Matt C. Abbott
'Inside Islam: A Guide for Catholics'
By Matt C. Abbott
November 12, 2009

The following are excerpts from Inside Islam: A Guide for Catholics, authored by Daniel Ali and Robert Spencer. The first excerpt is the book's foreword, written by Father Mitch Pacwa, S.J. The second excerpt is the text from pages 122–125 (much of the book's content is in question-and-answer format). Thanks to Matthew Pinto and Michael Flickinger of Ascension Press for allowing me to reprint this material.


Islam glories in the clear simplicity of its doctrine and demands. The faith of the Muslim can be understood by the least educated person, and the religion offers a promise of eternal happiness in a paradise appealing to the senses. Muslims criticize Christianity for a number of reasons, but chief among them is that Christianity is too complex a mystery to be true. Furthermore, the belief in a heaven where the blessed see God face-to-face seems blasphemous to the Muslim.

Despite Islam's profession of a simple, clear faith, this religion is not well known to most Westerners. The media presents many news stories about Muslims without offering any real explanation of Islam and its tenets. Rarely does one encounter an article or program which explains the essential differences between secular Arab nationalism and Islamic religious movements. Many Western Christians remain unclear about the differences between the various Muslim sects: How do Sunni and Shiite differ? What are Wahhabi Muslims?

Since the conflicts in the Middle East have involved America in two wars and terrorism has inflicted horrors upon our own shores and abroad, the sale of the Koran in its English translation has greatly increased in the United States. Many American Christians want to better understand Islam but find that the more closely they approach this enigmatic faith, the more complex it seems. Since the Koran is not organized chronologically or thematically, it is difficult for the non-Muslim to make sense of it. The Koran appears so strange to Western eyes that many readers find it difficult to find a firm starting point to read it with comprehension.

Another problem in understanding Islam stems from the many conflicting ideas existing within it. Is it a religion of peace or a religion of warlike jihad? Does jihad mean the individual struggle to submit to God more completely or does it refer to the universal struggle against every non-Muslim society and structure? If Islam teaches so many good things about Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary, why do Muslims have so many difficulties with Christian beliefs?

The committed Christian, then, is faced with a central question: Does the choice between Islam and Christianity make any difference in living life on earth or achieving eternal bliss in the next life? Both Islam and Christianity claim to be God's true revelation, so how does a Christian respond to Islam's claim? Is there a way to sift through the Koran, pull together its themes of revelation, and make sense of it from a Christian perspective? Though Muslims are actively seeking converts from among Christians, is it possible to evangelize Muslims about Christianity? How can one begin to discuss the issues which separate the two religions?

I commend the authors of this book for helping Catholics tackle this most important topic. They have presented many of the key beliefs of Islam in a clear question-and-answer format. Their deep insights into the text and language of the Koran are truly enriching, especially for the relatively new student of Islam.

Though unabashedly Christian, Daniel Ali and Robert Spencer have chosen to treat this world religion and its believers with the respect they are due. First, Muslims are recognized as persons who truly want to please God by submitting to Him, and their commitment and sincerity are respectfully presented. Second, a great wealth of information from Islamic sources — the Koran, Muhammad's Tradition (the Hadith), and the opinions of Islamic scholars — is presented and discussed extensively, with source citations provided so that the reader can personally examine the texts. And third, they take the claims of Islam seriously, as is proper for a religion which has changed the lives of hundreds of millions over thirteen centuries and across many cultures. Islam claims a divine origin for its revelation, so its texts must be read from the point of view of such a high claim.

This respectful attitude towards Islam involves a process of serious, careful attention to the data of Islamic revelation. However, the authors also note the difficulties, tensions, and contradictions within the Islamic literature precisely because they take it so seriously. Daniel Ali had to face these difficulties personally — though once a believing Muslim, the tensions he began to see within Islam became such a weighty challenge that he was moved to increase his study of Islamic texts until he eventually came to accept that Jesus Christ is the true Son of God and Lord of all.

Having heard Mr. Ali speak many times, I am again deeply impressed at his brilliant insights into the many difficulties presented by the Koran. His deep understanding of its language and careful examination of the Arabic vocabulary help the non-Arabic-speaking Christian follow the arguments about its claims to be the reliable, perfect, inspired word of Allah. His coauthor, Robert Spencer, also comes to the project with an extensive knowledge of the religion of Muhammad, having written two previous books on Islam. Mr. Spencer's background as a Catholic apologist and teacher has served this present book well.

Inside Islam: A Guide for Catholics is especially for those Christians who want to submit to Jesus' command to make disciples of all nations. This book is definitely not for the timid or indifferent Catholic. It is for those who truly want to explore the mystery that is Islam, so that they might be better prepared to proclaim the saving truth of Christ to their Muslim neighbors. No one who is beginning to confront the reality of Islam should be without this book. May God bless all who read it.

— Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J.

Questions 85–88

85. Since most of the world has not yet been converted to Islam, do Muslims still believe in universal jihad?

Yes. If Muslims take the Koran and Hadith seriously, they will fight until everyone on earth is Muslim, or at least until all are utterly subdued under Muslim rule. Muhammad's previously quoted words ("I have been ordered to fight with the people till they say, 'None has the right to be worshipped but Allah'") are open-ended and appear in numerous well-attested Hadiths.

