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Muslim and Presbyterian Christian women share a meal in Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City Muslim women share meals with Presbyterian women

Eight Salt Lake City area Muslim women showed gratitude for Wasatch Presbyterian Church recently at a joint meal, organized by one of the Muslim women; some fifty women of the congregation attended. The Muslim women were thankful for the action of Wasatch's session members who, at the suggestion of pastor Scott Dalgarno, had given money to buy Qur'ans that were distributed to the public without charge by a local bookseller as a response to the Florida burning of a Qur'an. The Presbyterians wanted people to be able to read the Islamic sacred book for themselves. Dalgarno was motivated by his thoughts about an informed conscience as a guide to action, while his youth director said, "We do not want Christianity to be defined by Christian extremists. We believe silence is consent. We had to do something."
((story in July 2011 Islamic Horizons, p.14) Not all Presbyterians agreed with the Wasatch action; see a recommendation for a a "middle way with the integrity of both Christian charity and Christian faith." 

Shari'a fears called ignorant or opportunistic

Legislators in several states have been debating laws that would explicitly prohibit courts from considering or using shari'a law; a substantial number of other states are considering various bans. In the face of such widespread discussion, two reports present differing views. "Shariah Law and American State Courts: An Assessment of State Appelate Court Cases" is based on a study conducted in 2010-2011 by the Center for Security Policy and its general counsel, David Yerushalmi (pictured); he is a driving force behind the current efforts to legally block shari'a. Conversely, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has prepared "Nothing to Fear: Debunking the Mythical 'Shari'a Threat'  to Our Judicial System."

Abdul Malik Mujahid, the president of the Council for a Parliament of the World Religions, says the practice of shari'a in the U.S. is limited to the personal sphere and that "criminalizing shari'a will criminalize the practice of Islam in America." In an op-ed piece in the New York Times, a Muslim law professor argues that bans on shari'a would deprive Muslims of equal access to the law (for instance, were a Muslim butcher to seek enforcement of his contract for halal meat). JTA, the Jewish news agency, comments, "If the state legislative initiatives targeting shari'a are successful, they would gut a central tenet of American Jewish religious communal life: The ability under U.S. law to resolve differences according to halachah, or Jewish religious law."

A referendum in Oklahoma approved by voters in November 2010 would amend the state constitution to forbid Oklahoma courts from applying international or shar'ia law in any case. A federal judge issued a permanent injunction to allow the judge time to consider the constitutional questions involved. Subsequently, a brief filed by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) argues that voters adopted a law that is "flagrantly unconstitutional;" AJC was joined by ADL, the Union of Reform Judaism, the Interfaith Alliance, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and the Center for Islamic Pluralism. In Tennessee, the original form of a bill recently introduced in the legislature would have made following shar'ia a felony punishable by 15 years imprisonment. Later the sponsors of the bill amended it to make clear there is no attempt to restrict "peaceful religious practices." The need for such legislation has been questioned by Tennessee's American Civil Liberties Union executive director. A Florida judge recently cited decisional case law in both Florida and the U.S. Supreme Court that says "ecclesiastical law controls certain relations between members of a religious organization."


Presbyterian have made statements on Muslims and Christians

• "Toward an Understanding of Christian-Muslim Relations," a paper commended for study and guidance by the 219th General Assembly (2010)

• A call for respect from stated clerk Gradye Parsons and GAMC executive director Linda Valentine, September 8, 2010
• "Striving Together in Dialogue," a paper from a World Council of Churches study commended for study by Presbyterians by the 214th General Assembly (2002)

• See also a brochure on "Christians and Muslims" that includes key points from the "Islamic Study" action approved by the 199th General Assembly (1987)


Recent and Big Stories

OIC issues observation report on Islamophobia

The OIC (Organization of the Islamic Conference, now the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, has issued its fourth "observatory report" on Islamophobia. The OIC general secretary says, "Events during the period covered by this report clearly establish that combating incitement to hatred and violence on religious grounds must figure into the strategic calculations of the international community." He proposes the same attention to phobia against Christianity, Judaism, and others. In a section specifically related to the U.S. the report chooses to look at Qur'an burning, the opposition to the Ground Zero cultural center / mosque, the Tea Party, the opposition to shari'ah law, and the first King Congressional hearing.

