Dawah, Dislocation & the Hijacking of Catholic-Muslim Dialogue

By Timothy D. Lusch
May 2017

Ed. Note: This is the second in a three-part series on the Catholic Church and Islam. The first installment, “The Interfaith Delusion”

Since the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and its Muslim partners inaugurated the National Catholic-Muslim Dialogue more than a year ago, the priority of the talks has shifted from theological discussion (two-way “dialogue”) to advocacy in support of the Muslim community. This is not surprising, since theological discussion never really seems to have been the point. How could it be? As Robert Cardinal Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, has observed, “There can be no theological dialogue [with Islam] because the essential foundations of the Christian faith are very different from those of the Muslims.”

An African Church leader who possesses real-life experience with Muslims outside the U.S., Cardinal Sarah laments the “very difficult, almost impossible relations with Muslims in the Sudan, Kenya, and Nigeria.” Where Muslims make up a majority of the population or control key aspects of the government, Christians find themselves in trying, and often deadly, circumstances. This is because Islam is a religious belief fully actualized in political domination, a fact few Western Christians want to acknowledge. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger depicted the chasm between Christianity and Islam some twenty years ago:
The Qur’an is a total religious law, which regulates the whole of political and social life and insists that the whole order of life be Islamic. Sharia shapes society from beginning to end. In this sense, it can exploit such partial freedoms as our constitution gives, but it cannot be its final goal to say: Yes, now we too are a body with rights, now we are present [in society] just like the Catholics and the Protestants. In such a situation, [Islam] would not achieve a status consistent with its inner nature; it would be in alienation from itself…. One has to have a clear understanding that [Islam] is not simply a denomination that can be included in the free realm of a pluralistic society. When one represents the situation in those terms, as often happens today, Islam is defined according to the Christian model and is not seen as it really is in itself. (Salt of the Earth, 1996)
Blase Cardinal Cupich, co-chairman of the USCCB-sponsored national dialogue, surely knew from the beginning that theological dialogue with Muslims is a dead end. That is likely why he recently declared that the national effort will “strive to contribute tangible fruits…that benefit not only those who pray and worship in our churches and mosques but also the American public and the international community of Christians and Muslims as each tries to replace narratives of hate and distrust with love and affection.” Inasmuch as Cardinal Cupich and his brother bishops call on Catholics and Muslims in the U.S. to be good neighbors, there is merit in what he says. But the notion that the dominant problem between Catholics and Muslims worldwide is a narrative of “hate and distrust” is simply ludicrous. And the implication that Muslims have entered into a national dialogue with the desired ends of “love and affection” is positively naïve. For Cardinal Cupich and the USCCB to attribute such motives to their current dialogue partners is an egregious example of mirror imaging — seeing their Muslim counterparts as they see themselves.

In contrast, Raymond Cardinal Burke has a more accurate understanding of Islam and, by extension, Muslim dialogue partners. Like Cardinal Ratzinger, Cardinal Burke acknowledges that Islam’s nature is fundamentally political. He has argued that “while our experience with individual Muslims may be one of people who are gentle and kind and so forth, we have to understand that in the end, what they believe most deeply, that to which they ascribe in their hearts, demands that they govern the world.” Islam, he says, is not rooted in the natural law, and Sharia is “not a law that’s founded on love. To say that we all believe in love is simply not correct.”


Regarding Catholic efforts toward interreligious dialogue generally, the USCCB is attempting to fulfill Christ’s mandate to “go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:19). Bl. Pope Paul VI revisited Christ’s mandate in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975). There is “a profound link between Christ, the Church and evangelization,” he wrote. “During the period of the Church that we are living in, it is she who has the task of evangelizing. This mandate is not accomplished without her, and still less against her.” And so Cardinal Cupich and the USCCB are, in a sense, being faithful to the call of Christ to make disciples of all nations. This is true even if the USCCB’s national-dialogue priorities are myopic.

A later document, “The Attitude of the Church Toward Followers of Other Religions: Reflections and Orientations on Dialogue and Mission,” issued by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (1984), describes the Church’s evangelizing mission as a “single but complex and articulated reality.” This document describes key elements of this reality, one of which is “dialogue in which Christians meet the followers of other religions in order to walk together toward truth and to work together in projects of common concern.” Pope St. John Paul II validated this dialogic approach in his encyclical Redemptoris Missio (1990):
In the light of the economy of salvation, the Church sees no conflict between proclaiming Christ and engaging in interreligious dialogue. Instead, she feels the need to link the two in the context of her mission ad gentes. These two elements must maintain both the intimate connection and their distinctiveness; therefore they should not be confused, manipulated or regarded as identical as though they were interchangeable.
However, the Holy Father wrote, “Dialogue does not originate from tactical concern or self-interest, but is an activity with its own guiding principles, requirements and dignity.” This means that the choice of partners, priorities, and protocol should be governed by principles, not politics. It also means that the dignity of the effort can be offended by something, or someone, that undermines the Church’s missionary mandate.

