The pope, trying to mend fences with Muslims, is currently in Turkey. He met with senior Muslim leaders, and became only the second pope in history to visit a mosque.
While there, he offered a prayer, but what is notable is that he turned towards Mecca to do so.
Pope hailed for praying towards Mecca
One can respond in several ways to this:
1. It is meaningless, he could as well have faced the back door or the roof of the mosque.
2. It is just showing respect to those who were his hosts, it is a harmless observation of local custom.
3. God and Allah is the same thing, so it does not matter which one you obey.
4. He was not facing Mecca, he was facing Jerusalem.
5. It is recognition and obedience of a false god, and a grave sin.
Before we can get to the answer, one needs to know why Muslims turn to Mecca to pray. The instructions are straight from the Qur’an.
“We have seen the turning of thy face to heaven (for guidance, O Muhammad). And now verily We shall make thee turn (in prayer) toward a qiblah which is dear to thee. So turn thy face toward the Inviolable Place of Worship, and ye (O Muslims), wheresoever ye may be, turn your faces (when ye pray) toward it. Lo! Those who have received the Scripture know that (this revelation) is the Truth from their Lord. And Allah is not unaware of what they do.”
“And whencesoever thou comest forth (for prayer, O Muhammad) turn thy face toward the Inviolable Place of Worship. Lo! it is the Truth from thy Lord. Allah is not unaware of what ye do.”
“Whencesoever thou comest forth turn thy face toward the Inviolable Place of Worship; and wheresoever ye may be (O Muslims) turn your faces toward it (when ye pray) so that men may have no argument against you, save such of them as do injustice – Fear them not, but fear Me! – and so that I may complete My grace upon you, and that ye may be guided.”
Whichever way one looks at it, the pope obeyed the Qur’an when he bowed to Mecca and prayed. What example does this set for the followers of the RC faith? His position as the leader of the church renders him the ultimate example of right and wrong for Catholics.
It has been interesting to see Catholics jump to assert all of points 1.-4. above. I have not seen a single one of them even considering #5. I have seen the pope praised for his “incredible gesture” to promote religious freedom. I have seen speculation that he was praying towards Jerusalem, and not Mecca (Where is that instruction in the Bible, by the way?). I have seen assertions that he was praying for “the conversion of Islam”.
The bottom line is that the pope obeyed an instruction in the Qur’an, whatever his motive was. It does not come as a surprise that he won’t find fault with facing in a specific direction whilst praying, seeing as he wrote a rather long essay on how Catholic churches should follow early Judaism and look to the east during prayer. That pretty much takes care of the “he was facing Jerusalem, not Mecca” argument. I quote:
“On the other hand, a common turning to the East during the Eucharistic Prayer remains essential. This is not a case of something accidental, but of what is essential. Looking at the priest has no importance. What matters is looking together at the Lord. It is not now a question of dialogue, but of common worship, of setting off towards the One who is to come. What corresponds with the reality of what is happening is not the closed circle, but the common movement forward expressed in a common direction for prayer.”
I cannot find any Scripture to support this notion. The pope refers to tradition, not to Scripture, in his essay. The closest I could find was that the temple in Jerusalem faced east, but that is a far cry from an instruction to turn east when one prays. In fact, Ezekiel says:
Eze 8:15 Then he said to me, “Have you seen this, O son of man? You will see still greater abominations than these.”
Eze 8:16 And he brought me into the inner court of the house of the LORD. And behold, at the entrance of the temple of the LORD, between the porch and the altar, were about twenty-five men, with their backs to the temple of the LORD, and their faces toward the east, worshiping the sun toward the east.
Eze 8:17 Then he said to me, “Have you seen this, O son of man? Is it too light a thing for the house of Judah to commit the abominations that they commit here, that they should fill the land with violence and provoke me still further to anger? Behold, they put the branch to their nose.
Eze 8:18 Therefore I will act in wrath. My eye will not spare, nor will I have pity. And though they cry in my ears with a loud voice, I will not hear them.”
What we have are two pieces of un-Biblical behavior, the facing in a specific direction whilst praying, and the apparent obedience of Islam. For all of those who are defending the pope, I have one question: Please show where he told those he met with that they should convert to Christianity, in fulfillment of the great commission. If these actions are to be defended, the key issue is whether the kingdom of Christ was advanced through the pope’s actions or not.
The gladness of the muslims regarding his actions would imply not.