Category Archives: Islam

Theological Conversations

Professor Christian Troll, a Jesuit priest, has engaged in the studies of Islam since 1961. He is an influential scholar and a very well respected participant and Muslim-Christian conversation for decades. His books and numerous articles are a quest for mutual understanding. His website, Muslims Ask, Christians Answer is invaluable for both Christians and Muslims who want to come to a deeper respect and understanding of their respective faith traditions. 

Muslims Ask, Christians Answer

The same material is available in paperback,

Article: “Muhammad – Prophet for Christians also?”

Towards common ground between Christians and Muslims? Professor Troll writes a response to “138 Muslim religious leaders call for reconciliation and cooperation with Christians.” His response is here:

Professor Troll’s main website: (in German)

Sunday Afterwords: The Crusades, Myth and History

We hear the word Crusades bandied about in the current discussion about the war on terrorism. Is the West really at war with Islam, if so, is this a new “crusade”? To frame it that way shows that we don’t understand what the Crusades were.  In fact, at this year’s Prayer Breakfast the President made an allusion to the Crusades. Do we have an informed understanding, rooted in the best of scholarship, of the Crusades?

During the summer I read Professor Jonathan Riley Smith’s comprehensive history of the Crusades. This read help me to overcome some of the cultural presuppositions about the Crusades that have distorted the historical truth. These distortions are popularized in the movie the “Kingdom of Heaven” directed by Ridley Scott about a decade ago.

The following article and video lecture by Professor Thomas Madden have also given me a better grasp of an honest historical perspective that does not romanticize history and recognizes cruelty was not on one side but on all.

“From the safe distance of many centuries, it is easy enough to scowl in disgust at the Crusades. Religion, after all, is nothing to fight wars over. But we should be mindful that our medieval ancestors would have been equally disgusted by our infinitely more destructive wars fought in the name of political ideologies. And yet, both the medieval and the modern soldier fight ultimately for their own world and all that makes it up. Both are willing to suffer enormous sacrifice, provided that it is in the service of something they hold dear, something greater than themselves. Whether we admire the Crusaders or not, it is a fact that the world we know today would not exist without their efforts. The ancient faith of Christianity, with its respect for women and antipathy toward slavery, not only survived but flourished. Without the Crusades, it might well have followed Zoroastrianism, another of Islam’s rivals, into extinction.”

Rabbi Sacks on Nostra Aetate

On Sunday during my homily I spoke of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ new book: Not in God’s Name. I have also linked the article he recently wrote about Nostra Aetate which was issued 50 years ago at the Vatican Council . This document may be brief and often ignored however it invites us to be leaders in interfaith dialogue.

Please, do see the video of Rabbi Sacks here .  The interviewer ends the conversation with a quote from the conclusion of  Rabbi Sacks’ book and this quote provokes a deep emotional response within my soul because it touches the heart of the truth.

ISIS’ Apocalyptic Endgame

In an article by Professor Gabriel Said Reynolds, he says…

What motivates them is neither insanity nor political radicalism. They are driven by a powerful religious impulse — and a craving for a bloody, apocalyptic showdown with the West….

ISIS will wage war, and wage it constantly, in the hope of luring the United States into a massive invasion, in the hope of provoking a final battle that will usher in the end of the world….

This does not mean that the United States should rule out ground forces unconditionally. There may come a time, and it may come soon, when ISIS’ brutality will reach the level of genocide, and it would be a crime not to intervene.

Nevertheless, any decision to intervene should be taken with the knowledge that we will be giving ISIS the very battle for which they are yearning.

Another article worth reading is by Peggy Noonan, An Administration Adrift on Denial .

Enlightening: What ISIS Really Wants

Theological Conversations

In light of all the political instability in the Middle East, Professor Gabriel Said Reynolds of Notre Dame gives us some good theological understanding of ISIS as an apocalyptic vision of Islam. The following articles by Professor Reynolds can help us understand more about this turmoil in the Middle East.

Recommended articles and resources:

“My research is focused on the study of the Quran in general and the relationship of the Quran to the Bible in particular…. A secondary area of research is the relationship between Muslims and Christians through the centuries, including theology, culture and politics.”