Regarding interreligious dialogue with American Muslims specifically, I addressed the USCCB’s naïve view of Islam in last month’s issue (“The Interfaith Delusion,” April). Emanating from Nostra Aetate, Evangelii Gaudium, and various public statements of Pope Francis, the U.S. bishops’ naïveté led to the disturbing choice of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) as national and regional dialogue partners, respectively. Is there a danger that ISNA and ICNA are using the dialogue process to undermine the Church? Absolutely. Both are Islamist organizations with ties to Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Jamaat-e-Islami — known supporters of Islamic terrorism. Further, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), an ISNA sister organization, is a prominent promoter of the myth of “Islamophobia,” a form of propaganda designed to subvert perceptions and distort reality.

Accusations of Islamophobia are intended to silence criticism of Islam. Worse, they are meant to stifle honest inquiry. In the context of interreligious dialogue, it means that the discourse is governed by pre-determined boundaries set by one of the partners (the Muslims) that effectively muzzle the other partner (the bishops). Any discussion that even appears to be critical of Islamic beliefs, motivations, or practices (including references to acts of terror and aggression) will be automatically construed as Islamophobia on the part of the bishops. As such, there is precious little left to discuss, and even what’s left is superficial. This is precisely how ISNA and ICNA succeeded in co-opting the dialogue process to further their agenda. ISNA and ICNA, though separate entities, act in concert with respect to their ultimate goal for dialogue. Their goal, grounded in the idea of silencing all criticism of Islam, cannot be understood as similar to Christian evangelization or mission. This is the mistake Cardinal Cupich and the USCCB make.


Interreligious dialogue, for Muslims generally and ISNA and ICNA specifically, largely falls under the Islamic concept of dawah, the “invitation” or “call to Islam.” But in the context used by the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliated organizations (i.e., ISNA, ICNA, CAIR), it is more properly understood as preparation for jihad. The relationship between dawah and jihad has roots in a hadith recorded in the eighth century by Malik Ibn Anas (also recorded in Sahih Al-Bukhari, 4:195):
Yahya related to me from Malik from Humayd at-Tawil from Anas ibn Malik that when the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, went out to Khaybar, he arrived there at night, and when he came upon a people by night, he did not attack until morning. In the morning, the Jews came out with their spades and baskets. When they saw him, they said, “Muhammad! By Allah, Muhammad and his army!” The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said “Allah is greater! Khaybar is destroyed. When we come to a people, it is an evil morning for those who have been warned.” (emphasis added)
Thus, Muhammad, at the head of an army, waged jihad (the “evil morning”) on those who had rejected dawah, the call to Islam, the night before. This is not to say that a Muslim army is waiting to annihilate the USCCB if they reject the invitation to Islam (although this pattern can be readily observed in the territories where the Islamic State has gained control). The point, rather, is that there is an inextricable link between dawah and jihad. Stephen Coughlin, a decorated intelligence analyst and Islamic-law expert, observes:
In the early phases of dawah, one should expect to see an emphasis on penetration and subversion campaigns directed at cultural, political, media, and religious institutions. Actions taken in the early dawah phase aimed at compromising a community’s core beliefs will substantially contribute to the sense of hopelessness that magnifies the effect of terror when the final call to Islam is made — at a time and place calculated to induce mass conversion or submission. (Catastrophic Failure: Blindfolding America in the Face of Jihad, 2015)
The coordinated dawah efforts of ISNA and ICNA are guided by the Muslim Brotherhood’s “Explanatory Memorandum: On the Strategic Goal for the Group” (1991). The memorandum specifically refers to ISNA as a seed of the “comprehensive dawa’ educational” organization. The memorandum also cites improved coordination with ICNA (originating from Jamaat-e-Islami, a Pakistani Islamist organization later aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt). The “Explanatory Memorandum” is explicit about the strategic goal of the Muslim Brotherhood in North America:
Enablement of Islam in North America, meaning: establishing an effective and a stable Islamic Movement led by the Muslim Brotherhood which adopts Muslims’ causes domestically and globally, and which works to expand the observant Muslim base, aims at unifying and directing Muslims’ efforts, presents Islam as a civilization alternative, and supports the global Islamic State wherever it is.
How will this be achieved?
In order for Islam and its Movement to become “a part of the homeland” in which it lives, “stable” in its land, “rooted” in the spirits and minds of its people, “enabled” in the live [sic] of its society and has firmly-established “organizations” on which the Islamic structure is built and with which the testimony of civilization is achieved, the Movement must plan and struggle to obtain “the keys” and the tools of this process in carry [sic] out this grand mission as a “Civilization Jihadist” responsibility which lies on the shoulders of Muslims and — on top of them — the Muslim Brotherhood in this country.
The process of settlement is a “Civilization-Jihadist Process” with all the word means [sic]. The Ikhwan [Muslim Brotherhood] must understand that their work in America is a kind of grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and “sabotaging” its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over all other religions. Without this level of understanding, we are not up to this challenge and have not prepared ourselves for Jihad yet. It is a Muslim’s destiny to perform Jihad and work wherever he is and wherever he lands until the final hour comes, and there is no escape from that destiny except for those who chose to slack.
Clearly, interreligious dialogue is one of the “keys” or “tools” ISNA and ICNA employ in order to achieve the Muslim Brotherhood’s goals. And the U.S. bishops play right into their hands: They naïvely ceded the principles governing interreligious dialogue to their Muslim counterparts. And for ISNA and ICNA, the principles are, of necessity, political. They are political because Islam is political. Therefore, because the focus and goals of dialogue are, for Muslims, political and not religious, the dignity of the dialogue, from the Catholic perspective, is violated. The bishops’ desire to appear to be virtuous actors in the postmodern double farce of identity politics and political correctness — evidenced by their eagerness to advance the false Islamophobia narrative — thus opens the door to dawah. It creates a presumption of moral and theological equivalence and will lead to a dislocation of the Christian faith.

