Charity vs. Dhimmitude

An article in the Daily Mail tells about some Catholic bishops in the U.K. who decided it’s a good idea to provide space for Muslim students to observe their prayer rituals in Catholic schools. The bishops also suggested that “existing toilet facilities might be adapted to accommodate individual ritual cleansing which is sometimes part of religious lifestyle and worship.”
Now I hold no particular brief for the practical wisdom of the bishops in this matter. Given that 30 percent of their students are non-Catholic, it seems reasonable to think that some pastoral issues are bound to arise, and a little application of the Golden Rule never hurt anybody. Then again, judging the story from a logistical standpoint, it sounds like it could well be a misplacement of resources and that the money could be more prudently spent elsewhere. But then, what do I know? That’s for bean counters who are close to the situation, not me, to figure out, thank God.
But lots of Christians have very definite views on this matter that have little to do with the question of financial prudence and everything to do with principles of both theology and morality that concern everybody, not just bean counters. Around St. Blogs it is not hard to find various insta-verdicts like “Dhimmi Bishops Strike Again,” or some variation on that theme in comboxes. The basic bill of indictment from many, if not most, conservative Catholic and non-Catholic Christians is that this gesture can only be viewed as an act of cowardice and a betrayal of the gospel.
Indeed, when it comes to Islam, a not-uncommon verdict — even among Catholics who are allegedly faithful to the Church’s teaching — is that the bishops are flat wrong to recognize even the faint commonality of monotheism that Catholicism and Islam share. One commenter at Rod Dreher’s blog sounds this all-too-common Protestant theme by informing us that it is untrue that Christians, Muslims, and Jews worship the same God. Rather, “Christians worship the Most Holy Trinity, a triune God of 3 distinct persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) who share the same essence.”
This flat repudiation of magisterial teaching has, as ever, consequences. It places such Catholics at odds with the obvious teaching of the Catechism:
The Church’s relationship with the Muslims. “The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day” (841).
It also puts them at odds with that weak-kneed modernist Pope St. Gregory VII, who told the Sultan of Bougie in 1076:
For there is nothing which Almighty God, who wishes that all men should be saved and that no man should perish, more approves in our conduct than that a man should first love God and then his fellow men. . . . Most certainly you and we ought to love each other in this way more than other races of men, because we believe and confess one God, albeit in different ways, whom each day we praise and reverence as the creator of all ages and the governor of this world.
And finally, it places them at odds with Scripture and the constant teaching of the Church, which tells us that Jews, non-Trinitarians though they are, worship the same God as Christians, too.
Similarly, if we are going to instantly assume that any gesture of accommodation to Muslim students is ipso facto dhimmitude, it therefore also follows that any gesture of accommodation to Jewish students is ipso facto judaizing. If it is shameful for bishops to extend courtesy to Muslim students about their ritual ablutions, why is it not shameful for them to allow Jewish students to keep kosher? If Muslims are to be forced to observe Catholic ways of prayer and forbidden their five prayers a day in order to preserve the purity of the school, then why allow Jews time to observe Hannukah, Passover, and the High Holy Days? If the former is nothing but dhimmitude, then the latter is nothing less than creeping judaification of the One True Faith!
So: If allowance of the hijab is a capitulation by wimpy bishops, who wants to be the first to tell Jewish students that they can leave their yarmulkes at home and observe the dress code like all the other students?
Anyone? Bueller?
That, you see, is the problem with the easy assumptions being made here. People are talking as though the bishops were wimps, muscled into making these small gestures of kindness and respect by Professionally Aggrieved Grievance Professionals from the Umma. If it were so, I’d be first in line to tell the bishops to man up and say to the Muslims, “Those who don’t like how Catholic schools are run can send their kid someplace else. It’s a free country. Shut up and stop whining.”
But, in fact, what we have are Catholics freely showing charity and respect to non-Catholics, while other Christians carp and complain about it as though charity were a sign of weakness. I don’t think a Catholic school should be required to accommodate non-Catholics. However, I do think that when a Catholic school does so out of charity, it is dumb for Catholics to call this “judaizing” or “dhimmitude.” It is charity.
There may well be reasons, prudentially, why such accommodations should not be done (such as, “We can’t afford it”). Fair enough. But calling it wrong as a matter of principle and automatically deriding an act of charity as dhimmitude or judaizing is more plainly stated in this way: “Catholics alone are worthy of respect. Catholics who show respect for non-Catholics are cowards who are unworthy of respect, too.” If that’s evangelism, then I’m a Hottentot.
That contemptuous dismissal of this gesture of charity to Muslims could have been (and was) said about charity to Jewish observances in previous centuries. It was also attempted toward Protestants for a few centuries, too. Forbid charity to Muslims on the ground that they are not Christian or Catholic, and you logically forbid the same to Jews and Protestants as well (depending on how narrowly you want to draw the circle of Christian or Catholic tribalism). We’ve tried that over the past two millennia, and it was a bust.
To be sure, we should continue to meet aggression from Muslims with just defense. To be sure, we should continue to bear witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ, not only among Muslims, but among Jews and Protestants as well. But do not forbid charity to anybody — including Muslims — or we betray the faith.

Mark P. Shea

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Mark P. Shea is the author of Mary, Mother of the Son and other works. He was a senior editor at Catholic Exchange and is a former columnist for Crisis Magazine.

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