ISIS’ apocalyptic vision of Islam

Why ISIS enslaves: It’s a religious thing

Jesus the Muslim Hippie

“I Am A Christian, And I Will Remain A Christian”: What We Can Learn From Meriam Ibrahim

Evangelizing Islam


Articles on this blog : Good videos in this blog post.

Recommended books:

Ishmael Instructs Isaac: An Introduction to the Qur’an for Bible Readers (Connections)

The Bible and the Qur’an

111 Questions on Islam: Samir Khalil Samir on Islam and the West

Muslims Ask, Christians Answer

Dialogue and Difference: Clarity in Christian-Muslim Relations (Faith Meets Faith Series)

The Story of Christianity

The Emergence of Islam: Classical Traditions in Contemporary Perspective | Fortress Press

Finally, please see this video:

The Great Church Weeps: The Fall of Hagia Sophia

In the spring I spent several days in Constantinople which is known today as Istanbul. On May 28 I walked all the way around the walls to reconstruct the siege of the city in my mind. Then on the following morning I was up at 6 a.m. which is the time when the Muslims poured into the city and panic spread throughout the population. Then at 8 a.m. on May 29, 562 years to the day of the event, I went to Hagia Sophia to remember that morning when the Muslims battered down the Imperial doors to the great church.

I spent the entire morning and early afternoon at Hagia Sophia so acutely aware I was in Constantinople on the anniversary of some eventful days. On May 27 Mehmet ordered the heaviest bombardment of the city. On May 28 the Muslims were given over to prayer, fasting during daylight and ritual ablutions. With candle illumination at night, the city was ringed with fire for the next two nights  while the muslims chanted the names of God to beating drums and clashing of cymbals. The people in the city prayed and did penance.

In contrast to the silence, the city was filled with bells, and prayers reached a crescendo the morning of the 28th. Every icon and relic came to Hagia Sophia and there was a procession the full length of the land wall. There were only 4000 soldiers left. In the afternoon at Hagia Sophia. Catholic and Orthodox alike prayed in union and they set aside the 400 year old schism and shared Communion. And the women and children stayed all night in vigil. At nightfall the Muslims broke the fast and massive bombardment began in the night. At midnight the Muslim camp was silent waiting for the order.

Mosaic of Christ, over the Imperial door. Hagia Sophia.

Returning from a raid one of the Italians forgot to lock the postern and some of the Ottomans spotted the open door and at 1:30 a.m. on May 29 they burst in, killed the soldiers, took down the flag of Saint Mark and raised the flag of Islam. Within five hours at dawn the Muslim soldiers were beheading the dead and the dying and by 6 a.m. there was indiscriminate killing everywhere.

The faithful fled to Hagia Sophia inspired by the prophecy the avenging angel would drive out the invaders. The bronze doors shut at 8 a.m. They prayed for a miracle. The Janissaries battered down the imperial doors. As I stood at the door today I looked up and saw the mosaic of Jesus which witnessed this. Within an hour the congregation was bound up and led out and then the Muslims hacked the valuables up. The church was left desolate.

Later in the day, Mehmet arrived at the church. He dismounted and poured dust on his head as a sign of humility. Then he called an imam to go up into the pulpit and recite the call to prayer. So early afternoon when I was leaving the church I heard the call to prayer from the outside penetrating the inside and all these thoughts rushed into my mind.

On leaving I went to the ruins of the great palace that was destroyed during the Latin invasion and remembered that Mehmet went to the gallery and surveyed the decay of a once great city that had been wrecked in 1204, and recited this poem:

The spider is curtain bearer in the palace of Chosroes,
The owl sounds the relief in the castle of Afrasiyah…

He achieved his dream, yet already stared over the edge of his own decline. I continued to look up, and imagined the evening of 29 May when the evening sun illuminated the smashed icons and mosaics strewn in pools of dry blood.

Hagia Sophia today.

Hagia Sophia today.

