American Muslims Work on Interfaith Ties; Christian Leaders Condemn 'Hate Speech'

Article excerpt

CHICAGO -- American Muslims assembled by the thousands yesterday for an annual convention, stressing a desire for closer relations with other faiths to counter evangelicals who blame Islam for inciting terrorism.

The Islamic Society of North America, which organized the three-day event, invited moderate and liberal Protestant leaders to share the stage with Muslim leaders and address participants at the opening session.

The Rev. Daniel Vestal of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which represents moderate Southern Baptists, told the audience that not all Baptists agree with recent statements by evangelicals "demeaning Islam."

In Florida, the Rev. Jerry Vines, a Southern Baptist Convention leader and pastor of Jacksonville's First Baptist Church, has called the Prophet Mohammed a "demon- possessed pedophile." Other statements critical of Islam have been made by the Revs. Franklin Graham and Pat Robertson.

"Please know there are many other Baptist Christians whose words and deeds are different," Vestal said. "We desire understanding, community and common cause."

Sayyid Syeed, secretary general of the Islamic Society, noted that when Muslims began immigrating in the 1960s, it was Christian campus ministries that provided Muslim college students with space to worship.

The Rev. Bob Edgar, head of the National Council of Churches, which represents thousands of mainline Protestant and Orthodox Christian congregations, drew applause when he noted his group had opposed the war on Iraq. …