Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput spoke out this week against the promulgation of lies regarding the history of Christian-Muslim relations. In his weekly Denver Catholic Register column, Chaput said that recent fallacious statements by a Denver-area Islamic leader, who reportedly claimed that Muslims have never tried to force conversions to their faith, do nothing to advance the causes of peace or interreligious understanding.
Chaput said that the Muslim-Christian conflict has existed for centuries and is based upon “deep religious differences.” During centuries of fighting, both Christians and Muslims have acted in a sinful manner towards one another, he said, but it’s necessary to be honest about the sins both sides have committed in the past in order to bring about peace in the future.
The archbishop said he felt compelled to address the issue after reading a recent news story which contained claims that, “it was European Christians, never Muslims, who tried to root out those who didn’t agree with them,” a statement which Chaput says is just plain false.
Chaput said that while Christians have certainly committed sins against Muslims in the past, to claim that Muslims have not committed their own sins and acted in violent, militant manners is a lie.
The archbishop pointed out the “armed military expansion” of Islam which has occurred since the religion’s creation. On the other hand, he said, Christians struggled with the place of military force in its worldview for the first 300 years and had no “theology of Crusade” until the 11th Century. “In fact,” Chaput said, “the Christian Byzantine Empire had already been resisting Muslim expansion in the East for 400 years before Pope Urban II called the First Crusade – as a defensive response to generations of armed jihad.”
Chaput also pointed to the forced conversion of the once Christian Middle East. “Surviving Christian communities have endured centuries of marginalization, discrimination, violence, slavery and outright persecution – not always and not everywhere; but as a constant, recurring and central theme of Muslim domination,” he said.
“That same Christian suffering continues down to the present,” Chaput said.
In addition to mentioning the persecution of Christians in the Muslim Ottoman Empire of the early 1900’s, in Turkey, and in Egypt, Archbishop Chaput pointed to more recent reports of harassment and violence throughout the world, “from Bangladesh, Iran, Sudan, Pakistan and Iraq, to Nigeria, Indonesia and even Muslim-dominated areas of the heavily Catholic Philippines.”
“In Saudi Arabia,” the archbishop continued, “all public expressions of Christian faith are forbidden. The on-going Christian flight from Lebanon has helped to transform it, in just half a century, from a majority Christian Arab nation to a majority Muslim population.”
Denying such facts, the archbishop said, does not foster respect among peoples. Chaput said that thanks to the tremendous freedoms of the United States, its citizens have the opportunity to overcome the difficult history between Christians and Muslims. “But,” he said, “respect can’t emerge from falsehood.”
“Especially in an era of religiously inspired terrorism and war in the Middle East,” the archbishop continued, “peace is not served by ignoring, subverting or rewriting history, but rather by facing it humbly as it really happened and healing its wounds.”
“(Peace and respect) requires honesty and repentance from both Christians and Muslims.”