A dislocation of faith occurs when a believer sees his faith as no better than any other, when his faith represents one truth among many, each with its own eternal validity. The distinctiveness of Christianity is thus stripped away by the leveling effect of political correctness, of which the Islamophobia narrative is currently a favored part. Further, since the Islamophobia narrative prohibits any legitimate inquiry into or criticism of Islam, it won’t be long before the confession of Christ — itself an inherent condemnation of the shahada (“There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger”), the foundation of Islam — is considered a provocation. The USCCB already ceded this ground by relegating theological dialogue to the backseat in favor of political action on behalf of ISNA and ICNA — by countering the “narratives of hate and distrust,” as Cardinal Cupich put it. How long will it be before any mention of the truth of Christ crucified is an offense to the bishops’ Muslim dialogue partners? Catholics looking to the USCCB as an example of dialogue with Muslims, thus misled, will engage Muslims in the same fashion and will not be able to offer a defense of the faith or a reason for their hope.


It is a fact of life for Christians in Muslim countries that free and full expression of their faith is not permissible and is oftentimes punishable by law. On the spectrum of religious freedom, we in the U.S. are nowhere near this level of restriction and persecution. But it is only a matter of time, if the Islamists have their way, because the very same Brotherhood supporters who persecute Coptic Catholics in Egypt are represented in this country by ISNA and ICNA. Indeed, it is the goal of ISNA and ICNA to destroy the faith of Catholics in North America in preparation for jihad. Interreligious “dialogue” serves as a vehicle for that destruction.

It is a familiar Qur’anic declaration that when Allah demonstrates his power over his enemies, he does so by “casting terror in their hearts.” S.K. Malik, a Pakistani brigadier general and author of The Quranic Concept of War (1986), elaborates further: “To instill terror in the hearts of the enemy it is essential in the ultimate analysis to dislocate his faith.” One who lacks faith is easily conquered. This is the heart of dawah as a preparation for jihad. Shamim Siddiqui, perhaps the most influential dawah theorist in the U.S. and author of Methodology of Dawah (1989), states unequivocally that a “Muslim has to put all that he has either to change the society into an Islamic society or state or be perished for it. A Muslim has no other choice.”

This is the mission of dawah. ISNA and ICNA are not interested in dialogue for the sake of peace, love, and understanding. They are only interested in what the scheme of “dialogue” will achieve in their mission to weaken Christian faith in preparation for jihad. It is incumbent upon the USCCB to recognize the threat that dialogue with ISNA and ICNA presents, and either seek partners without Islamist motives or end the dialogue altogether. As Stephen Coughlin puts it, “Bishops, ministers, and rabbis blindly addicted to interfaith dialogue should consider whether their actions contribute to the defense of their respective faiths or to their

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  1. To complete the final sentence, add the word destruction.”

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