Muslims wary of anti-Islam seminar

The Record (Canada), Jan. 24, 2003

KITCHENER — Local Muslims will be monitoring an anti-Islam conference to be held in Kitchener next week.

One of the seminar speakers and organizers is Mark Harding, an evangelist who was convicted five years ago of inciting hatred toward Muslims.

“I’m hoping and praying Mr. Harding learned his lesson,” said Mohamed Elmasry, president of the Waterloo-based Canadian Islamic Congress.

“If he actually learned his lesson by preaching his own brand of Christianity to the public, I think nobody objects to that,” he added.

“If he says Islam is a false religion from his point of view and stops there, that also would be OK.”

However, some local Muslims will be in the audience, Elmasry added, to listen to the four speakers and collect material that’s being distributed.

If speakers promote hatred against Muslims, Elmasry said the police will be notified.

The conference, entitled Islam: A Religion of Peace?, is scheduled to take place from 1 to 7 p.m. in Kitchener’s Walper Terrace Hotel on Saturday, Feb 1.

In a phone interview yesterday, Harding said, “The general message is to try to help Canadians understand the teachings of Islam based from a Christian perspective, not from a Muslim perspective. And to help Muslims understand what we feel Islam is teaching from a Christian perspective.

“We feel that the God that Islam is promoting is not the same God as the one that Christians and Jews love and worship,” he said. “So we feel there might be a deception there.”

One speaker will talk about persecution of Christians in Egypt and Pakistan, he said. A Muslim who converted to Christianity will also speak.

Harding said the conference is organized by a newspaper called The Christian Standard News Canada, of which he is editor, and by a group called the Canadian Association of Christian Evangelists Inc., on whose board he sits.

In 1998, Harding was convicted of inciting hatred for writing and distributing anti-Islam leaflets around a Toronto high school.

“Muslims have perpetrated horrific acts of violent terrorism throughout the world in the name of their religion,” one pamphlet distributed at Toronto’s Weston Collegiate read.

He later said his comments were confined to Muslim fundamentalists.

Justice Sidney Linden ruled Harding’s pamphlets contained “false allegations about the adherents of Islam calculated to arouse fear and hatred of them in all non-Muslim people.”

Harding was ordered to perform 340 hours of community service for Muslim organizations.

Linden said Harding’s sentence should “send a powerful message to the community at large that this sort of crime will not be tolerated, and (a message) to identifiable groups that they will be protected.”

Before being sentenced, Harding told the court, “I’m sorry that I’ve caused these problems. I hope I can correct any of the problems I have caused before they get out of hand.”

Harding wouldn’t say yesterday whether he performed any of the court-ordered community service.

Harding said Kitchener was chosen for the conference because of its central location. He hopes to draw 300 people from the region, London and Windsor.

Harding added he will be choosing his words carefully during the conference to avoid any further charges of wilfully promoting hatred.

Albair Faltas, a Kitchener man who is helping plan the seminar, said he doesn’t believe Harding will attract trouble from the law again.

“He is educated now (about) how to speak,” Faltas said.

“We are not attacking any people. We are speaking about the religion itself, the teaching. We are not speaking about Muslim people. We are speaking about the Qur’an. About the teaching of Islam and how the teaching led some of them to do what happened on Sept. 11.”


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Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday January 25, 2003.
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