“To surrender the city to you is beyond my authority or anyone else’s who lives in it, for all of us, after taking mutual decision, shall die out of free will without sparing our lives.” — Constantine XI Palaiologos

The Last Speech of Emperor Constantine Palaiologos, as it was recorded by Leonardo of Chios

Laments for Constantinople

Byzantine Chant, Lament for the fall of Constantinople
Title: “Ο Θεός ήλθοσαν έθνη” (O God, the heathen are come)
Composer: Manuel Chrysaphes, 1440–1463

Walking the Walls: Reliving the Last Great Siege

In the spring I spent several days in Constantinople which is known today as Istanbul. On May 29th 1453 the great city which stood as a center of Christianity for over a thousand years fell when it was besieged by the Muslims who conquered the city on May 29th 1453. While in Istanbul I read the book Constantinople, The Last Great Siege by Roger Crowley. This reading inspired me to walk the walls on the evening of the 28th and reconstruct the siege in my mind. Then on the following morning I was up at 6 a.m. which is the time when the Muslims poured into the city and panic spread throughout the population. Then at 8 a.m. I went to Hagia Sophia to remember that morning when the Muslims battered down the Imperial doors to the great church. My walking the walls was truly a vigil of remembrance of those final days.

I began the 24-mile walk around the perimeter of ancient Constantinople which fell to the Turkish Muslims on the morning of May 29, 1453. Since my grade school Constantinople has always offered me a fascination especially the walls which were the most important defense system in late antiquity.

The walk began along the the Sea of Marmara where the wall was low because the strong currents made an attack impossible.

This explains a little about the Sea of Marmara walls

The church of Saints Sergius and Baccchus marks the first of the city’s harbors on the sea.

The walk was long however my eyes were attentive to ruins along the way.

This is the only place where the ruins of the walls are on the sea.

Very little remains however in this vicinity right before the junction of the Theodosian land walls and the sea walls was the Gate of the Pomegranate that was close to the important monastery of Stoudious.

Although heavily restored this is the Marble Tower which is the junction of the wall on the Sea of Marmara and the Theodosian wall that extends 5.7 miles to the area of the Palace of the Porphyrogenitus in the Blachernae quarter on the Golden Horn.

The walls at this point are heavily restored. They will rise sharply northeast to the Golden Gate.

To gain access to the Golden Gate is not possible however I took this picture from afar. This was the ceremonial gate that was only opened for the triumphal entry of the emperor although Pope Constantine entered in 710.

There was an inscription that read: Theodosius adorned these places after the downfall of the tyrant. He brought a golden age who built the gate from gold.

There is another legend associated with the gate. When the Muslim Turks entered the city an angel rescued the Emperor who was turned into marble and interred in a cave nearby where he waits to be resuscitated in order to conquer the city back.

The Belgrade gate has been heavily reconstructed however the large stones at the base of the wall are original.

This section of the walls is heavily reconstructed. These land walls were constructed by Emperor Theodosius from 413 to 439. They were 4.8 meters in width and 11 to 14 meters in height.

Silivri gate.

On the early morning of May 29 1453 was the decisive breakthrough. The gate had been inadvertently left unlocked. The Muslims entered, raised their flag, opened fire, spread panic and thus led to the fall.

The Gate of Charisus or Edirnekapi was the gate Mehmet triumphantly entered the city on 29 May 1453. This is also the gate where sultans left with ceremony on their campaigns to conquer Europe.

The Cannon gate or Topkapi was where the Basilic canon was placed during the seige

This is looking towards the Golden Horn where the walls of the Blachernae Palace connect with the Theodosian walls which terminate at the palace of Porphyrogenitus. From the the low walls were set back from the Golden Horn. The Blachernae since the 11th century was the residence of the Emperor.

Golden horn.

View of golden horn
Plaque about the Golden Horn

Another plaque commemorating the conquest. The Turkish narrative is that the Byzantines were corrupt and thus God delivered the city into their hands to demonstrate the superiority of Islam over Christianity.

Sultan Mehmet.

Tomorrow: the fall of Hagia Sophia.

Update: This article links to a very good video explaining how and why the walls were built. It includes reconstructions of what the walls would have looked like and how they were a defense of the city. The video is below.