NCC general secretary Michael Kinnamon with former Islamic Society
of North America president Ingrid Mattson at 2011 ISNA convention

The July 2011 convention of the Islamic Society of North America Diversity addressed the need for Muslims to respond to growing negative attitudes toward their community. It also included positive messages. Diversity brings a richer understanding of the world to the Muslim community, Ingrid Mattson, former ISNA president said. To illustrate just how close interfaith neighbors are in North America , she asked people in the audience to raise their hands if they were related to someone from another faith by blood or marriage. "The U.S. is more respectful of religious persons than other countries," she added; its political and legal environment of inclusivity allows Muslims to feel comfortable as religious persons here. “We’re embraced in different circles of community and faith,” Mattson said.

Faith leaders stand shoulder to shoulder with Muslims

Faith leaders have inaugurated a Shoulder-to-Shoulder Campaign to promote tolerance and put an end to anti-Muslim bigotry. The interfaith coalition is made up of 26 organizations that can speak with a unified voice about the issue of religious freedom in the U.S. J. Herbert Nelson of the Presbyterian Washington office was a signatory to the inaugurating statement; among the forty some signers were leaders of both the National Council of Churches (NCC) and the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) as well as Jewish organizations. Listen to an anticipation of the Shoulder-to-Shoulder approach in a speech by NCC general secretary Michael Kinnamon (on "Nurturing Compassionate Communities . . .") at the 2010 ISNA convention.

The Shoulder-to-Shoulder Campaign was announced on the heels of an early March 2011 congressional hearing on "radicalization in the American Muslim community," conducted by Peter King (R-NY), chair of the Homeland Security Committee. There was concern about the hearing's discriminatory effect on Muslims.. ISNA charged Muslims were being isolated—but criticism also came from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and Reform Judaism's Religious Action Center. Evangelical leader Richard Cizik said it was dangerous when one group is singled out. "It is humiliating; . . . it is stigmatizing; and it almost always invites citizens to marginalize that targeted group." (Quote in Islamic Horizons, p.30) A second and third hearing by King's committee have also been controversial. The third focused on the Twin Cities in Minnesota, home to the largest number of Somalis in the U.S. Minneapolis' mayor issued a statement, “Yes, the community faces tough challenges, including the recruitment of young men for violence and the famine in Somalia right now: it is working hard to address them, and all Minnesotans and all Americans should support them as they do so.” He said the challenges should not obscure awareness of the community's contributions.

Dick Durban (D-IL), chair of the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, also conducted a hearing, this one on the civil rights of American Muslims.


JTA posts clarifying information on "co-conspirators"

The Los Angeles County sheriff testified at the King hearing in March that he had worked regularly with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), but Peter King (R-NY) has called CAIR a discredited organization. Both CAIR and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) were labeled as co-conspirators in a trial of the Holy Land Foundation. A Minnesota candidate running against Keith Ellison (D-Minn) recently said Ellison has been associated "with the most extremist groups around," naming CAIR and its co-conspirator status. When King demanded to know why listed co-conspirator groups in the Holy Land Foundation trial have not been prosecuted, Ron Kampeas of the Jewish news service JTA said King did not understood. Kampeas noted that groups can be named co-conspirators just so that the government may expand evidence beyond what would otherwise be available to it; these co-conspirators may remain unindicted precisely because they are innocent.

Meanwhile, CAIR is one of a massive list of 275,000 organizations losing tax-exempt status because the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) says they did not file required annual reports. Frank Wolf (R-VA) wants the IRS to investigate the organization.


Poll and study results about Muslims

Muslim institutions in the Chicago area growing

Before 1960 there were only five mosques in metropolitan Chicago, all within the city limits. Now research from 2010 has verified 91 mosques in a six-county area around Chicago, 48 of them in the city itself. Seventy buildings have been adapted for Islamic use; two mosques presently meet in functioning Christian church facilities. See the data. Also in Chicago, the American Islamic College, has reopened under new administration after having lost its accreditation. Listen to speeches at its September 2010 conference on "Islam and Muslims in America."

Researcy documents American fears about Muslims

Following the death of Osama bin Laden, Americans' fears of Muslims have risen, a recent survey shows. Ohio State University researchers say that positive perceptions of Muslims have plummeted. Changes in attitude brought liberals and moderates closer to conservatives in their views. Every time anti-Muslim feelings are activated by the media, one of the project leaders said, the easier it is for them to be reactivated later. And negative feelings have carried over to personal relationships; the percentage of those unwilling to have a close Muslim friend has gone from 9% to 20%, a significant fact since personal contact is key to reducing prejudice. See other data from the survey.

A Pew Research Center for the People & the Press survey conducted in late February found that young people are less likely than older ones to think that Islam especially promotes violence.