However, not all Muslims today, of course, apply Muhammad's commands and Koranic principles to their lives. The Prophet himself predicted that only some of his followers would keep up the struggle: "A section of my community will continue to fight for the right and overcome their opponents till the last of them fights with the Antichrist."

86. Given Islam's teachings on jihad, how can Muslims claim it is a religion of peace?

When the Muslim declares that Islam is a religion of peace, he is either ignorant of the Koran or is extending this "peace" only to those within the Muslim community, without telling you that is the way he means it. According to the Koran, "Muhammad is the Apostle of Allah. Those who follow him are merciful to one another, but ruthless to unbelievers" (Sura 48:29). Muslims are to greet and treat other fellow Muslims in a manner promoting peace within the Umma, or worldwide Muslim brotherhood. In Islam, there exists no true concept of peace between the nonbeliever and the devout Muslim. Peace can only exist for those who follow Islam.

87. Are suicide attacks by terrorists in the name of Islam justified by the Koran?

Opinions on this point differ among Muslim scholars.

Some condemn suicide attacks on the basis of Sura 4:29: "O ye who believe! Eat not up your property among yourselves in vanities: But let there be amongst you traffic and trade by mutual goodwill: Nor kill (or destroy) yourselves: for verily Allah hath been to you Most Merciful!"

However, other Muslim authorities justify suicide bombing, pointing out that numerous other verses promise Paradise to someone who is killed while fighting for Allah. Indeed, this is the only guarantee of Paradise given in the Koran:

    'Therefore, when ye meet the Unbelievers (in fight), smite at their necks; At length, when ye have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly (on them) . . . But those who are slain in the way of Allah, He will never let their deeds be lost. Soon will He guide them and improve their condition, and admit them to the Garden which He has announced for them' (Sura 47:4–6; see also Sura 3:157).

One passage chides those who shrink from fighting and praises those who wish for death:

    'If a wound hath touched you, be sure a similar wound hath touched the others. Such days (of varying fortunes) We give to men and men by turns: that Allah may know those that believe, and that He may take to Himself from your ranks martyr witnesses (to Truth). . . . Did ye think that ye would enter Heaven without Allah testing those of you who fought hard (In His Cause) and remained steadfast? Ye did indeed wish for death before ye met him: Now ye have seen him with your own eyes, (And ye flinch!)' (Sura 3:140–143).

On the basis of these and other similar passages, the foremost cleric in Sunni Islam, Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar University in Cairo, "emphasized that every martyrdom operation against any Israeli, including children, women, and teenagers, is a legitimate act according to [Islamic] religious law, and an Islamic commandment." It seems clear that Tantawi's view is held by many in the Islamic world, judging from the events of recent history.

88. Why do many Muslims seem to hate the United States and the Western democracies?

There are several reasons for this. Muslims point to conflicts around the world where American forces, in attempting to resolve particular humanitarian or security issues, have seemed to oppose Muslims. A recent example of this was the Clinton Administration's mid-1990s military relief action in Somalia, a predominantly Muslim country. Some Muslims resent the continued American military presence in Saudi Arabia (dating from the 1991 Gulf War), as this is Islam's holy land. Muhammad clearly told his followers that only one religion — Islam — should ever be allowed there, but the vast majority of the American soldiers stationed in Saudi Arabia are non-Muslim. Their mere presence is offensive to many Muslims.

Others decry what they view as the immorality of Western secular societies and resent the West's technological superiority and cultural influence. If Islam is the final, perfect revelation, then many Muslims believe that Islamic society should also be preeminent in all facets of life. When Muslims see how far they are from this ideal, their resentment only grows.

In addition, because Muslims are called to support Islamic causes and fellow Muslims, they typically support the Palestinians in their conflict with Israel. In the Muslim world it is widely believed that the United States (and the West as a whole) is an uncritical supporter of Israel. Since the vast majority of Palestinians are Muslims, all Muslims are called to support them and, indeed, all causes that are perceived to be causes of Islam. It does not matter to most Muslims whether individual Americans support war with Muslim countries or not — all Americans are part of the West and, as such, are considered to be "crusaders" against Islam no matter what.

(Excerpted from the book Inside Islam by Daniel Ali and Robert Spencer, © 2003 Ascension Press. All rights reserved. Used by permission. For more information, visit

© Matt C. Abbott


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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, media, and theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He also has an Associate in Applied Science degree in business management from Triton College. Abbott has been interviewed on HLN, MSNBC, Bill Martinez Live, WOSU Radio in Ohio, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's 2019 ‘Unsolved’ podcast about the unsolved murder of Father Alfred Kunz, Alex Shuman's 'Smoke Screen: Fake Priest' podcast, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) and WISC-TV (CBS) in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been quoted in The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and other media outlets. He’s mentioned in the 2020 Report on the Holy See's Institutional Knowledge and Decision-Making Related to Former Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick (1930 to 2017), which can be found on the Vatican's website. He can be reached at

(Note: I welcome and appreciate thoughtful feedback. Insults will be ignored. Only in very select cases will I honor a request to have a telephone conversation about a topic in my column. Email is much preferred. God bless you and please keep me in your prayers!)


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