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Prof. Dr. Felix Koerner, S.J., has fraternal advice for Muslims beset by Christian missionaries: don’t overreact, but develop your own consciousness as Muslims in order to respond to them. An invitation to go over to the other side, he added, really is a stimulus to refresh one’s own thinking about one’s faith. After several years at Ankara University in Turkey, where he collaborated closely with the “new Muslim theologians” of the so-called Ankara School, Fr. Koerner now teaches at the Gregoriana in Rome.

The Catholic Church, the Jesuit Islamologist explained in an interview with the German-language Catholic news agency, has has found a “pleasantly relaxed tone” in which to address Muslims, in contrast to Pope Benedict’s 2006 Regensburg address. Now, he adds, Muslim intellectuals have come to respect the pope. The Church has no aggressive intent of converting Muslims, but proposes to bear witness through charitable work. And of course, through helpful hints about how to fend off those annoying evangelical missionaries.

In a 2005 book, Fr. Koerner presented the new Muslim theology from Ankara to German- and English-language readers; I reviewed it some time afterward. While the Western press briefly hyped the Ankara theologians as the answer to a maiden’s prayer for an Islamic reformation, Fr. Koerner thought the work of poor quality, calling it “tin-opener theology.” In short, it was an attempt to pull out of the Koran conclusions which exegete found convenient. As he wrote at the time,

The [Ankara University] revisionists’ vision is still restricted to one type of question: ethics. If they ask only, “How can we make the Koran ethically acceptable today?”, they are selling the Koran under price ... Hermeneutics has then a merely mechanical function: we know what there is in the Koran, ethics; and we know what must come out, modern ethics. The only question left is, how do we get it out? Hermeneutics has become a tin-opener. 

We had seen the rich gardens of Muslim tradition, and the locked gates before us. That was why we set out on our expedition. It was the quest for the lost key to the garden’s fresh fruits which made us go. And now we are busy with tin-openers and baked beans. The expedition can only succeed if we remind ourselves of its initial intuition. Questions such as “Does God exist?”, “Who are we, who are we to be?”, and “What does it all mean?” had made us uneasy enough to set out; questions which were promised answers from beyond the gate. In that light, “The Koranic rulings were meant to bring justice” is rather disappointing a discovery.

If only the Muslims left theological reform to the Jesuits, rather than their own theologians, those pesky missionaries never would have a chance.

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