Monday, December 7, 2015

"They'll know we are Christians by our love ...."

Our deacon's homily this past weekend included his observation that the Christmas manger scene is an inclusive image, in that God became man not only for the believers, but for all humanity. No one is excluded from the gift of the Incarnation of Christ.

As reflected by the old campfire song, we Christians are similarly called by our faith to show love to all humanity, not only to other Christians. For Catholics, we serve others "not because they're Catholic, but because we're Catholic".  This is reflected by countless Catholic and other Christian ministries such as AIDS care and prevention efforts in Africa, Catholic schools and hospitals around the world, the ministry of The Little Sisters of the Poor, the example of St. Mother Teresa in Calcutta, and indeed the work of Catholic Charities for Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

This call to charity for "the other" has historically been reflected in American culture at large, so much so that the USA is often called the most generous nation on Earth.

Yesterday, I heard a radio report regarding Syed Farook, one of the infamous San Bernardino terrorists.  In that report, an imam at Farook's mosque told how Farook had been a good person to him, helping the imam with his car.

A nice story, but a question came to mind: are Muslims called to serve non-Muslims? Does Islam instruct the believer to charity for non-believers as we Christians are?  I honestly don't know the answer, but a quick few seconds on Google left me with the impression that they are not. It doesn't appear to be sinful to give charity to non-believers, but there does not appear to be a call to do so. Statements I found include:

Muslims should seek first and foremost to give their charity to Muslim brothers who are in need, and there are plenty of them.

Giving charity to poor Muslims is preferable and more befitting, because spending on them helps them to obey Allaah, and it helps them in both their worldly and spiritual affairs.

and, pertinent to the events of San Bernadino:

If the party or gathering is connected to some religious event of the non-Muslims, such as Christmas parties, then also it will be impermissible for one to participate. The reason behind this is that, by taking part in their religious functions and gatherings, one will be indirectly approving of their disbelief (kufr) and their religion... 

I hope that this is inaccurate, and that indeed Islam calls its adherents to charity for all. But I am ignorant in this regard, and perhaps someone can correct my impression. And I do not mean for this to be a "we're better than them" piece; that's not the intent.

If this is an accurate sense, however, I fear that the best we can hope for from faithful Muslims in our communities is grudging acceptance of the fact of our existence. Tolerance of our beliefs, much less of a right to exercise our beliefs, almost sounds like a stretch.  And this means that assimilation of more Muslims from other countries into our culture will not happen -- rather, we and our culture will have to change.


  1. Oh! Oh! Teacher! I know! I know!

    Islam is like Breathing With Benedict.

    They secure their own oxygen masks first before helping others.


    Or I guess we could then say...the Benedict Option is more like Islam than Christianity.

    Well, you know, whatever works, right? After all, principles are hard.

    1. Ahhh, I see. Now I finally understand the parable. The priest and the Levite were securing their own oxygen masks first, as we should.

    2. Sort of seems OWB hasn't thought his marketing meme all the way through: "In a troubled world, some Christians elect to revert to the Muslim approach to their fellow man".

      But, no, of course it's not like that at all, it's like [your BO mutation of the day here].

  2. I don't think there's any shortage of advice in the Christian tradition to give charity to Christians first. St. Augustine even went as far as to say that "alms should be given to the more holy persons rather than to those who are more closely united to us [family in particular]." St. Thomas expands on this, teaching that "we must employ discretion, according to the various degrees of connection, holiness and utility [of the alms offered to the person receiving]."

    Plenty of American Christians today are arguing that Christian refugees should be helped ahead of Muslim refugees. A generally understood prohibition against Catholics entering Protestant churches existed in living memory.

    And I've noticed in passing various stories about Muslim -- er, what's Muslim for "parish"? -- mosque-based communities helping out after natural disasters and such like.

    So I wouldn't make too much out of what a few Google hits might show (including, I suppose, mosque-based charity).

    1. Sorry, I forgot to include the part about "give to [X] first" being very different from "give to [X] only."

      I didn't read the original post, but I don't really get the hostility to the "secure your oxygen mask first before helping others" bit. That seems like good advice on an airplane, when presumably there's enough time to secure both your mask and your seatmate's. Churches are littered by the absence of adult children of parents who spent all their time at church instead of with their children. You can't give what you don't have. And so on.

    2. My question, Tom, is whether Muslims are called to charity for non-believers. I saw nothing to that effect in my brief cursory search, as noted.

      Christians surely are called to that -- the instruction "charity begins at home" does not relieve us of the obligation of charity to others.

      P.S. On the BO, it doesn't seem much of a stretch that a largely reactionary "strategic withdrawal" from the culture (because of the mean things people might say at work) would latch onto "secure your own oxygen mask" rationalization for ducking out of the Great Commission.

    3. On the BO, it doesn't seem much of a stretch that a largely reactionary "strategic withdrawal" from the culture (because of the mean things people might say at work) would latch onto "secure your own oxygen mask" rationalization for ducking out of the Great Commission.

      Exactly. :)

  3. I know that many Muslims would give to those in need, even non-Muslim neighbors. However the religious principle of the Zakāt in Islam is -- in common practive -- generally a gift to other Muslims, although there is some dispute about this. From the link: "Muslim scholars disagree whether zakat recipients can include Non-Muslims. Islamic scholarship, historically, has taught that only Muslims can be recipients of zakat. In recent times, some state that zakat may be paid to non-Muslims after the needs of Muslims have been met, finding nothing in the Quran or sunna to indicate that zakat should be paid to Muslims only."

    Well there is nothing about suicide bombings or honor killings in the Qur'an or sunna either. But as in all religions, there is development of doctrine, and that is basically what is meant by "Islamic scholarship" in the quote. Those who interpret the Qur'an and sunna are the ones who set the policies.