Christendom College

Theology Professor William Marshner Speaks on Islam

February 22, 2007

By Jennifer E. Reed, Special to the The Arlington Catholic Herald

marshnerIslam emphasizes law and the revelation of God’s will, and is a territorial enterprise, while Christian reflection and study produces theology on the mysteries of God, said Christendom College theology professor Dr. William Marshner. His Feb. 17 talk on Islam attracted a crowd of over 100 people at St. John the Beloved Church in McLean.
Marshner, who designed a unit on Islam for Christendom’s required apologetics course on arguments in defense of the credibility of the Catholic faith, said that while there are “apparent structural parallels” between Islam and Christianity, the distinction about what each generates brings to light a huge difference between them.

Christian reflection focuses on mysteries such as the Incarnation or the Holy Trinity. Islam on the other hand, is concerned with following the Shariah (Islamic law) which covers how to pray, make loans, marry or treat one’s wife, Marshner said. Islam does not inquire about who God is “because there is simply no inquiry about it—he is so transcendent,” he said. In addition, the Shariah is believed to be so perfect that it does not need to be supplemented by any outside source.

“There is no room for natural law, an outside-of-Islam moral law that people would know thanks to their common human experience,” Marshner noted, nor is there any room “for accumulated political wisdom.”

He explained that Mohammed, Islam’s founder, had a dual role as both a king and a prophet—he was, in effect, “both the Holy Roman Emperor and the pope.” He added, “It is misleading to call Islam a religion. You may as well call it a polity with a religion. … [Islam] is a territorial enterprise,’’ added Marshner.

While the Bible is held by Christians to be the divinely inspired word of God, the Qur’an, or Koran, is the sacred text of Islam and is considered “flawless … and God’s last word to mankind,” said Marshner.

Marshner described jihad (the struggle or fight to defend and spread Islam) as being part of Islam in the way that caring for the sick is part of the Christian religion—you cannot separate it from the religion. Jesus highlighted care of the sick in the parable of the sheep and the goats when he said “for I was … ill and you cared for me…” (Matt 25:35-36) and visiting the sick is one of the corporal works of mercy, yet most Christians probably do not dedicate their lives to this work. Yet, while there are some religious communities who specialize in this, Marshner said, some groups of Muslims specialize in jihad. “There is no question that jihad is recommended in the Qur’an and emphasized in the tradition,” he said.

Born in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, in 570 A.D., Mohammed, according to legend, began receiving revelations from the angel Gabriel in 610 A.D. A few years later, believing God had chosen him to be his messenger, Mohammed began preaching Islam publicly in Mecca. Friction resulted with local leaders in Mecca’s tribal society and by 622 A.D. Mohammed and his followers fled to Medina where he became “a geopolitical leader,” said Marshner. “That’s the beginning of Islam as it is traditionally understood,” he said. The event is so important that Islamic authorities count 622 A.D. as year one in the Islamic calendar.

Where Christianity has its creed or core beliefs, Islam has its five pillars, only the first of which is creed-like, said Marshner. The first pillar requires belief in the oneness of God, Mohammed as his prophet, scriptures, angels and the Last Judgment. The other pillars are the required daily prayers and how to pray them, almsgiving (to the poor, as well as in support of soldiers), fasting (a strict fast observed during Ramadan, one lunar month of the year) and the hajj (a pilgrimage to Mecca once in one’s life).