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Interfaith observances for Sept. 11 add a Muslim outreach

With the approach of the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Americans will attend interfaith services and other gatherings to remember those who perished.

But as the country prepares to commemorate the anniversary, focus also has fallen on Muslims.

In time for Sunday's commemoration, the Pew Research Center has released results of a survey about American Muslims. The study "finds no indication of increased alienation or anger among Muslim Americans in response to concerns about home-grown Islamic terrorists, controversies about the building of mosques and other pressures."

Meanwhile, in the weeks leading up to Sept. 11, the Southern Baptist Convention's international mission board launched the website "Loving Muslims."

The goal is to cultivate "a heart of love for Muslims" through free study guides. The resources, which can be downloaded from lovingmuslims.com, include an eight-day prayer guide.

Sessions focus on loving Muslims and reaching them with the Gospel, while the prayer guide "leads believers through praying for their Muslim neighbors." The website also includes videos and other resources for learning about Muslim culture.

"I think their study group is a very good thing, but they can't have an objective that they are going to convert Muslims,'' said Imam Wilmore Sadiki of the St. Petersburg Islamic Center.

"They should be open-minded when they're talking to any Muslims, Buddhists, whatever,'' he said. "They should be mindful to establish a social relationship, not for conversion purposes, just for the purposes of getting along."

Pastor Willy Rice of Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater, which will commemorate Sept. 11 with a community gathering at Bright House Field, had not seen the website.

"In regards to proselytizing, I think there are common, though understandable misconceptions,'' he said in an e-mail.

"As evangelical Christians, it is an essential part of our faith to share our faith and encourage others to consider the claims of Christ. This does include the Muslim world. But there should never be any attempt at coercion, nor disrespect for those who disagree or unkindness. God has given everyone the freedom to choose. It is our job to make the message about Christ clear and then others must choose."

In Largo, at First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks, church administrator Tim Ferguson was impressed with the site's message emphasizing Jesus' message of loving one's neighbors. On Sept. 11, his church will focus on remembering those who died and the people who put their lives on the line.

Pastor Michael Wetzel of Island Chapel in Tierra Verde thinks the site is an "awesome'' idea.

"We're to love all people, just plain and simple. They are not our enemies, but we are their enemies,'' he said.

"I have been to meetings where it was discussed. At the Southern Baptist Convention in June, a pastor of a church in Texas talked about what his church is doing. Another guy who was brought up Muslim and is pastoring a church talked about it. They're trying to tell their congregations that we need to wake up and see that there are people that need to know Jesus.''

Wetzel said there's nothing wrong with trying to convert Muslims "if we do it the right way."

Sharing the gospel is a Christian mandate, he added, "but you do that by loving people."

The Rev. Kim Wells of Lakewood United Church of Christ is looking forward to welcoming Imam Sadiki as a guest speaker on Sunday.

"We believe in respecting other religions, because Jesus never condemned any other religions,'' she said. "We believe that loving your neighbor means respecting their religion, whatever it may be."

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2283.

Interfaith observances for Sept. 11 add a Muslim outreach 09/06/11 [Last modified: Friday, September 9, 2011 12:50pm]
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