I have just received a thought-provoking letter addressed to Pope Benedict from a very knowledgable, "high" Protestant resident of the Muslim world. His name is Abu Daoud and he asks three things of the Pope that would help Muslims who are spiritual seekers.
1) That Catholic parishes in the west with significant immigrant Muslim populations be ready and willing to give out Bibles in the languages of local Muslims: Arabic, Urdu, Farsi, Turkish, etc. "Even in the most fundamentalist Islamic countries, if a person asks for a Bible, it is not considered to be antagonistic to Islam to give him one."
(Sherry's note: I have heard some hair-raising stories of secret brown-paper-wrapped Bible hand-offs between fully veiled women in grocery stores. At least in some parts of the Muslim world, it used to be very dangerous. Therefore, the policy was that the seeker had to ask at least three times before their request was considered. That may have changed. But certainly in the west, it is doable.)
2) "A key reason listed in the conversion narratives of Muslims is a dream or vision. Often this is of Messiah himself, but other times of an angel or saint like John the Baptist or the Blessed Virgin. What if each diocese were instructed, as they are with exorcists today, to discern among their clergy (or laity?) an individual (or several) with the charism of interpreting dreams and visions? If we think this is not a genuine ability imparted from God we need only recall the stories of Joseph and Daniel, both of whom had this gift, and both of whom glorified God in the presence of pagans through it. A small publicity campaign--small ads in local publications read by immigrants, notices at the church doors--letting people know that, if they have had dreams or visions which they cannot explain, that someone with experience in that field is ready and willing to talk with them."
(Sherry's note: As I have noted here before, many "Muslim background believers" have experienced dreams and visions of Christ and sometimes of the Virgin Mary.
In our work facilitating the discernment of Catholics, I can't say that I've come across a charism of "interpreting dreams" as such. And it isn't that we haven't heard some hair-raising stories, including the raising of the dead and experiences of bi-location. But I would think that persons of considerable spiritual maturity, perhaps trained in the Ignatian discernment, with some background in Islam and in what is happening in the Muslim world today, and with charisms of wisdom or prophecy or encouragement might be exceedingly helpful here. They aren't exactly thick on the ground but they do exist.)
As Abu Daoud points out that, this is not an abstract issue.
". . . let me tell you about a Muslima in a Middle-Eastern country who had a dream of the Virgin. She, at no small cost to her own security, sought out a local Roman Catholic priest and told him of the dream. He wept as he listened to her, but his final answer was that this was God's way of telling her to be a more devout Muslima. Is this a legitimate interpretation? Was this decision not led by fear of persecution rather than a genuine apostolic faith? But we do not have a spirit of fear, but of love, power, and a sound mind."
3) That each bishop have a plan for how to respond when Muslims ask to be baptized.
"In the Middle East (where I have lived for several years) the general practice among Catholics is to refer Muslims who inquire about baptism to evangelicals, or simply tell them (as above) that they must find their salvation in Islam through greater self effort. Of course Muslims requesting baptism are adults, and thus are (ideally) baptized by the local bishop. Catholic bishops in the Muslim world have shown a very strong tendency towards favoring the security of their material goods (schools, clinics, churches) over the sporadic and risky requests posed to them by the Muslim seeking to know Christ, or for that matter the ex-Muslim who does know Christ and is seeking the sacrament of initiation into the church which the bishop oversees."
". . this is not theoretical. I know well a new disciple of Christ who has been seeking baptism for some time. He has suffered for his faith more than most Christians ever will, and he knows the Scripture better too--having read the entire book several times. Yet the local Latin priest in his home city eventually chased him away and said he would call the police if he showed up again. Why? He was from a prominent Muslim family. The priest was correct in suspecting that persecution of the tiny Christian community (of all churches and denominations) would ensue, but what if there had been a quietly-communicated policy in place? What if the believer had been discretely told to visit a certain person in a certain town? All of this, to be sure, after his devotion to and comprehension of the Good News had been certified. As it stands right now, this young man was recently baptized by an evangelical pastor/elder. He was turned away from the church where he first sought fellowship. Is the fault his? With a sensitive policy in place (and here there was absolutely no possibility of the local bishop baptizing him--he controls far too many institutions and properties to make that worthwhile) this young man could have been a new, vibrant Catholic Christian. But he is not, and will never be. "
You can read Abu Daoud's entire letter to the Pope over at St. Francis Magazine.
What is your take?