Vatican to organize conference promoting Mary as ‘model for faith’ for both Christianity and Islam

'Belonging to these three religious and multi-cultural worlds (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), the figure of Mary is in itself a pressing and constant invitation to intersect and interconnect these same worlds'
Tue Feb 16, 2021 - 11:25 am EST
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Pope Francis and Grand Imam Ahmad al-Tayyeb Francois Nel / Staff / Getty

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February 16, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — “Mary, a model for faith and life for Christianity and Islam:” is the title of an upcoming series of online webinars presenting Our Lady as a bridge between Catholicism and Islam organized, among others, by the Pontifical Academy of Mary (Pontificia Academia Mariana Internationalis or PAMI).

Starting on February 18, ten weekly conferences will be given jointly by Catholic and Muslim speakers who will seek “dialogue, knowledge and cooperation” regarding themes such as “Mary, a woman of faith,” “God who is love and faith,” prayer, purity, hospitality and non-violence, fasting and penitence, fraternity and citizenship.

The Franciscan pontifical University of Rome, the “Antonianum,” is another co-organizer of the event through its Duns Scot Chair of Mariological Studies as well as the International Islamic-Christian Marian Commission and the Grand Mosque of Rome and its Islamic Cultural Center of Italy.

The Italian weekly Famiglia Christiana presented the event in the light of the Abu Dhabi declaration, illustrating its article on Saturday with a photo of Pope Francis signing the Human Fraternity Document together with Imam al-Tayyeb of the Al-Azhar University of Cairo.

Quoting at length from the Document, Gian Matteo Roggio commented: “The course of these webinars is therefore aimed at active, free, conscious, solidary and popular participation in the opening of this space of intersection, interconnection, hospitable reception, thus meeting the explicit requests of Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azahr, the noble Sheikh Ahmad Al-Tayyeb.”

Readers of Famiglia Christiana in Italy are being asked to believe this: “The figure of Mary, a Jewish, Christian and Muslim woman, belongs by right and by fact to the path, the processes and the experiences that contribute to the generation of such an educational path, which makes a positive and confident wager on the embrace between generations and on a new politics and economy, where countries do not need to build their identity on contempt and on systematic negation, whether overt or covert, of the other and of others: an identity, that is, at the expense of the dissimilar and ready to identify in the other the cause of all the ills, failures, limitations and problems that instead have their multiple causes elsewhere. Belonging to these three religious and multi-cultural worlds (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), the figure of Mary is in itself a pressing and constant invitation to intersect and interconnect these same worlds, even making them a model of plural coexistence where the boundaries of each are made to allow communication, passage, exchange; and not to be closed, according to the many figures of exclusion that have, as their fruit, the culture, psychology, politics and economics of war, hatred and inhumanity.”

In the same grandiloquent style, Roggio added: “The webinars will end during the month of Ramadan with ‘the dates of Mary’ in the Conference Hall of the Great Mosque of Rome (health situation permitting): in memory of what is stated in the Holy Quran (Sura 19,22-26), namely that after giving birth near the trunk of a palm tree, she was called by the newborn child who told her ‘Do not be sad [...] shake the trunk of the palm tree towards you and it will drop fresh and ripe dates on you. So eat them,’ a meal of friendship and fraternity will be shared once the sun goes down, as a tangible pact of alliance for the service to the common good of all, no one excluded, in obedience to the ‘understanding of the great divine grace that makes all human beings brothers’ (Document on human brotherhood for world peace and common coexistence).”

Roggio, the author of these very pro-Islamic lines, is not simply a journalist, he is a member of the religious order, the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette. He studied Mariology at the Pontifical Academy of Mary and is now a professor at the same institution. Roggio will be giving the lecture on “God who is love and mercy” on February 25, together with Islamic theologian Shahrzad Houshmand Zadeh, who teaches at the Gregoriana Pontifical University.

Roggio’s words therefore clearly express the spirit of the coming Islamo-Christian webinars: a spirit of profound relativism and misleading equation between the Catholic faith and Muslim beliefs.

The real question is this one: is the Virgin Mary whom we Catholics honor as the Mother of Jesus, only Son of God and the Word Incarnate, the same person as the woman named “Miriam” by the Quran? Is her son, Îssa, the Quranic equivalent of Jesus? He would then be a “Jesus” who could not in any way be the Son of God, because, the Quran proclaims, such an idea is “something monstrous” and that “it is not fitting for the Most Merciful to have a son.”

LifeSiteNews asked Moh-Christophe Bilek, a Kabylian convert from Islam to the Catholic Faith, whether the Quran really honors the Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus. Bilek founded an association for Muslim converts and for the evangelization of Muslims, Notre Dame de Kabylie. Born in Algeria in 1951, he has lived in France since 1961 and converted in 1970.