Syrian Archbishop: A Tsunami Has Hit His Country

‘Calling the war in Syria, and its resultant refugee crisis “a tsunami that has hit the country” a grieved and frustrated-sounding Archbishop Ignatius Joseph III Younan, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East for the Syriac Catholic Church, had some hard words for the West during a pastoral visit to Ottawa, Canada.’ Read the rest from the Syrian patriarch at Aleteia, and do read the linked article from Ottawa (in the Vancouver archdiocesan newspaper), where the archbishop was visiting.

Theological Conversations

Please join us each Wednesday evening for daily Mass at 5:30 p.m. and then at 6 p.m. for the ongoing theological presentations in the church commons area.

Three Religions of Abraham, Or Only One?
Professor Remi Brague, a professor of Arabic and religious philosophy at the Sorbonne, in his book On the God of the Christians (and on one or two others) points out that the “Abraham” that the three religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) would have in common is a vague abstraction. For Islam, “Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but a true believer, and Muslim” Quran III, 67.

Professor Gabriel Said Reynolds of Notre Dame offers a short reflection on Abraham.
Abraham in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

Professor Samir Khalil Samir is a Jesuit who is an author and professor at Saint Joseph University in Lebanon. He wrote a short book that I highly recommend, 111 Questions on Islam.

There also are two videos that I highly recommend:
The Radicalization of Islam and
Pope Benedict’s Regensburg talk.

Nebeel Qureshi offers several video lectures that can be beneficial in our ongoing theological conversation to try to understand the growing number of Muslims in the United States. First of all, Islam is more than simply the Quran, it is a way of life. Qureshi gives us in this lecture an insight into how the practice of Islam shaped his life until his conversion to Christianity as a young adult. Apologetics of the Quran.

At the beginning of the video he quotes from why Islam website devoted to bringing westerners to Islam. Their mission statement sums up our discussion last night of how Muslims understand their faith.

And I would recommend his lecture on the text of the Quran. The Text of the Quran.

This website, Why Islam, is a way the Muslims spread their mission to call people to their faith. The site gives a clear understanding of what they believe, as well as how they understand the Christian faith in relationship to Islam.

Theological Conversations

Join us at Sacred Heart Parish, Norfolk, Virginia, each Wednesday evening at 6 p.m. for our ongoing theological conversations, which begin immediately after the 5:30 p.m. Wednesday Mass each week.

The ancient legacy of the Christian faith in southern Turkey, Syria, and Iraq brings a richness to our understanding of Jesus. Although this ancient legacy may be hidden from our western eyes, it is a treasure to be discovered: a pearl of great price. This is a documentary movie, 197 minutes, “The Hidden Pearl.”

Learn about the Aramean people before and after Christianity, about their language, their culture, their religion and traditions. This documentary will also give you an insight into the culture into which Islam emerged in the 7th Century.
Click here to view: The Hidden Pearl

Our first three conversations on Christian-Islamic dialogue set forth the need to appreciate the world of the 7th Century in which Islam emerged.

Professor Gabriel Said Reynolds gives us a short introductory lecture provided here: Lecture by Prof. Gabriel Said Reynolds.

You may also enjoy exploring Professor Reynold’s webpage, which gives access to other well-informed resources: website for Professor Gabriel Said Reynolds.

When Islam emerged into what is today Iraq, Syria and Southern Turkey, the Muslims encountered a Syriac Christianity. Professor Sydney Griffith at Catholic University of America presents a very good lecture that helps us to gain access to the 7th Century world. Click here to listen (YouTube, but audio only) to the lecture: History of Muslim-Christian relations:

The purpose of our ongoing theological conversations is to gain an understanding of Islamic and Christian theological positions: where we agree and where we differ.

Dr. Nebeel Qureshi, who recently completed his doctorate at Oxford University in England, delivered a lecture on the Biblical witness of Jesus in conversation with the Quranic Jesus. 

The lecture is very spirited in that his purpose is apologetic, that is to give a reasoned defense of the Christian faith he professes. 
BBC interview with Dr. Nebeel Qureshi

Lecture by Dr. Nebeel Qureshi

And finally, here is the first three chapters from Professor Christian Troll of Munich, in which he offers a clear and simple presentation of getting a handle on the theological issues that are at stake in Islamic Christian dialogue.

Muslim Questions, Christian Responses (PDF file)