Over the years, Catholic-Muslim relations have tended to focus on Sunnis. Yet in some ways it's an odd match; with their low-church view of clergy, congregationalist models of community life, and sola scriptura approach to the Qur'an, Sunnis often resemble Calvinists more than Catholics.
On the other hand, Iranian author Vali Nasr in his 2006 book The Shia Revival ticks off an impressive string of parallels between Shi'a and Catholicism: a strong emphasis on clerical authority; an approach to the Qur'an accenting both scripture and tradition; a deep mystical streak; devotion to a holy family (in the case of Shi'ites, the blood relatives of Muhammad) and to saints (the Twelve Imams); a theology of sacrifice and atonement through the death of Hussein, the son of Muhammad's cousin Ali, who was martyred in Karbala, Iraq, in 680; belief in free will (as opposed to the Sunni doctrine of pre-destination); holy days, pilgrimages, and healing shrines; intercessory prayer; and strongly emotional forms of popular devotion, especially the festival of Ashoura commemorating Hussein's death.
Next Wednesday, Aug. 22, CNN will broadcast "God's Muslim Warriors," part of a series on fundamentalism by Christiane Amanpour. The documentary features colorful footage of the Ashoura rituals in Iran, and Catholics will have little trouble spotting parallels with Holy Week devotions in various parts of the world.
Nasr compares a Shi'ite pilgrim in Karbala to a Catholic at the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico. He also writes that the mosque of Jamkaran on the outskirts of the holy city of Qom in Iran, where Shi'ites believe the legendary Twelfth Imam once appeared, plays a role similar to Fatima in Catholicism.
Saturday, August 18, 2007
The Catholic-Sh'ia connection
From John Allen's latest column.