Australia’s most influential Catholic says the Koran is riddled with “invocations to violence” and the central challenge of Islam lies in the struggle between moderate and extremist forces as the faith spreads into a “childless Europe”.
The Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, said reading the Koran, the sacred text of Islam, was vital “because the challenge of Islam will be with us for the remainder of our lives”.
In a speech to leading Catholic businesses in the US, Dr Pell also said Western democracy was suffering a crisis of confidence as evidenced by the decline in fertility rates.
Dr Pell said the September 11 terrorist attacks had been his wake-up call to understand Islam better. He had tried to reconcile claims that Islam was a faith of peace with those that suggested the Koran legitimised the killings of non-Muslims.
He said while there was room for optimism for talks between faiths and a common desire for peace, a pessimistic response began “with the Koran itself”.
Factual errors, inconsistencies, anachronisms and other defects were difficult for Muslims to debate openly, he said.
“In my own reading of the Koran, I began to note down invocations to violence. There are so many of them, however, that I abandoned this exercise after 50 or 60 or 70 pages.” Last year, Dr Pell courted controversy when he drew a link between Islam and communism.
This most recent speech on Islam was delivered in the US on February 4 but only appeared on the archdiocese’s website on Wednesday.
Dr Pell said every nation and religion, including Catholicism, had “crimes in their histories”. In the same way, Islam could not airbrush its “shadows”.
Claims of Muslim tolerance of Christian and Jewish minorities were largely mythical and he wondered about the possibility of theological development in Islam when the Koran was said to come directly from God.
“Considered strictly on its own terms, Islam is not a tolerant religion and its capacity for far-reaching renovation is severely limited,” he said.
However, like Christianity Islam was a living religion and the existence of moderate Islam in Indonesia was proof of the softening impact of intervention.
But, democracy and moderation did not always coexist and there were “many ways in which President Bush’s ambition to export democracy to the Middle East was a risky business”.
To help the moderate forces of Islam, Dr Pell said the world needed to understand the “secular sources of emptiness and despair and how to meet them, so that people will choose life over death”.