History or Myth? Local Muslims object to recent lecture

The Modesto Bee, June 13, 2003
http://www.modbee.com/
By AMY WHITEBEE, STAFF WRITER

As Moses Saleh sat in the cavernous sanctuary of a Modesto church recently, he felt trapped. He was listening to Christian author Dave Hunt lecture on the subject of Islam — and Saleh, 62, a lifelong Muslim, was growing more and more upset.

“We tried to shake our head or raise our hand (to argue),” the Modesto resident remembered, but the speaker interrupted and stopped Saleh and other Muslims in attendance. “We (felt) just like captives.”

There were many things he wanted to say — points he wanted to dispute, statements presented as facts that Saleh said were false. But he did not have a chance. Feeling frustrated, he and the handful of other Muslims left partway through the lecture.

“He was just falsifying the religion, (saying things) not in the Koran,” said Saleh, a forklift driver and president of the Islamic Center of Modesto. “I never got information that was so misleading about a religion.”

Hunt — author of several books and a writer for The Berean Call, a corporation devoted to alerting Christians about nonbiblical teachings — had been invited to speak at Modesto’s Calvary Chapel on “Understanding Islam.”

“It was really a history lesson,” Calvary Chapel Administrative Pastor Ted Glauser said of the lecture. “It wasn’t an opinion. It was a historical background on the Islamic faith. … ‘Here’s how the religion of Islam was founded and here’s some of the beliefs of that religious system.'”

Hunt stated in the April lecture that Muslims and Christians worship a different God, that Jesus taught peace while Islam is founded on violence, and that the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers were not extremists, but faithful Muslims following the teachings of their prophet, Mohammed.

“Islam is as anti-Christian as it could possibly be, and I’m not disparaging Muslims — they are entitled to their beliefs,” Hunt told more than 700 listeners. (His lecture was recorded, and an audiotape was obtained by The Bee.) “But don’t say this agrees with Christianity.

“There are those who have misrepresented Christ — the crusaders certainly misrepresented Christ,” he added. “But I’m telling you what Mohammed did, what his successors did and so forth. I don’t think they are misrepresenting Islam at all. … (Mohammed) left a legacy of war. Conversion by the sword was carried on by his successors.”

That message is one that also has been presented by such high-profile Christian leaders as Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Falwell last year called Mohammed, revered by Muslims as the founder of Islam, “a terrorist.”

Last month, other evangelical leaders denounced such commentary as “dangerous” and “unhelpful” at a meeting of the National Association of Evangelicals and the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. Some participants expressed concern that such rhetoric endangers Christian missionaries in Islamic countries.

At the same time, they criticized mainline Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox churches and groups, such as the World Council of Churches, for engaging in dialogues promoting “interfaith understanding” with Muslims.

Minimizing differences between Islam and Christianity can be dangerous in the post- Sept. 11 world, assert some evangelists and political commentators. This also is a position supported in certain critiques of Islam published in the past two years.

Among those, “jihad — holy war — is intended only to “come to the aid of the oppressed,” Morgan added. He described the Sept. 11 hijackers as “Muslims who were weak in their knowledge and understanding of their faith.”

“(Terrorism) doesn’t stand for Islam,” Morgan said. “It’s like saying that the Irish fighting in Northern Ireland represent Catholics. They do happen to be Catholic and use Catholicism as a motivator, but they certainly don’t represent Catholicism. It’s a ludicrous argument.”

Effect on the community

Morgan and Saleh fear that lectures such as Hunt’s will lead to vandalism, violence and harassment toward local Muslims who live, work and attend school with Christians and people of other faiths.

No such cases have been reported since the lecture, according to Modesto Police Chief Roy Wasden, though the department is on watch for such incidents, he said.

Local Muslims say they always have lived peacefully in this area and felt accepted, though recently, some say their children’s classmates have asked if they are “terrorists.”

Hunt’s lecture, Glauser said, was not intended to be hateful.

“The Bible teaches that we are to love others, and we believe in the Bible being the word of God,” he said. “We don’t have hate for anyone.”

Michael Akard, a Christian and learning resources instructor at Modesto Junior College, listened to the lecture on audiotape after obtaining a copy from the church. He said he did not find its content divisive. Hunt quoted statements by public officials praising Islam and encouraged “the audience to be critical thinkers and look at both sides of the coin,” Akard said.

