- The Washington Times - Friday, July 3, 2009

The country’s largest Muslim group will mount an unprecedented outreach to Christians and Jews this weekend at its annual conference, featuring an appearance by the Rev. Rick Warren, one of America’s best-known evangelical Protestant pastors, at the main session Saturday night.

Mohamed Elsanousi, spokesman for the Islamic Society of North America, said the group invited the pastor to speak before 30,000 Muslims at the Washington Convention Center because Mr. Warren is doing good things across the globe.

“We know he’s doing good things in helping the poor,” Mr. Elsanousi said.

This year’s convention is ISNA’s largest effort in terms of sheer numbers of non-Muslim speakers, he added. The organization is sponsoring a private interfaith reception for 400 additional leaders from various religions on Sunday afternoon.

“Muslims feel proud to welcome people of other faiths,” Mr. Elsanousi said. “We hope this invitation will resonate with the message we are trying to send out: That we need to work together for the common good.”

Mr. Warren, pastor of the 24,000-member Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., will be speaking on how America should maintain its independence, the spokesman added.

Mr. Warren had invited ISNA interfaith leader Sayyid Syeed to a Saddleback Civil Forum on Global Health at the Newseum on Dec. 1. ISNA reciprocated by giving the evangelist a choice spot in this weekend’s program, Mr. Elsanousi said.

The pastor is part of a guest list for several workshops scheduled throughout the event. Those invited include Yale Divinity School theologian Miroslav Volf; Evangelical Lutheran Church of America Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson; Lutheran pastor and Bread for the World President David Beckmann; religious freedom advocate Chris Seiple; and former National Council of Churches President Bob Edgar.

Four rabbis are also scheduled to attend. A Sunday afternoon Muslim-Jewish dialogue includes Rabbi Jack Moline of Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria and board chairman of the Interfaith Alliance; Jewish Theological Seminary professor Rabbi Burt Visotzky; and Rabbi Gerry Serotta of Shirat HaNefesh, a congregation in Silver Spring. Another rabbi, Marc Schneier of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, will speak Sunday morning on interfaith relations.

“ISNA has been really thoughtful about their process,” Rabbi Visotzky said. “They are very conscious about reaching out to the wider religious community. I’ve sat on panel with Mohamed Elsanousi when people were talking about Islamophobia at the University of Florida. We were happy to be on a panel together to show Jews and Muslims didn’t have to be in opposition to one another.

“Sayyid Syeed has been welcoming in encouraging us to do more with the Muslim community. It is not just liberals who want to be engaged in dialogue but the conservatives, too.”

Mr. Warren, who delivered the opening prayer at President Obama’s inauguration, has yet to comment directly about the ISNA event. He said last week at a conference of 800 Anglicans in Bedford, Texas, that he speaks to groups that differ with him “to build a bridge of love between my heart and theirs so Jesus can walk across.”

Mr. Warren will be onstage for a session titled “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” alongside Islamic scholar Hamza Yusuf, ISNA President Ingrid Mattson, Imam Zaid Shakir of Hayward, Calif., and Brooklyn Imam Siraj Wahhaj.

Mr. Wahhaj was the first Muslim to recite the opening prayer before a meeting of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1991.