The Vatican, Christianity and Islam


I feel lucky to have visited the Italian capital, one of the world’s most spectacular cities, about half-a-dozen times. Yet until the other day, I had never had the chance to see the Vatican Museum, which turned out to be a gem as amazing as Rome itself.

Besides the breathtaking aesthetics, though, I noticed something else in the museum that gave me some food for thought: Openness. First, I noted, the Vatican is open to visitors from all faiths and persuasions. Muslims can freely walk in, along with atheists, Jews, Hindus or whomever. Secondly, the Vatican Museum is open to non-Christian traditions as well, in the sense that it has countless numbervatican1s of pagan statues dating from the pre-Christian Romans and Greeks.

I well know that Christianity, particularly Catholicism, has in fact not been a very open religion for most of its millennia-old history, as the “heretics” or “witches” who were burnt at the stake well knew.
Moreover, there are still important liberal criticisms against the church, on issues such as gender equality and birth control.

Yet still, the openness I saw at the Vatican led me, a Muslim believer, to some comparative thoughts. Unlike the Vatican, the holiest center of Catholicism, the three holiest sites of Islam (Mecca, Medina and the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem) are closed to non-Muslims – so that you have to prove that you are a Muslim in order to enter these spaces. Moreover, I also cannot imagine a museum at these sacred sites, or any other Islamic shrines, which can host elements of non-Islamic cultures, especially pre-Islamic ones superseded by the Muslim faith.



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