Muslims Invited to Debate 'Religion of Peace' Claim
By Patrick Goodenough
CNSNews.com International Editor
September 09, 2005
(CNSNews.com) - A Christian Arab organization in California has invited two leading Muslim figures to publicly debate the question of whether Islam truly is a peaceful religion, but one of Muslims said on Thursday he would not "dignify" the event by taking part.
The pre-9/11 event, scheduled to take place Saturday in Fullerton, aimed to have two Christian experts on Islam face off against two senior Muslims. The event's organizer, a group called Arabic Christian Perspective, says it will go ahead with the event whether the Muslims turn up or not.
George Saieg, the group's Sudanese-born founder, said by phone on Thursday that he had invited Hussam Ayloush, director of the southern California chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), and Muzammil Siddiqi of the Fiqh Council of North America, to participate.
Ayloush, he said, had been frequently quoted -- most recently in the weeks following the London bombings in July -- as asserting that Islam was a religion of peace.
Siddiqi's Fiqh Council, an association of Muslim jurists, last July issued a fatwa saying that Islam was opposed to terrorism. Released at a press conference organized by CAIR, the edict was welcomed in some quarters but also drew a skeptical response from experts who noted that some signatories had themselves been linked to extremist groups.
Saieg said he had invited Ayloush and Siddiqi almost a month ago, but had yet to hear whether they planned to attend.
Siddiqi had told him he did not believe in debate. "I said, okay, we can switch to a dialogue," but it was still unclear whether he would come.
In their absence, Saieg said, the meeting would look at quotes by Muslim figures on the issue of Islam and peace, and hear from Christian experts on the program.
One of them, Daniel Scot, is a Pakistan-born pastor who was recently found guilty in an Australian state tribunal of vilifying Islam. Scot and another pastor involved in the case denied the charges and are appealing, amid a growing political campaign to repeal the controversial new law which allowed Muslims to bring the complaint against them.
Also on the panel Saturday is Anis Shorrosh, an Arab Christian theologian and author who has held major debates with Muslim experts in Britain on such subjects as "Is Jesus God?" and "The Koran and the Bible - Which is God's Word?"
Reached by phone Thursday evening, Ayloush said he had no intention of participating in "any event organized by groups that promote bigotry."
He placed Arabic Christian Perspective in that category, he said, "based on their history. I've seen their publications, full of hatred and bigotry."
Saieg said he would be disappointed if the Muslim invitees did not attend -- but not surprised.
"They know how to claims things, but not to defend them," he said, adding that Muslims "don't really believe Islam is a peaceful religion."
Saieg was born and raised in Sudan, and he moved to America as a young man to study at Bible college.
A major concern for him has the rapid growth of Islam among African-Americans, many of whom, he said, embraced it "because they think Islam is the religion of the black man."
"They don't know what's really happened in my country, Sudan, where two million and a half [black African] Christians have been killed by [Arab] Muslims."
Members of organization gather outside mosques on Fridays, offering Bibles and holding impromptu debates with Muslims on the sidewalk.
"I praise God for the freedom we have in America [to do so]."