In The World’s First Love (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1952), Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, who is soon to be beatified, dedicated Chapter 17 to “Mary and the Moslems.” His insightful remarks seem apropos to our generation as we seek to understand better Islam and its adherents.
Bishop Sheen began by offering a snapshot of Islam. “Islam is the only great post-Christian religion of the world. Because it had its origin in the seventh century under Mohammed, it was possible to unite within it some elements of Christianity and of Judaism, along with particular customs of Arabia. Islam takes the doctrine of the unity of God, His Majesty and His Creative Power, and uses it, in part, as a basis for the repudiation of Christ, the Son of God. Misunderstanding the notion of the Trinity, Mohammed made Christ a prophet, announcing Him, just as, to Christians, Isaiah and John the Baptist are prophets announcing Christ.” (page 204)
As is well known, the Koran speaks of Our Lady. “First of all, the Koran believes in her Immaculate Conception and, also, in her Virgin Birth. The third chapter of the Koran places the history of Mary’s family in a genealogy which goes back through Abraham, Noah, and Adam. When one compares the Koran’s description of the Birth of Mary with the apocryphal Gospel of the Birth of Mary, one is tempted to believe that Mohammed very much depended upon the latter. Both books describe the old age and the definite sterility of the mother of Mary. When, however, she conceives, the mother of Mary is made to say in the Koran: ‘O Lord, I vow and I consecrate to you what is already within me. Accept it from me.’” (page 206)
Bishop Sheen offered an explanation as to the importance of Our Lady of Fatima and her connection to Islam. “Since nothing ever happens out of Heaven except with a finesse of all details, I believe that the Blessed Virgin chose to be known as ‘Our Lady of Fatima’ as a pledge and a sign of hope to the Moslem people, and as an assurance that they, who show her so much respect, will one day accept her Divine Son, too. Evidence to support these views is found in the historical fact that the Moslems occupied Portugal for centuries. At the time when they were finally driven out, the last Moslem chief had a beautiful daughter by the name of Fatima. A Catholic boy fell in love with her, and for him she not only stayed behind when the Moslems left, but even embraced the faith. The young husband was so much in love with her that he changed the name of the town where he lived to Fatima. Thus, the very place where Our Lady appeared in 1917 bears a historical connection to Fatima, the daughter of Mohammed.” (page 207)
When the Pilgrim Virgin Statue arrived in Africa and India, something unexpected occurred. “Moslems attended the Church services in honor of Our Lady; they allowed religious processions and even prayers before their mosques; and in Mozambique the Moslems, who were unconverted, began to be Christian as soon as the Statue of Our Lady of Fatima was erected.” (page 208)
Bishop Sheen made a prediction. “Missionaries in the future will, more and more, see that their apostolate among the Moslems will be successful in the measure that they preach Our Lady of Fatima. Mary is the advent of Christ, bringing Christ to the people before Christ Himself is born. In any apologetic endeavor, it is always best to start with that which people already accept. Because the Moslems have a devotion to Mary, our missionaries should be satisfied merely to expand and to develop that devotion, with the full realization that Our Blessed Lady will carry the Moslems the rest of the way to her Divine Son. She is forever a ‘traitor’ in the sense that she will not accept any devotion for herself, but will always bring anyone who is devoted to her to her Divine Son. As those who lose devotion to her lose belief in the Divinity of Christ, so those who intensify devotion to her gradually acquire that belief.” (ibid.)
The onetime National Director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith concluded his comments. “Many of our great missionaries in Africa have already broken down the bitter hatred and prejudices of the Moslems against the Christians through their acts of charity, their schools and hospitals. It now remains to use another approach, namely, that of taking the forty-first chapter of the Koran and showing them that it was taken out of the Gospel of Luke, that Mary could not be, even in their own eyes, the most blessed of all the women of Heaven if she had not also borne One Who was the Saviour of the world. If Judith and Esther of the Old Testament were prefigures of Mary, then it may very well be that Fatima herself was a postfigure of Mary! The Moslems should be prepared to acknowledge that, if Fatima must give way in honor to the Blessed Mother, it is because she is different from all the other mothers of the world and that without Christ she would be nothing.” (pages 208-209)