Interestingly, a study by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security says that, although Muslim Americans are more susceptible to recruitment as terrorists, the actual recruitment level is extremely low. The number of U.S. Muslims accused of terrorism has dropped, the study indicates and, of the cases where a terrorist intention was stopped in its early stages, a significant percent of these were blocked when Muslim Americans alerted authorities. See the full report.

Analysis of a database at an Australian university discredits the commonly held wisdom that irrational religious fanaticism and personality are the principal causes of suicide bombings. Muslim sociologist Riaz Hassan (pictured) writes that the driving force is politics, humiliation, revenge, and retaliation; local religious fervor may have a role, but not global jihadi ideology. Another study, by Karam Dana and Matt A. Barreto, shows that a strong majority of Muslim Americans believe American political values and Islam are compatible, with the strongest affirmation coming from those who most attend the mosque. Dana says mosques, like other U.S. religious institutions, have fostered participation in the American political system. See charted study results.

For a message from Muslims to Muslims, see a short video, "Injustice Cannot Defeat Injustice" distributed by the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), which encourages young Muslims not to embrace the nihilism of terrorism.

Knowing something about Islam is important for positive attitudes

Only two-fifths of respondents in a 2010 poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life said they knew someone who is a Muslim; only 38% had a favorable view of Islam, while nearly a third had no opinion.

A 2011 report released by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the University of California-Berkeley Center for Race and Gender finds growing Islamophobia in the U.S., defined as "close-minded prejudice against or hatred of Islam and Muslims" (even though it says not all who question Islam and Muslims should be called Islamophobes).

There is no consistent data on Americans' attitudes toward Islam over time, reported Dalia Mogahed, head of Gallup's Muslim studies center. Findings of Gallup's Religious Perceptions in America: with an In-Depth Analysis of U.S. Attitudes Toward Muslims and Islam suggest that simply knowing a Muslim may not be enough, but knowing something about Islam itself is also needed. Gallup finds that frequent attendance at religious services is associated with less prejudice, not more.

In an earlier survey, Muslim Americans: A National Portrait—the first study of a randomly selected, nationally representative sample of Muslim Americans—the Gallup center concluded that Muslim Americans are the most racially diverse religious group surveyed in the United States. It found 35% of the American Muslim population is African American. Gallup says the report "captures the nuances of a Muslim American population that . . . remains a largely untapped resource of American talent." The study found Muslim Americans consider themselves to be relatively thriving as compared with their co-religionists internationally, but they are less content as compared with other Americans. See a PowerPoint presentation of the report's key findings. See other poll results from the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies.

The global Muslim population is increasing

In "The Future of the Global Muslim Population: Projections for 2010-2030" (issued in January 2011) the Pew Forum for Religion & Public Life estimates that Muslims will increase by about 35% in the next twenty years, an average annual growth rate of 1.5% as compared with 0.7% for non-Muslims. This would make Muslims 26.4% of the world population by 2030, up from the 23.4% in 2010. Nonertheless, the growth is expected at a slower pace in the next twenty years than it has been in the past two decades.

"Mapping the Global Muslim Population: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World's Muslim Population" by the Pew Forum (issued in October 2009) provides information on the 1.57 billion Muslims in 232 countries. Sixty percent were in Asia, while only 20% were in the Middle East/North Africa. A fifth of the Muslim population was in countries where Islam is not the majority, even if sizable. An online map allows examination of Muslim population by country/territory. Another online map shows the relative sizes of Muslim populations. The full report can be downloaded.



A Common Word Between Us and You sent to Christian leaders


In October 2007, 138 Muslim leaders sent an open letter, "A Common Word Between Us and You," to Christian leaders. It has elicited responses throughout the Christian community. MORE

Catholics and Muslims say they represent half the world's peoples

Dialogue among Catholics and Muslims is important because half of the world's people belong to these two groups, said the imam of the Islamic center in Rochester, New York, at a celebration of six years of a Muslim-Catholic Agreement of Understanding and Cooperation signed by the Greater Rochester Council of Masajid and the Diocese of Rochester. Louay Safi of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) asserted on the occasion that justice is necessary to promote peace and that it comes through the respect of human dignity. Francis X. (Butch) Mazur is the ecumenical officer for the diocese.


Since 1996, a Midwest Catholic-Muslim dialogue has been sponsored by the ecumenical and interreligious committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Islamic Society of North America. The group, which gathers yearly, has published, Revelation: Catholic and Muslim Perspectives (ISBN #978-1-57455-630-8). Co-chairs are Sayyid Syeed (pictured) and Bp. Francis Reiss.

