The time has come for Pope Francis, literally speaking, to “put the pedal to the metal” to demonstrate to the world he truly believes what he publicly pontificates about Islam. A recent court decision in Pakistan provides him the perfect opportunity to do so.
In November 2014, while on board the papal plane, Francis – the leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics – said equating Islam with violence was wrong. He claimed both the Quran and the religion were peaceful. He challenged Muslim leaders to issue a global condemnation of terrorism. No such condemnations were forthcoming.
Eight years earlier, Pope Benedict XVI had put a different spin on Islam, at least initially, when he proffered a 14th century observation by Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus. “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new,” quoted Pope Benedict of Manuel II, “and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” After receiving heavy criticism from pro-Islam activists, Benedict issued an apology for simply repeating what someone else had said about the religion centuries earlier.
Perhaps those attacks against Pope Benedict cautioned Pope Francis to try a different tack – one hoping to promote Islam as peaceful by encouraging Muslim leaders to speak out against the terrorism many non-Muslims felt it promoted.
Despite the unwillingness of Muslim leaders to answer the call by Francis, he continued to promote Islam as a peaceful religion. This caused a group of ex-Muslims who had converted to Catholicism to voice their disagreement with the leader of their own church. They queried of Pope Francis, “If Islam is in itself a good religion, as you seem to teach, why did we become Catholic? Do not your words question the goodness of the choice we made … at the risk of our lives?”
Their reference to “at the risk of our lives” was to the fact Islam mandates that anyone who leaves the faith should be put to death.
If anyone ever needed help from the Christian world now it is Asia Bibi. Bibi, 57, is the Catholic mother of five who lives in Muslim-dominated (96 percent) Pakistan. She was sentenced to death in 2010 and remained in prison until October of this year. Purportedly, her crime was violating the country’s blasphemy laws by insulting the Prophet Muhammad. However, even if the facts of the case are true, the grounds for her sentencing are most telling about the threat Islam presents to the non-Muslim world.
The case arises from a 2009 incident in which Bibi was working in the fields with Muslim women and fetched a pail of water from which all could drink. An argument ensued after the Muslim women refused to drink from the same pail as Bibi, a non-Muslim. Witnesses alleged that Bibi then made blasphemous comments about Muhammad, raising the question of what good has befallen Muslims. While she denies this, she was accused and convicted of blasphemy. The Pakistani Supreme Court overturned her death sentence in October.
While those in the West following the case might breathe a sigh of relief Bibi’s life has been spared, such may not be the case. Domestic violence over the Supreme Court’s ruling immediately erupted. Bibi and her family have had to go into hiding, as Islamic extremists are now going house-to-house seeking them out for execution.
Bibi knows she is not safe as earlier, two Pakistani officials, who had come to her defense, were assassinated simply for doing so. Making the task easier now for these extremists to kill her is the fact the Supreme Court banned Bibi from leaving the country.
While Bibi remains “totally terrified” her location will be discovered by the Pakistani mobs looking for her, and while evangelicals urge President Donald Trump to offer her and her family asylum, Western countries have not been tripping over themselves to do so. It is time for the Vatican to step up to the plate to protect one of their own, as well as to pressure Pakistan to release Bibi. Any hesitancy on the part of Pope Francis to make this offer suggests his pontifications that Islam is a peaceful religion is mere puffery.
It is doubtful such an offer will be forthcoming. Francis well understands doing so would open the Vatican up to relentless criticism from the Muslim world and terrorist attacks. Such would completely undermine a narrative about Islam he personally has tried to promote.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., we can hear the shouts of anti-Trump critics clamoring that thousands of undeserving immigrants from south of our border, looking to illegally enter the country, be given amnesty while nary a voice is heard on behalf of Bibi.