It’s a provocative and challenging question. My colleague Fr. Elias Mallon weighs in:
Can Christians say the Islamic Shahada, the creed or profession of faith for Muslims, in order to save their lives? This question was posed recently by a lecturer in history and theology at St. Paul’s University in Limuru and Nairobi, Kenya. The question at first reading seems straightforward, pressing and very contemporary, especially given the recent massacres of Christians by Islamic extremists in Kenya. Upon closer reading, however, the question is not really all that straightforward. The author mentions Christian leaders in Kenya who hold that, in order the save their lives, Christians can recite the Shahada. The author of the article strongly disagrees. So it is clear that the question is not purely a theological one, i.e., does the Shahada contain anything diametrically opposed to the Christian faith? The answer to that is both yes and no. The first part of the Shahada, “there is no god but God,” is no more problematic for a Christian than is the Shema of the Jews, “hear, Oh Israel, the Lord, our God, is One” (Deuteronomy 6:4). For Roman Catholics and many other Christians, Jews, Christians and Muslims believe in the same God (cf. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium [Dogmatic Constitution on the Church] par. 16). The second half of the Shahada, “and Muhammad is the [emphasis mine] messenger of God,” is much more problematic for Christians. However, that does not seem to be the purpose of the question. The question seems rather to be one about permission. The author’s stance on this is clear. He speaks of saying the Shahada to save one’s life as “in fact choosing to deny Christ for the sake of self-preservation.” Reciting the Shahada to save one’s life communicates that “my faith in Christ is a faith of convenience …” and such Christians are “self-centered” and “praise the Lord one day and say the Muslim creed the next just to get out of suffering.” …Ultimately, however, the question must be treated as a pastoral one. Just as all medical research is geared toward healing, all theology, regardless of how abstract, must be geared toward pastoral practice. It is also a question of one’s ecclesiology or theology of the Church. If the Church is exclusively the community of the “saints, the pure and the heroic,” then there is no place for the lapsed or the weak. If, however, the Church is the community of saints and sinners, the heroic and the weak, if the Church is — as Pope Francis calls it — “the field hospital after a battle” — then there is room for all.
Read on to see what all this means for us.