This weekend, as America celebrates its 233rd birthday, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), an unindicted co-conspirator in the U.S. vs. Holy Land Foundation prosecution, is celebrating "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." Yes, the inalienable rights our Declaration of Independence calls "self-evident" are the theme of the Muslim Brotherhood-associated organization's 46th annual convention, in Washington, DC, July 3-6, 2009.
Certainly, understanding life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as Islamic values requires creativity. No problem there. Most non-Muslims, including influential and well-respected church leaders, seem to be in an ongoing state of suspension of disbelief, as well as suspension of belief, concerning Islam. This weekend ISNA's convention will give some Christian leaders the opportunity to display the same sort of appeasement and dhimmitude that frequently accompanies Christian-Muslim dialogue.
Hundreds of invited speakers will unpack the convention theme. One "sought after" speaker is the Artist Formerly Known as Cat Stevens. After his conversion to Islam, Stevens, now Yusuf Islam, joined the Ayatollah Khomeini in making author Salman Rushdie feel somewhat "sought after." Allegedly defaming Islam obviously disqualified Rushdie to the right to life, so there go liberty and happiness. Islam (the man of peace, not the religion of peace) later qualified his call for Rushdie's death, assuring the world that he did not want vigilante justice. He wanted a proper Islamic court trial, ending, as Islamic trials so frequently do, in execution.
Another honored guest of the convention is Senegal's President, Abdoulaye Wade. Wade is the chairman of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), that great bastion of human rights. The OIC is most recently known for promoting the "Defamation of Religions" resolution in the UN Commission on Human Rights. The resolution's goal is to outlaw all criticism of Islam. Wade recently condemned the indictment of Sudan President Omar el Bashir for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court. Wade, ever concerned about the life, liberty, and happiness of the Darfurians, assures the ICC that there is no genocide in Sudan.
A speaker in the convention's main session is American Muslim scholar Sheikh Hamza Yusuf. Yusuf has not exactly been known for wishing America life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Among his anti-American and anti-Semitic statements, in an April 2003 FrontPage Magazine article, anonymous UCLA students reported Yusuf's remarks at a September 9, 2001 benefit dinner for convicted cop-killer Imam Jamil Al-Amin (H. Rap Brown). Because America had been "ungrateful for the bounties of Allah" it was "facing a very terrible fate," said Yusuf. He warned that America had "a great tribulation coming to it," and scoffed that people were "too illiterate to read the writing on the wall." After September 11, Yusuf himself just may have proved the U.S. government's inability to read the writing on the wall. After moderating his own inflammatory rhetoric, he met with and became an "advisor" on Islam to President George W. Bush.
Joining Yusuf and ISNA president Dr. Ingrid Mattson to speak at the convention's keynote is Rick Warren, the best-selling author who is founder and senior pastor of Saddleback Church in California. Warren and Mattson were both participants in Barack Obama's inauguration. And ISNA's National Director for Interfaith and Community Outreach (Our Man in the Dar al-Harb), Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, spoke last December at Saddleback Church's Civil Forum on Public Health.
Several mainline church leaders such as Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Mark Hanson, and former member of Congress and general secretary of the National Council of Churches, Bob Edgar, will also speak at the convention. But by far the biggest gaggle of Christian dhimmis will be at the convention's "Interfaith Unity Reception." The gathering's theme, A Common Word Between Us and You, refers to the warm and fuzzy letter sent by 138 Muslim clerics and scholars from around the world to Pope Benedict XVI and other Christian leaders in October 2007 inviting Christians to peace with Islam. Hundreds of Christian leaders (not including Benedict XVI) rushed to prostrate themselves before their Muslim pen pals with an obsequious reply. Their reply, Loving God and Neighbor Together: A Christian Response to A Common Word Between Us and You sets the standard, the double standard, that will most probably be adhered to by Christians at ISNA's interfaith unity reception.
Loving God and Neighbor Together was the product of Yale Divinity School theologians Miroslav Volf (who will participate in the convention), Joseph Cumming, Harold Attridge, and Emilie Townes. But these scholars approached Islam either with the uncritical eyes of those more familiar with the theoretical realm and not the reality of life under Shari'a, or else their passion for Christian-Muslim reconciliation overwhelmed any need for truth. The mistaken approach to Christian-Muslim dialogue in Loving God and Neighbor Together should not be repeated by Christians participating in ISNA's gathering.
Loving God and Neighbor Together packs a double dose of the dhimmitude so often present in Christian-Muslim dialogue. It demonstrates both naiveté about Islam's agenda and a disturbing willingness to compromise Christian doctrine. According to Islam expert the Rev. Dr. Mark Durie, Loving God and Neighbor Together was naïve because Christians entered "an Islamicized dialogue" set forth by A Common Word in which the tenets of Islam are the premise for all conversation. For instance, to Christians, "the love of God" is the unconditional love that God has for the human race. But "the love of God" in A Common Word, as in Islam itself, refers to God's favor on those who submit to him.
The Christians compromise Christian doctrine, says the Rev. Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo of the Barnabas Fund. He notes the Yale letter refers to "the Prophet Muhammad," an appellation sure to be uttered in reverent tones by Christians at the ISNA conference. Do they "really accept Muhammad as a true prophet of God?" Sookhdeo inquires. "If so . . . they should be Muslims. . . It would be wrong to give Muslims the impression that Christians accept his status as a true prophet of God," Sookhdeo advises.
In their eagerness to find common ground with the Muslims the Christians marginalize themselves. Sookhdeo says that "the tone of the Muslim letter is condescending, given from a position of superiority and strength," while the Yale response is "one of abject humility, guilt, and subjugation." He says that this "self-humbling, grateful tone" fits the "classical Islamic understanding of the role of Christians as dhimmis in the Islamic state."
In the preamble, the Yale responders confess the need to remove an enormous log in their own eyes before dealing with the speck in their neighbor Muslims' eyes (a reference to Matthew 7: 5). They ask for forgiveness from God, referring to Him by the Muslim-wannabe name "the All-Merciful One," and from the Muslim community around the world "because in the past (e.g. in the Crusades) and in the present (e.g. in excesses of the "war on terror") many Christians have been guilty of sinning against our Muslim neighbors," the Yale letter confesses.
Unfortunately, Loving God and Neighbor Together is so preoccupied with groveling that it never gets around to commenting on the little "specks" of offense that followers of Islam commit against their Christian neighbors. Such specks as slavery, wide-scale persecution, slaughter of Christians, Jews, Hindus, and others in the Islamic world, and flying airplanes into buildings come to mind.
One of the most appalling aspects of Loving God and Neighbor Together is its failure to be a voice on behalf of Christians, Jews, and others (A Common Word barely mentioned any other religions since they are not "People of the Book"). The late Rev. Richard John Neuhaus once said of similar appeasement practices by the churches during the Cold War years, "We start telling lies about countries where people are being imprisoned and tortured and slaughtered . . . we paint a rosy picture of this, and pretend it isn't happening." He continued, "Our religious dignitaries consort with the persecutors. . . This discredits the Church as social witness; it undermines any elementary notion of justice."
Perhaps the best advice for the Christians participating in the ISNA convention this weekend comes from Rick Warren himself. He recently said that as a Christian who believes that all people have been created in the image of their Creator, he must accept them, but not approve of everything that they do. Gestures by Christians such as Loving God and Neighbor Together smack strongly of approval and leave no room to speak the truth in love to Muslims. At the same time they betray those who have been victimized by Islam. This weekend as ISNA convention goers celebrate life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, let's hope that one of the Christians who attends the convention urges them to recognize those same inalienable rights belong to non-Muslims as well.