U.S. media is reporting that Christian evangelical pastor Rick Warren is scheduled to speak this weekend at the annual conference of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). According to a report by the Associated Press:
Times have changed for the Islamic Society of North America and for Syeed, who leads the group’s interfaith outreach. In a sign of growing acceptance of U.S. Muslims, one of the most prominent religious leaders in the country, evangelical pastor Rick Warren, will speak at the Islamic Society’s annual convention this weekend. Representatives from the two largest streams of American Judaism, the Reform and Conservative movements, will also be there to highlight their recently formed partnerships with the Muslim group. “The landscape of religion in America is changing,” Syeed said. “America itself has reached a certain level of fulfillment in terms of diversity of faith.” The Islamic Society, an umbrella association for tens of thousands of Muslims, has worked for years to persuade leaders of other faiths to attend its convention, a massive family reunion in its 46th year that draws about 30,000 people.
The AP report asserts that major Jewish groups and “conservative Christians ” had stayed away from the ISNA conferences because of hostilities related to the MIddle East conflict and anti-Christian violence in some MIddle Eastern countries. The AP report also briefly notes “suspicions” about ISNA, identifying only briefly its origins in the Muslim Student Association (MSA) before quickly moving on to assert that ISNA has reformed itself although still suffering from “stigma”:
Also, suspicions over the origins of the Islamic Society lingered. The organization grew from Muslim Students Associations, campus groups that had received funding from Saudi Arabia. In recent years, the society has prominently denounced terrorism, including terror by Hamas, and has endorsed a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians. The organization also elected its first female president, Ingrid Mattson, who participated in the National Cathedral service for President Barack Obama the day after his inaugural….The Islamic Society, based in Plainfield, Ind., still has its opponents. A stigma remains from the years immediately following Sept. 11 when the millions of U.S. Muslims, their mosques and charities came under intense public scrutiny in the search for domestic terrorists. None of the investigations yielded any finding of wrongdoing or penalty against the Islamic Society.
In fact, as documented in a Hudson Institute report, ISNA grew directly out of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood. The organization has a long history of fundamentalism, anti-semitism, and support for terrorism and during the recent Holy Land Foundation terrorism financing trial, ISNA was named as an unindicted co-conspirator as a result of what the government called “ISNA’s and NAIT’s intimate relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, the Palestine Committee, and the defendants in this case.” Although it is true that recently ISNA has issued condemnations of terrorism which for the first time identify Hamas and Hezbollah by name, there is no indication that the organization has ever addressed or acknowledged its history of support for terrorism. Also, as the Hudson Institute report observes, almost all of the ISNA founders remain active in the organization and ISNA maintains close relations with all other components of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood. Despite its history and the continued presence and influence of the organization’s founders, there is evidence that the U.S. government is preparing to anoint ISNA as its new point of contact for the Muslim community. As discussed in an earlier post, a number of blogs and media outlets reported on a letter said to be authored by a knowledgeable source who says that the FBI Executive Assistant Director was to meet with the ISNA Vice-President following the official decision by the FBI to use ISNA as ” their official point of contact with the American Muslim community”:
Despite its history of anti-semitism, the AP report also indicates that ISNA has made further progress in its attempts to build coalitions with the U.S. Jewish community:
Two years ago, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the liberal Union for Reform Judaism, the largest American branch of Judaism, became the first major Jewish leader to address the convention. The two groups have pledged to fight extremism and build ties between mosques and synagogues nationwide. This year, Conservative Judaism, the second-largest American Jewish movement, will show its support at the assembly. Rabbi Burton Visotzky, a prominent professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, the Conservative movement’s flagship institution, will be a featured speaker. Conservative rabbis and the Islamic society have also been building relationships between local mosques and synagogues. Next year, along with Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, they plan a conference on Judaism and Islam in the United States. Visotzky said he is concerned about the potential for criticism of Conservative Judaism’s work with the Muslim group. Bloggers who closely follow Warren already are denouncing his appearance at the convention, scheduled for Saturday night…….but Visotzky said he feels a sense of religious duty. He views the assembly as a chance to show American Jews that Muslims are reaching out to them despite differences over Israel, and explain to Muslims his support for the Jewish state.”We are commanded to love our neighbors,” Visotzky said, “and my friends at ISNA are good neighbors.”