The following press release was released by Howie Gardner and distributed via the Religion News Service’s Religion Press Release Services. It is copied here because it provides a window into an interesting moment in interfaith relations. Neither LiturgicalCredo.com nor the Religion News Service are responsible for the accuracy of the release. Gardner has sole responsiblity for the accuracy of the release.
Contact: Howie Gardner
Evangelical Christian Leaders Seek to Establish Communications with Muslim Clerics
In September of ’06, author Howie Gardner, Pastor of Bel Air Assembly of God in Maryland, composed a letter to the Muslim World league in Saudi Arabia. The letter has been revised a number of times at the suggestions of various missionaries and theologians. It can be seen in its present form at www.cmdialogue.com.
The following January, PrimeStar Publicity head, Helen Cook published an article about the book which went out over the Christian Newswire. The response was far greater than anticipated. Letters came in from Asia, Europe, Africa, Australia, and the Americas. Three Bible Colleges asked permission to use the letter in their curriculum. Even the chaplaincy of the United States Pentagon responded.
Ultimately Gardner came in contact with Kamal Nawash, President of the “Free Muslim Coalition Against Terrorism” (FMCAT), in Washington D. C. Nawash invited Pastor Gardner and Evangelist Angel Berrios to a Muslim service in Anandale, Virginia and then on to address a group of clerics at a luncheon that afternoon. Gardner reported “we had a very positive and encouraging exchange.”
“We did not take the usual evangelical approach of trying to convince them that the Bible is superior to the Quran. Certainly as Evangelical Christians we believe that and it would make for an interesting dialogue on another occasion. However in this forum we have attempted to stress the concept that one can denounce terrorism with denouncing Islam. There are a number of verses in the Quran which call for Muslims to take arms against ‘infidels’ and today many Muslims understand the verses to be a call to arms against Christians and Jews with the latter seeing them as an affront against themselves. In reality though, Muhammad did not regard either Christians or Jews to be infidels, quite the contrary. Rather these verses are aimed at two groups who were contemporaries of Muhammad-the Quraishi and the Collyridians. Muhammad actually makes direct reference to the latter group twice in Surah 5. Both of these groups apparently advocated not only the worship of multiple gods but also the sacrifice of innocent human beings as part of their worship.”
Our main goal has been to convince Muslim leaders, particularly those from the Muslim World League, to declare a fatwa against school curriculum being used in Saudi Arabia, Palestine and elsewhere which encourage small children to pursue the life of a terrorist.
FMCAT posted Gardner’s letter on their web site and allowed for a free exchange between him and other Muslims as well as Christians and Jews. “Much of the response was hostile” Gardner says. But there were positive signs as well. “One Muslim woman wrote saying ‘Most of us agree with you but we do not have the courage to speak up'” he says.
Perhaps they are beginning to gain that courage though. In Saudi Arabia the Interior Ministry near the provincial capital of Al Janderea has begun organizing deprogramming classes for jihadists seeking a change of lifestyle. Their 12 step program includes art, sports and religion classes. Dr. Ahmad Hamad Jilan states “We tell them that they should give the right picture of Islam. They should not kill or bomb.” Sociologist Hameed Kahaleel notes that many of the students now have jobs, are studying in the universities and are raising families.
Still further, in Pakistan award winning director Waseem Mahmood has composed a song entitled “This is NOT Us” stressing the incompatibility between terrorism and Islam. Reportedly the song is a best-seller.
Nawash has expressed interest in inviting Evangelist Franklin Graham to Saudi Arabia to meet with Muslim clerics in a similar setting.
“Thus far the response from Christians has been slow” Gardner says. “Two denominational leaders have called me to voice their support but one of them asked not to be named as it might endanger missionaries on the field. I have received either emails or phone calls from Focus on the Family, The Martin Luther King Center, Trinity Broadcasting, John McArthur Ministries, Oral Roberts University, the offices of former Congressmen J. C. Watts, author Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church and even from Muhammad Ali Enterprises- the public relations arm of the former heavyweight champ. I should note though that NONE of these groups have given us any official endorsement as yet and both Warren and Charles Stanley have since declined their support.”
Currently Gardner, who has authored two previous books, is in the process of compiling the thoughts of local Christian and Muslim leaders on 26 different topics for a proposed third book. This one may not become a reality though as he reports “So far one Christian publisher has informed me that they have no interest in publishing a book of which 50% is written by Muslims. Stay tuned and let’s see what God will do.”