BEIRUT (ChurchMilitant.com) - A scholar of Islam is warning Christians that they are in danger of misunderstanding Islam — including the Holy Father.
Father Samir Khalil Samir, an Egyptian-born Jesuit priest, is one of the leading Catholic scholars of Islam. In an interview with the Italian paper La Fede Quotidiana Wednesday, the orientalist and philosopher noted that, in spite of his good intentions, Pope Francis is mistaken to portray Islam as a peaceful religion. The comments come in light of the pope's scheduled trip to Egypt in late April.
"Undoubtedly the Pope is animated by good intentions and sincere good will to search for dialogue, and no one can put this in doubt," Samir said. "However, since he does not know much of Islam, he will need more guidance and capable people to give him training."
Samir noted the Holy Father's tendency to speak off the cuff, which has resulted in confusion among the faithful and joy among the anti-Catholic media. "Pope Benedict XVI was much more cautious and prudent when he talked about Islam and issues so hot."
Pope Francis has spoken kindly of Islam in the past, saying, "Terrorism is not fueled by the religion if Islam itself," and, "Organizations such as the Islamic State are evil, but they are also not Islam. They are perversions of Islam." The Holy Father has also said that Christians and Muslims "worship the one living and merciful God."
But Samir, a professor at the Université Saint-Joseph in Beirut, questioned the alleged similarities between the religions, and whether Islam is truly a "religion of peace":
In Islam and the Koran there is everything. Parts that actually speak of peace are mixed with outrageous claims that run in the opposite sense, especially with regard to those who have different beliefs. Therefore, a priori, it is not right to define Islam as a "religion of peace."
In addition, it is wrong to say that we believe in the same god. For Christians, God is love. For Muslims, this is not always the case. We can say, correctly, that both faiths believe in one god, but this is something quite different from saying that we believe in the same god. I think in many ways, the model of Islam is incompatible with Western values. Islam, in fact it is not only a religion, but unites politics, economy, society and state.
Though Pope Francis' comments about Islam have been more frequent than those of his predecessors, he is not the first pontiff whose actions have created confusion about Islam. Pope St. John Paul II caused controversy when in 1999 he kissed a copy of the Koran. Samir noted in a 2011 interview that this gesture, which the Holy Father intended merely as a mark of respect, was "interpreted by many Muslims as significant to the recognition of [the] 'revealed' nature of the Koran (which cannot be so for a Christian)."
Touching on other recent controversies, Samir pointed out the right of countries to enforce immigration laws, specifically European countries, which have been targeted for demographic warfare by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.
Said Samir: "Each master of a house manages the house, and ensures that those who visit identity the intentions of the host, and adapt to the host's traditions and customs — not the other way around."
But he expressed hope that the Holy Father's April 28 and 29 visit to Egypt will be fruitful in extending the rights of Christians in the country, which has seen a rise of Islamism and political violence since the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
"This is also a moment of relief," he remarked, "especially regarding the delicate issue of granting Christians full citizenship. As is well-known, in Egypt, one who is not a Muslim has serious problems with citizenship."
"In short, the Pope's agenda is full and busy. It will not be a walk in the park," he added.