Led by a California pastor, a group of Christians will gather outside some Seattle-area mosques today in hopes of winning converts among Muslim worshippers coming to midday prayer.
They will also take their message of salvation to those attending this weekend’s Arab Festival at Seattle Center and to the parking lots of shopping centers popular among people from Islamic or Arab cultures.
It’s a bold — and some say audacious — gesture, coming at a time when choices over religion have grown increasingly sensitive.
But the way Pastor George Saieg sees it, many Muslims come from countries in which people lack the freedom to choose their own religion. An Arab who grew up in a Christian home in Sudan and attended Muslim schools, Saieg said Islam is a religion that offers its followers no assurance of salvation.
“In some countries, the penalty of leaving Islam is death,” he said. “I want people to know that they have freedom in this country to hear about Jesus Christ.”
So he feels an obligation to reach out to them through his “Ministry to Muslims” campaign, in which, he said, “Praise the Lord, 42 people came to the Lord from Michigan.” He believes many in Seattle will similarly convert.
Elsewhere in the country, his message has been met with varying degrees of accommodation or anger.
Mohamad Joban, imam of the Muslim Association of Puget Sound, said he thinks Saieg is driven either by “arrogance or ignorance.” He and other Muslim leaders say they aren’t threatened by him and are open to talking with him.
Joban points to a growing consensus that Islam is the nation’s fastest growing religion and also notes that the Quran is clear in its teachings against proselytizing.
“So who’s forcing all those people to Islam?” Joban asked.
Islam and Christianity, like Judaism, trace their roots to Abraham, considered the spiritual father of all three faiths. But while Christians have historically regarded Jesus as the son of God and God incarnate, both fully human and fully divine, Muslims do not see Jesus as divine or consider him the son of God, though they do regard him as a great prophet.
Further, spreading faith — what some call proselytizing — is a tenet of Christian theology, while the Quran teaches against it. Saieg founded Arabic Christian Perspective in 2003, with a two-fold mission: convert Muslims to Christianity and “expose teachings of Islam that they’re trying to hide.”
He expects about 100 to 200 local Christians to attend his weekend conference at Seattle Revival Center, a nondenominational church in Newcastle, where they will be trained on what the Quran says about salvation, on Muslim objections to Christianity and on ways to respond to those objections.
Saieg did not specify which mosques he and his followers planned to visit, saying he wants worshippers open to his message and not cowed by warnings from their leaders.
Greg Daley, an associate pastor at the Revival Center, said his church joined Saieg’s campaign because Saieg doesn’t preach a political or right-wing message.
“Our Mission is … to go out into the world and preach the gospel, whether it’s to Muslims, Jews or anyone who doesn’t believe,” Daley said.
Pastor Joe Fuiten of Cedar Park Assembly of God church in Bothell, e-mailed several thousand people statewide on his Positive Christian Agenda mailing list, encouraging them to attend Saieg’s conference.
He believes “Islam is seriously an issue in the world today. The ultimate answer is conversion, because radical Islam flows from Islam,” he said.
But the Rev. Craig R. J. Darling of Seattle First Baptist Church said that as a Christian pastor he doesn’t condone the actions of Saieg’s group, saying, “God is bigger than that and with him there’s room for all religions.”
Saieg’s followers brought his campaign to Tacoma last year, and earlier this year to Kent and Seattle, where local Muslim leaders say the group interfered with Muslims leaving a mosque after Friday prayers.
“They were harassing women for wearing scarves,” said Aziz Junejo, who writes a column from the Islamic perspective for The Seattle Times Faith & Values page.
Local Muslim leaders were advising worshippers not to engage Saieg’s people, to take whatever material they are given, and not to resort to physical violence but to call authorities if necessary.
Jeff Siddiqui, a local Muslim leader, said he’s not convinced Saieg’s methods can convert any Muslims.
“If his call to faith is that good, and Islam is that terrible, then he wouldn’t have to harass us and block our paths and barrage us with haranguing,” he said.