“When looking at historical figures, you need to ask where and when they were born. In the Quran, only one thing is said about the place where Miriam finds herself: it is when she gives birth ‘in the desert.’ You probably know that biblical figures in the Quran all come from the Old Testament, except for three of them: John the Baptist, whose father is identified as Zachariah; Miriam, whose father and brother are named as Imran (Amran) and Aaron. Miriam appears to be the eldest, the same Miriam who followed the reed basket in which Moses had been left to float on the Nile and who then acted as intermediary with Pharaoh’s daughter. Later, the Quran mentions ‘Moses, brother of Aaron’,” explained Bilek.

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The Old Testament also speaks of Miriam, he observed: she is always presented as the sister of Moses, a prophetess, who disagreed with her brother and was then punished by God; she went to die in the desert. Her “son” Ïssa of whom the Quran speaks does not appear in the Old Testament, Bilek recalled: “Besides, in the Quran, Moses is the one who is an important prohet.”

“The name Jesus – called Yeshua or a similar variant in Arabic, Aramaic or Berber – means ‘God saves’ in Hebrew. ‘Îssa’ does not mean that at all,” said Bilek, showing that for Muslims, “Miriam” and “Îssa” have nothing to do with the Savior of Mankind and His blessed Mother.

However, he observed, “Muslims are very intent on equating Îssa with Jesus and Miriam with Mary, in order to create a link with Christianity. The Quran always speaks of Îssa; the confusion arises from the name Miriam which is indeed the same name as Mary. This confusion did not arise in the Orient where Muslims are obliged to read the Quran in Arabic – it was not translated into Middle-Eastern languages – but not to understand it: they must merely be able to recite it by heart. This all started in the West in the 12th century when Peter the Venerable translated the Quran, in view of evangelizing Muslims, with the help of an Islamic believer who pushed Peter into translating ‘Îssa’ as ‘Jesus.’ Since then, everyone has been doing the same,” Bilek explained.

LifeSiteNews asked Bilek why the Quran tells a story loosely related to the Annunciation. He answered: “In that story, why isn’t Nazareth or Judaea named? Or Bethlehem? No indication is the same. I believe this is deliberate, in order to make confusion possible.”

It is a confusion that Bilek strongly rejects as a convert – while at the present, every time the Gospel is translated into Arabic, the so-called Quranic name of Jesus, “Îssa”, is used. 

“When I was helping a White Father to translate the Gospel to Arabic, I refused absolutely,” Bilek said. “If Îssa is the equivalent of Jesus, then Christianity must collapse, because then he is not the Son of God, and he did not come to save humankind.”

Bilek added: “In the Quran, Adam sinned, but as soon as he left the Garden of Paradise, God pardoned him, rendering Redemption unnecessary. Saying that the Îssa of the Quran is the same as Jesus-Christ inevitably leads to relativizing Christianity, if not destroying it altogether.”

He added that most converts from Islam to Catholicism leave their old religion without knowing much about it, but that they simply arrive at the conclusion, once they learn about Mary and Jesus, that they cannot be the same as the figures mentioned in the Quran. A Muslim who encounters Jesus for the first time cannot think He is the same – otherwise, it would be useless to convert!”

This is not true of converts to Protestantism, Bilek said. The story of the “Annunciation,” as told by the Quran, indeed has very little in common with the Gospel of Saint Luke. 

Thus surah Maryam tells of the birth of John the Baptist, vaguely following the biblical account, and the “Annunciation” by the angel Gibril to “Maryam” of the (more or less) virginal birth of her son.

In the surah, the assent of the woman, Maryam, is not required. Mary’s “fiat” does not exist in the Quran, she does not freely accept to give birth to the Messiah when the angel “Gibril” appears to her “as a man in all respects.”

20. She said, “How can I have a son, when no man has touched me, and I am no harlot?”

21. He said, “Thus said your Lord, ‘It is easy for Me, and We will make him a sign for humanity, and a mercy from Us. It is a matter already decided.’”

22. So she became with child, and went away with him to a far place.

Further on in the surah, Maryam is called “sister of Aaron.” And she says:

35. It is not for Allah to have a child — glory be to Him. To have anything done, He says to it, “Be,” and it becomes…

As remarked earlier on, the birth of Îssa in the desert is no more in line with the Gospel’s detailed and precise account of Jesus’ historical birth under precise historical circumstances than this story.

LifeSiteNews asked Bilek what role he thinks the Virgin Mary does have towards Islam. He answered by referencing the book of the Apocalypse and the figure of the woman in the sky in the throes of childbirth, who must flee to the desert because she is attacked by Satan. 

“If God has permitted Islam to exist, and all this confusion, it is because something else will happen. I firmly believe that the Woman of the Apocalypse will set things right. She is adorned with twelve stars, clothed by the sun, and the moon is beneath her feet: I believe these symbolize the monotheistic religions: we know that the moon is the symbol of Islam, and it is underneath her feet.”

He concluded: “God willed one religion only: if not, why would He have committed Himself to the extent that He did, even unto dying on the Cross for our salvation? Now they are behaving as if Islam can be true or bring truth as well as Christianity, but then Christianity is vain. But we have faith and we know that God only can resolve the issue of Islam.”

  abu dhabi document, gian matteo roggio, human fraternity document, islam, pontifical academy of mary

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