Hunt didn’t soft-peddle when “drawing attention to portions of Islam and current Islam that are negative … (and) aspects of this religious system and its history that are against biblical teachings,” said Akard, 41, who studies Arabic and lived in Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. “(But) he wasn’t trying to personalize this. I don’t think the emphasis was that all the Muslims don’t have a place in our community.”

He said ignorance generates fear between cultures, and learning even a “small part of the big picture” can lead to openness.

“Even if what I am learning about someone else’s beliefs are things I consider wrong, I can go to that person and ask questions,” Akard said. “I have a starting point. … There is a possibility for a relationship to develop.”

Sam Oppenheim, who teaches world civilizations and religions at California State University, Stanislaus, doesn’t believe that is the intention of recent critiques of Islam.

“There’s always a problem, it seems to me, when one religion teaches about another if the primary purpose ultimately is to convert the other people, and I very honestly think that is the goal of these people,” said Oppenheim, a Jew who attends Modesto’s Congregation Beth Shalom.

He believes criticisms unfairly focus on violence in Islam.

“I think the concept of ‘jihad’ is there and Islam has spread by force, but Christianity has spread by force, too, and Jews spread (Judaism) by force, too,” Oppenheim said. While he believes the Sept. 11 hijackers were acting on their Islamic beliefs, that shouldn’t paint all Muslims in the same light.

“I don’t think every Christian would like to be painted like (Branch Davidian leader) David Koresh,” Oppenheim said.

Morgan said terrorism has entered the picture only in the past 50 years of Islam’s 1,500-year history. The faith, he said, reflects “real” life, both good and bad.

“It is a religion of truth and we stand for truth and we stand for justice,” he said. “Sometimes standing up for justice requires violence and sometimes not.”

Local Muslims said they want an opportunity to counter negative messages about Islam. They plan to hold an event later this year, with experts from a variety of religious backgrounds.

“People need to use their mind,” said Awwad Ali, an Islamic Center of Modesto member of Palestinian descent. “God gave you a brain; use it. Don’t just judge by what some guy said; ask questions, meet people, talk to them. You will find out reality.”

Saleh is not saying all Muslims are perfect. “We are human,” he said. “There’s good and bad in all religions and all races.”

The New York Times contributed to this report.

ABOUT THE ISLAM FAITH

“Islam” means to “surrender” to God, or Allah.

Islam has five pillars of faith: profession of belief in Allah as the only God and Mohammed as his messenger, ritual prayer five times daily, giving alms to the poor, fasting during the holy month of Ramadan and making the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca at least once.

Mohammed was born in Mecca in 570 A.D. He received “divine” revelations in 610 A.D., believing he was to be a messenger of God. He delivered oral messages that were written down as the Koran, the Muslim sacred scripture, after his death. Muslims believe the Koran to be the literal words of Allah.

Muslims consider Mohammed the last in a line of prophets, beginning with Adam and continuing through Jesus. The Koran includes stories about Adam and Eve, Moses, King Solomon, the Virgin Mary, Joshua and Gabriel. Muslims also consider holy the Hadith, a collection of sayings attributed to Mohammed.

Mohammed preached in Mecca for about 23 years before he and his followers left to seek sanctuary in Medina in 622 A.D. They fought Meccans to regain access to Mecca in 630 A.D.

Muslims believe the Koran continues and reaffirms divine messages from earlier prophets, correcting messages they believe were corrupted or misinterpreted by early Jews and Christians. They do not believe in the crucifixion or deity of Jesus.

Muslims believe in heaven, hell and the afterlife. According to tradition, in the end times, a false prophet will usher in a temporary age of justice. An Antichrist figure will supplant the prophet, or Mahdi, luring people away. Jesus will return to battle the Antichrist, overthrow the false prophet and pave the way for the Day of Judgement.

Muslims consider Palestine a holy land. Arabs conquered the area in the seventh century and Muslim dynasties ruled it — except for a brief period during the Crusades — until 1516 A.D., when it became part of the Ottoman Empire.

“Jihad” comes from the Arabic verb meaning “to struggle or exert oneself.”

There are roughly 1.2 billion Muslims worldwide. About a third live in the Middle East and North Africa, a third in central and southern Asia and another third in sub-Saharan Africa, Indonesia and in smaller concentrations in several dozen other countries.

Source: “The Handy Religion Answer Book,” by John Renard, 2002

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