PIACENZA, Italy (ChurchMilitant.com) - Italy's top Muslim leader, whose organization supports Pope Francis' pact with Islam, is causing acute embarrassment to Catholic apologists of interfaith dialogue after he insulted Jews and Christians as heretics.
Yassine Baradai, national secretary of the Union of Islamic Communities of Italy (UCOII) — the largest umbrella organization of the Islamic communities in Italy — sparked outrage after trashing Judaism and Christianity as "heresy" and a "manipulation of the original message of the prophets."
"Indeed, both these creeds are heresy according to Islam," and the Koran, Baradai wrote in an Aug. 29 Facebook post summarizing a sermon he'd delivered to mark the festival of Ashura.
"If it were otherwise, we as Muslims would be required to follow Judaism or Christianity, but Islam corrects the crippling made in the residual scriptures of the Torah and the gospel," Baradai remarked.
"Salvation was offered to the Israelite people and not the Jewish people, who are of recent nascency" since "the children of Israel weren't Jews," Baradai argued.
The preacher also claimed that the Old Testament prophets "were not Jews, but Muslims" and "the children of Israel and the Jews are two different things."
"Not a single Jewish leader or Catholic bishop has the courage to protest and debunk these blasphemous public statements against the two Abrahamic religions, even though UCOII is seen as a leading member of the Catholic-Muslim dialogue scene in Italy," Francesco Maggio, expert in interreligious relations with Islam for Italy, told Church Militant.
"Baradai's statement is a slap in the face of Vatican II's pronouncements that 'Islam is among the three Abrahamic religions' and that 'Muslims worship with us a single, merciful God' — a position from which evangelicals adhering to the Bible have always distanced themselves," Maggio noted.
"However, UCOII feels the time is now ripe to turn the Vatican's inclusive policy into an exclusivist policy and thus subvert everything," he observed.
In a YouTube interview Saturday, Maggio demanded an apology from UCOII, saying: "Mr. Baradai has degraded our sacred texts, dismissing them as 'residual' and called for them to be 'taken up and corrected.'"
"And since we are talking about dialogue here, I clearly do not see the same spirit coming from this Islamic leader, the current national secretary of the UCOII."
Maggio also said Catholic leaders were deliberately "maintaining radio silence" for fear that the controversy might "raise a stink" just before Pope Francis signs his Fratelli Tutti ("All Brothers") encyclical on human fraternity in Assisi on Oct. 3.
In May, UCOII signed on to Pope Francis' appeal for all religions to join together in prayer for relief from the Wuhan pandemic.
"As an Islamic community and as citizens of this country, we are called to brotherhood and closeness with other religious confessions. For this reason, we have decided to welcome with great pleasure the pope's invitation to join us all humbly in prayer and fasting," Yassine Lafram, president of UCOII said in a statement.
"For Yassine Lafram ... adhering to the pope's appeal is not a formality. Indeed, it is a necessity," Avvenire trumpeted.
But Lafram, who was awarded the pontifical medal by Pope Francis in 2017 at the behest of Bologna archbishop Matteo Zuppi, has not apologized on behalf of UCOII for his colleague's anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish comments.
"They are playing a good cop-bad cop act, but in the end, UCOII is hardly a bastion of moderate Islam," Maggio told Church Militant, noting that the constituent founding members of UCOII had close links with the Muslim Brotherhood and other militant Muslim bodies.
"With Baradai's reckless statements, the UCOII has lost the little credibility they had," Maggio said.
"In these weeks I have found confirmation that there is no moderate Islam represented in Italy by the 10 or so most prominent presidents [of different Muslim bodies] in Italy, even though we hear them on TV proclaiming themselves moderate."
"By not intervening to correct the young Yassine Baradai, their silence is significant," Maggio stated, noting that only Abdellah Redouane, head of the Great Mosque of Rome, has come forward to rebuke Baradai for his offensive statements.
"The Islamic Cultural Center of Italy, the only Islamic body officially recognized by the Italian Republic, expresses its confusion and outrage at the unjustified and unacceptable statements made by UCOII General Secretary Yassine Baradai that define Judaism and Christianity," Redouane said.
"The Islamic Cultural Center of Italy expresses its closeness to the Jewish and Christian brothers, who rightly felt offended by these statements," he added.
Ironically, in 2016, Redouane refused to take part in an initiative to open the doors of the Great Mosque of Rome to welcome Catholics during the festival of Eid.
Over 2,000 mosques in Italy had signed up to the Italy-wide scheme to welcome believers from other religions.
Redouane also shunned an invitation to participate in a Mass after the killing of French priest Fr. Jacques Hamel by two Islamic terrorists in Normandy, even though an Islamic delegation took part in the service.