What should Christians do in dialogue with Muslims?

A conversation among Christians in October 2008 was motivated by a desire to better respond to "A Common Word," a letter of invitation from Muslims to Christians for improved relationships. Some helpful guidelines can be derived from outcomes of the consultation:

  • Do relate to Muslims. Christian faith teaches love of neighbor regardless of race, gender, or religion. Christian self-understanding can be positively challenged by relating to Muslims.
  • Learn about Islam and Muslims.
  • Bear witness to your faith in appropriate and sensitive ways.
  • Don't forget that some issues must be treated as questions open for continuing discussion between Christians and Muslims. They include human rights and conversion; concepts of secularism, pluralism, and citizenship; religiously identified political ideologies and religiously motivated violence. Understand how you are perceived when you use traditional Christian terms such as mission, witness, conversion.
  • Finds ways to collaborate on issues such as social and economic justice, climate change, peace, healing of memories.

The consultation was organized by the World Council of Churches and included participation by a number of world Christian communions (including the World Alliance of Reformed Churches), the World Evangelical Alliance, and the Roman Catholic Church. Presbyterians may find help in responding through use of their own church's resources.



Changing Course report rests on four pillars

 A report, Changing Course: A New Direction for U.S. Relations with the Muslim World, is said to be "the first senior, bipartisan, and interfaith U.S. leadership consensus on a comprehensive approach to improving U.S.-Muslim relations." Its proposed strategy rests on four pillars: "diplomacy to reduce conflict, technical assistance to improve governance, economic help to create jobs, and dialogue to build mutual respect and understanding." The 34 leaders who worked on the project include political figures but also Southern Baptist Richard Land; Catholic Denis Madden; Islamic Society of North America then-president Ingrid Mattson, and former AIPAC director Thomas Dine. It was initiated by Search for Common Ground and the Consensus Building Institute. A web site and a DVD made the report popularly available.


Theological inquiry impeded by "complex ignorance"

Islamic scholar Ingrid Mattson recently has commented that Christians and Muslims are impeded in their theological discussion of their varying views toward God by lack of knowledge of each other's religion. She said, “Most people in the world begin, not in a blank state, but from a situation of what Islamic scholars call complex ignorance, which is a distinction from simple ignorance. . . Simple ignorance is simply not knowing about something — complex ignorance is where you think you know something, but you don’t, and I think most of us in the world are in a situation of complex ignorance.” Mattson was making a presentation at Dartmouth College together with Yale theologian Miroslav Volf, a Christian. She teaches at Hartford Seminary.

Advice about being respectful is offered

Chris Seiple says friendships with Muslims are marked by respect and that, lacking respect, there is only a "transactional encounter." He offers ten words / concepts he says do not communicate respectfully with Muslims: clash of civilizations, secular, assimilation, reformation, jihadi, moderate, interfaith, freedom, religious freedom, and tolerance. Read what he says about each.

In February, twenty-four Moroccan Muslims and American Evangelical Christians met to seek better mutual understanding. The interactions were conceived by Richard Cizik (pictured), who has launched the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good (NEP). The Evangelicals heard the Muslims say Christian proselytization is disrespectful, "especially if it is done deceptively in a covert manner after the proselytizer has entered the country under other pretenses" (as reported in Islamic Horizons, the magazine of the Islamic Society of North America, May/June 2011 issue, page 10).


Being Muslim in the U.S.

Islamic comics in western style may become global

Naif A. Al-Mutawa, an American-educated Kuwaiti clinical psychologist, is the creator / editor-in-chief of The 99, a superhero western-style comic series based on Islamic values. President Obama singled him out as an example of innovation at the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship. See a video in which Al-Mutawa describes his concept and another in which the mixed reactions to the comics are evident.

Homeland Security suspends extraordinary requirement for some travelers

The National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), which the UN condemned for targeting men and boys from predominantly Arab- and Muslim-majority nations with extraordinary requirements, has been suspended indefinitely as of late April. Homeland Security said it "no longer provides a unique security value." But the program had uncovered immigration cases that could lead to possible deportation; these cases remain even though the registration program has ended.


On this web site:

paper icon Specific resources: general Christian-Muslim resources that are not issue oriented

A Muslim letter: A Common Word Between Us and You and early responses to it


A few Muslim web sites:

Islamic Society of North America: ISNA's web site

Islamic Circle of North America: ICNA's web site

Council on American-Islamic Relations: CAIR's web site

Muslim Public Affairs Council: MPAC's web site


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