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Ask a Marian
Where does Islam come from?

with Fr. Joe Roesch, MIC

Q. Someone told me that Islam comes from St. John the Baptist. Is this true? If not, where does it come from?

A. Islam -- which means "surrender" -- was actually founded by the prophet Mohammed at the beginning of the 7th century in Mecca, present-day Saudi Arabia. It came long after St. John the Baptist.

Mohammed stated that he was the bearer of a "recitation" (in Arabic qur'an or Koran) transmitted from the Angel Gabriel and "the Spirit." He said that the Koran was the final editing of what Allah (the Arabic name for God) wished to communicate to mankind. Islam is a fast growing religion. There are now roughly as many Muslims as there are Catholics, about one billion each.

Vatican II teaches, "The Church has a high regard for the Muslims. They worship God, who is one, ... merciful and almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth" (Nostra Aetate, 3). Some of the major differences between Catholics and Muslims stem from the fact that the Koran is a reduction of the Divine Revelation we have in our Bible. Muslims worship a God of majesty, but our God became incarnate in the flesh as Emmanuel. Islam is not a religion of redemption, of the cross and the resurrection. However, Muslims do have a great respect for Our Lady, and we can admire the way they pray five times a day.

Also, there are different types of Muslims. In countries where fundamentalist movements have come to power, human rights and freedoms are interpreted differently from here in America. Our Holy Father has reached out to Muslims in prayer frequently during his pontificate.

Q. In your magazine, why do you refer to the souls in purgatory as "holy"? If they are "holy," why aren't they in heaven? We have always prayed for the "Poor Souls."

A. While there is a tradition of calling the souls in purgatory the "Poor Souls," there is also a long tradition of calling them the "Holy Souls." There are a number of Catholic churches and cemeteries named after the "Holy Souls." In fact, the Council of Trent states, "The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Perpetual Sacrifice, is the greatest of all suffrages for the Holy Souls." In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, these souls are described as "all who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation" (CCC, 1030).

Purgatory involves a final purification of the elect, "which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned" (CCC, 1031). Since all of these souls are part of the Mystical Body of Christ and will be in heaven some day, the Church calls them holy. They are among the "elect," those given salvation through Divine Mercy.

While they are still undergoing this purification, they are in need of our prayers and sacrifices and Masses.

Q. What are the spiritual and corporal works of mercy? Do they remit temporal punishment for sin?

A. The corporal works of mercy are: giving alms to the poor, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead. The spiritual works of mercy include: instructing, advising, consoling, and comforting those in need, as well as forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently.

Answering your second question will take some explanation. Very serious sin puts us out of communion with God, which can lead to eternal punishment if it is not forgiven. All sin -- even less serious sin or venial sin -- involves an unhealthy attachment to creatures. We must be purified of this attachment before we can come into God's presence and be fully united to Him in heaven.

So, what does remitting the temporal punishment due to sin mean? To remit is to release from the guilt or the penalty of sins. Temporal means relating to time rather than eternity. And temporal punishment can take place either on earth or in purgatory, where the punishment or purification connected with sin is not eternal.

Our works of mercy, then, can help us be purified of this temporal punishment for sin while we are still here on earth. (See CCC, 1471-73.)

Fr. Joe Roesch, MIC, welcomes your questions. Send them to: Ask a Marian, Editorial, Eden Hill, Stockbridge, MA 01263, or

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