An American Muslim leader said evangelical preachers would do well to learn about Islam before denouncing it from their pulpits.
Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy group, said anti-Muslim comments like those made last week at a chapel service at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary are “part of a wider trend of attacks on Islam in certain segments of the evangelical community.”
“We think it’s not a helpful trend at all,” Hooper said Tuesday in a phone interview with EthicsDaily.com. “It’s poisoning the relations between Muslims and Christians in this country. The people who espouse this kind of bigotry and ignorance need to re-examine what they are trying to do.”
EthicsDaily.com previously reported comments from a Sept. 6 chapel service at the seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, one of the world’s largest theology schools and one of six seminaries owned by the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s second-largest religious body.
Forrest Pollock, pastor of Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, Fla., told ministerial students the struggle between Islam and Judaism and Christianity didn’t begin in the last 20 years but is a continuation of enmity dating back 4,200 years, to the Genesis story of Isaac and Ishmael.
“Today the sons of Ishmael are attacking the sons of Isaac,” Pollock said. “We are seeing perhaps Islam’s last jihad,” an allusion to the end-times struggle described in Revelation as the Battle of Armageddon.
Pollock also challenged the “politically correct” language that Islam is a religion of peace, quoting a verse from the Quran calling on Muslims to “fight and slay the pagans.”
“That is the infidels,” Pollock said. “That’s you and me.”
Pollock isn’t the first or best-known evangelical preacher to publicly denounce Islam. Former Southern Baptist Convention president Jerry Vines once declared Muhammad “a demon-possessed pedophile.” Franklin Graham called Islam “a very evil and wicked religion” in 2001, defending the comment as recently as this March. The dean of Jerry Falwell’s Liberty Theological Seminary called the recent Mideast conflict between Israel and Hezbollah “a war against the God of Israel.”
“Not only has Pollock joined the march of hate speech, he has shown how little he knows about the Bible with his failure to distinguish between biblical Israel and the modern political state of Israel,” said Robert Parham of the Baptist Center of Ethics.
Asked to respond to Pollock’s comments, delivered in the days leading to the fifth anniversary of 9/11, Hooper said, “I think these men need to educate themselves about what Islam is all about.”
“To say Islam advocates killing Christians and Jews is preposterous,” he said. He said the Quran allows a Muslim man to marry a Christian wife. One of Muhammad’s wives was a Christian.
“Islam has always had a people of the book, Christians and Jews, that have already received an earlier form of Islam’s own inspiration,” Hooper said.
Hooper said pulling isolated verses out of context, like the Surah 9:5 passage quoted by Pollock to demonstrate that Islam teaches violence, can also be done with Christian Scripture, although he doesn’t condone the practice.
In Matthew 10:34, for example, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
“These people have all kinds of explanations why that doesn’t mandate that Christians commit violent acts, but they won’t listen to the same arguments,” Hooper said, when they apply to the Quran.
Hooper said the command to “fight and slay the pagans” is in a context of a time when Islam was under attack and fighting for survival. “It’s not an injunction to go out and harm anyone,” he said.
Parham said verbal attacks by SBC leaders aren’t limited to Muslims.
“When Southern Baptist fundamentalists smear an entire religion, the only word of cold comfort that can be offered to the insulted group is that Southern Baptists hate everybody,” Parham said. “They have a well-documented record of slamming Muslims, targeting Jews, demonizing public school teachers, slapping Democrats, belittling women and smacking Disney employees.”
A week before Pollock’s chapel message, Southwestern’s administration decided not to put archived video and audio on its Web site of a sermon supportive of “private prayer language,” saying the school did not want to promote views contrary to those held by the majority of the faculty.
Asked if he would encourage the seminary to do the same with Pollock’s message, Hooper said, “I think any time you can prevent the dissemination of uninformed or bigoted views, this would show at least the intent to maintain relations and to foster greater understanding.”
“Seminary students deserve better,” added Parham, “better biblical scholarship, better churchmanship, better application of the biblical witness to the world.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com
Statement by Robert Parham:
When Southern Baptist fundamentalists smear an entire religion, the only word of cold comfort that can be offered to the insulted group is that Southern Baptists hate everybody. They have a well-documented record of slamming Muslims, targeting Jews, demonizing public school teachers, slapping Democrats, belittling women and smacking Disney employees.
Not only has Pollock joined the march of hate speech, he has shown how little he knows about the Bible with his failure to distinguish between biblical Israel and the modern political state of Israel.
Seminary students deserve better–better biblical scholarship, better churchmanship, better application of the biblical witness to the world.”