead of Western civilizations in the areas of Science and in other intellectual pursuits; but when Islam rejected philosophy as incompatible with faith and Christianity reconciled faith and reason, Islam’s dominance was eclipsed by Christianity and the West, leading to centuries of scientific and technological breakthroughs that have made the culture of Western civilizations the dominant culture of the world.
For us Catholics, there is no conflict between faith and reason. Faith (and philosophy) asks the question “Why?” Science asks the question “How?” It is because of the far-sighted theology of St. Thomas Aquinas that you can come to Church in the morning, having put your dishes in a dish washer! Faith and technology – no problem!
This is one of the reasons every Catholic in the parish should learn more about our faith. Sunday, even daily, Mass is not enough. We have such a rich tradition of faith! That is why I hope that our upcoming “Pathways” lecture series is a sell out! St. Dominic, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Catherine of Sienna have shaped the world we are living in. How sad that their accomplishments remain unknown by our Catholic people!