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SAADIYAT ISLAND, Abu Dhabi (ChurchMilitant.com) - Cardinal Michael Fitzgerald hosted the first Catholic service at the Abrahamic Family House — an interfaith shrine born of Pope Francis' Abu Dhabi concordat with Sunni leader Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb.
Speaking on behalf of Pope Francis at the inauguration of St. Francis of Assisi Church — the Catholic section of the complex housing a mosque and synagogue — Fitzgerald said the shrine could be said to fulfill Isaiah's vision of "a house of prayer for all the peoples."
"Worship opens us up to others, instilling in us a care for justice, encouraging us to act with integrity," the cardinal emphasized on Sunday. "We cannot truly pray to God without remembering the other members of the Abrahamic family, and indeed of the human family."
"The father of the prophet John the Baptist (known to Muslims as Yahya) asks God to bless his son," Fitzgerald said. "He is asking this of the God of Abraham, the Merciful Lord of Mercy, al-Rahman al-Rahim."
The cardinal, a former president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, told the congregation that Muslims had earlier prayed the Maghrib prayer in the mosque section of the shrine on Thursday evening.
"Remarkably, Cdl. Fitzgerald, an acclaimed Islamic scholar, ignored the fact that the Maghrib prayer contains Surah Al-Fatiha, which is one of the most anti-Christian and anti-Jewish texts in the Qur'an," a Muslim jurist who converted to Christianity told Church Militant.
"The inclusion of this prayer, which is considered indispensable in Muslim worship, tells us everything we need to know about how serious Muslims are about interfaith dialogue," the convert, who faces the death penalty for apostasy from Islam, added.
After asking Allah to guide Muslims "to the straight path," verse 7 defines this way as the "path of those whom you have favored, not of those who have earned your anger, or of those who have gone astray," the convert explained.
Islamic tradition and commentaries from the Hadith of Sahih Bukhari to Tafsir al-Jalalayn identify "those who have earned Allah's anger" as the Jews and "those who have gone astray" as the Christians.
"The repetition of this identification in Bukhari is an indication of how strong the identification is of those who have earned Allah's anger with the Jews and those who have gone astray with the Christians," writes Robert Spencer in his bestseller The Critical Qur'an.
Some Western commentators find it inconceivable that the central prayer of Islam "anathematizes Jews and Christians," the renowned Islamic scholar notes. "But unfortunately, this interpretation is venerable and mainstream in Islamic theology."
"The Abrahamic Family House has not led and will not lead Muslims to abandon core Islamic doctrines regarding how Christians wrongly proclaim Christ's divinity and are under the curse of Allah as a result (cf. Qur'an 9:30; 5:17)," Spencer told Church Militant.
Spencer, author of 23 books on Islam and the Middle East elaborated, "As in all other cases, Muslim/Christian dialogue is seen on the Muslim side as an opportunity to proselytize for Islam and intimidate Christians into fearing to discuss the rampant Muslim persecution of Christians, for fear of harming the dialogue."
"The interfaith shrine is Pope Francis' house of cards," Spencer warned. "It will result in nothing lasting except the continued ignorance and complacency of Catholics regarding the threat of Islamic jihad. Liberal Catholics who think this is a positive step are being naive (at best)."
Kevin J. Jones, a reporter for EWTN's Catholic News Agency, hit back at faithful Catholics expressing outrage against the shrine. Jones tweeted, "Catholic commenters here are not behaving themselves. The Abrahamic Family House is a positive step and positive efforts from Muslims deserve a charitable response."
While establishment Catholics, Muslims and Jews praised the interfaith shrine, hundreds of evangelical Christians and orthodox Muslims condemned the new temple as the "abomination of desolation" and a Masonic "headquarters for the One World Religion."
Michigan-based Salafist preacher Sheikh Al-Imām Ahmad Musa Jibril slammed the "newly manmade cocktail religion" called "Abrahamic religion" which is "used to cover the poison of kufr [a derogatory term for "unbeliever"] and interfaith."
"If you are against interfaith and Abrahamism and you hate it and you hate those who call for it, then you are the true followers of Ibrahim, not the opposite," Jibril said in a lengthy video that YouTube identified as "inappropriate or offensive to some audiences."
In 2020, Pope Francis invited Judge Mohamed Abdel-Salam, secretary general of the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity, to the Vatican to discuss the progress made on building the Abrahamic interfaith shrine, Church Militant reported.
An HCHF statement stressed that, during the meeting, the Holy Father expressed his "keenness to activate the [human fraternity] document globally" and "turn its principles into reality."
In 2021, a coalition of Jews, Christians and Muslims laid the foundation stone of a 47-million-euro interfaith shrine on the ruins of the 12th-century St. Peter's Catholic Church in Berlin.
L'Osservatore Romano, the pope's official newspaper, praised the project as an "innovative project that creates a common space for the three great, monotheistic religions."
Cardinal Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, who attended the shrine's inauguration, called it "a concrete example for people of different religions, cultures, traditions, and beliefs to return to the essential: love of neighbor."
Elsewhere, Cdl. Fitzgerald has argued that "Muslims believe in one God, and since there is only one God, they believe in the same God as us."
But in their book Not the Same God, Islamic scholars Sam Solomon and Atif Debs write that "the Allah of Islam as expressed in the doctrine of Islamic Monotheism (i.e. Tawheed) is the diametric opposite of the Triune LORD God of the Bible."
"The Qur'an, although seemingly innocent — its main objective was and is to undo the message and mission of Christ," Solomon and Debs warn.
The St. Francis of Assisi Church will be consecrated at a later date, which will allow Catholic sacraments to be celebrated there.
Cardinal Fitzgerald's book Journeying With Muslims: Listening, Praying and Working Together, published by Islamic Studies Association, New Delhi, was released in India in 2022.