We live in sensitive times. Facing the possibility of a global war between America and the Muslim world, people feel extremely insecure. Their capacity to suffer pain, bigotry and injustice is severely tested. And if there is such a war, God forbid, the primary cause will not be oil, geopolitics or regime changes; no, it will result from intolerable and vicious hate speech unleashed by religious bigots on both sides--bigots who confuse self-righteousness for righteousness and demonization for devotion.

The search for security at any cost has created an environment that is emboldening Islamophobia--anti-Semitism's nasty cousin--to pop up in nearly every sphere of American society. Muslims feel discrimination and demonization. Last week, I noticed a particularly offensive bumper sticker. It said, "Kill them all. Let Allah sort them out."

Recently, evangelicals meeting in a national convention issued a widely publicized statement expressing concern that anti-Islam statements were harming their cause. But although this must be recognized and appreciated, I am disappointed evangelicals found anti-Islam rhetoric problematic for pragmatic reasons rather than on moral or Christian grounds.

Apparently, many missionaries complain that statements by, for example, Franklin Graham (who called Islam a "very evil and wicked religion"), have made efforts to proselytize Muslims more difficult. Isn't hate-mongering worthy of condemnation as an immoral act, regardless of the operational inconveniences it may cause? Isn't it against the spirit of inclusion and compassion that Jesus (pbuh) preached?

At the same convention, Diane Knippers, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, called for a more realistic Christian-Muslim dialogue. She made an interesting and strong argument to use interfaith dialogue to advance human rights and religious freedoms. At the same time, she made a rather strange reference to the "physical, social and spiritual deficits within the Islamic world." I wonder what she means by physical deficits. Statements such as these, which assume the moral superiority of the West, are appalling. I wonder how the United States and Europe stack up when their spiritual and moral worth is measured using the Ten Commandments as a yardstick?

Meanwhile, in the absence of strong condemnation from the White House and the media, statements against Islam and Muslims have not abated. One can only imagine what pastors and evangelists may be preaching to their followers in the safety of their churches, away from media scrutiny.

The problem with this particular kind of evangelicals is not just their ideas and their hate mongering, but also the fact that they have a large following - sufficient to influence the electoral outcomes in American elections. By virtue of their votes and their fund raising capacity, they exercise more power over the American Congress and the President than the Mullahs of Saudi Arabia can over the decisions of their King. Furthermore, the close relationship between the President and the Rev. Franklin Graham and other members of his administration, is disturbing. I don't think it's a coincidence that the first group to financially benefit from Bush's impulse to finance faith-based programs was that of the Rev. Pat Robertson. Is it possible that the very purpose of the federal initiative to support faith-based programs is to allow these groups to intertwine operations with those of the Federal government? Their involvement in relief operations in post-war Iraq further strengthens this fear.

I must remind readers that hate-mongering is not common in the Christian communities of North America, and when it occurs it seems to come primarily from evangelicals. Catholics and most other Protestants have gone way beyond the call of duty to befriend, support, protect and comfort American Muslims. Nearly all Christian groups opposed the war against Iraq as an unjust war and have publicly condemned anti-Muslim bigotry. Christian groups are also helping Muslims fight the declining protection of Muslim civil rights in America.

What to say to bring along evangelicals who disagree with interfaith dialogue and support of Muslims in America? First, no other religion can claim to teach tolerance, pluralism and respect for the other as beautifully as Islam. Here is just one example--and I challenge Franklin Graham to produce a similar text from Christian sources that specifically recognize other religions.

Those who believe, and those who are Jewish, and Christians and the Sabians,- any who believe in God and the Day of Judgment, and perform righteous deeds, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve (Quran 2:62, 5:69).

Second, while there are many Christian preachers who rant and rave about Islam and its founder, Muhammad (pbuh), Muslims do not speak ill of Jesus (pbuh). Muslims revere him and recognize his miracles.

Third, here is what Islam says about how to work in the path of God. Invite (all) to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knoweth best who have strayed from His Path and who receive guidance (Quran 16:125).

I have worked hard to advance a moderate vision of Islam, provided a scathing criticism of Islamic extremism, and have tried to develop common ground for interfaith understanding. Many other voices for peace and understanding have spoken up, and members of many churches, mosques and synagogues have worked tirelessly to create mutual understanding. In spite of these efforts, the bumper sticker suggests that hate, bigotry and intolerance are still winning in America. I wish I had a bumper sticker that would express the thought racing through my mind at that moment: "Why do they hate us?"

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