- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 4, 2001

Saturday's open house at Dar Al Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church was a gracious affair, with veiled women distributing fliers and roses to crowds of denim-clad Americans arriving for their first glimpse of a mosque.

On white marble floors inside, banquet tables filled with vegetable wraps, breads, cheeses, fruits and honey-soaked desserts awaited visitors, who then were ushered into nearby classrooms to hear about the basic tenets of Islam. Brightly colored posters describing the five pillars of Islam were placed on easels near the entrance, and seekers were urged to help themselves to free literature.

What most visitors did not see in the bookstore behind the mosque were bas reliefs of the Holy Land with nary a sign of Israel but embossed with the words "beautiful Palestine." Or the booklets such as "Christianity: The Original and the Present Reality" suggesting that Jesus was never crucified, that some Christians believed the Virgin Mary was part of the Trinity and that Jesus prophesied in the Gospel of John the coming of Muhammad, not the Holy Spirit.

"It is incumbent on each and every human being to have faith in Muhammad (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him) and follow him alone," stated one of the free books at the mosque.

A key to understanding Islam is knowing how it operates in one way in countries that recognize a separation of church and state. Islam operates in completely another fashion in countries where mosque and state are one, scholars say.

In countries where the culture is an expression of Islam, religion and society have merged. For another religion to exist in a strict Islamic society or for someone to change his or her religion is considered an apostasy, an abandonment of one's heritage and a threat to the religion and to the country.

Such beliefs are behind the charges against the eight Christian aid workers who have been jailed in Kabul on charges of trying to convert Afghans.

"In classical Islamic law, the apostate loses all his civil liberties, his kids are taken away and his marriage is dissolved," says the Rev. Ernest Hahn, a Toronto-based Islamic researcher and Lutheran pastor. "He loses his inheritance and he cannot be buried in a Muslim graveyard.

"So many Muslims try to teach that Islam teaches there is freedom of religion, because Sura 2:256 [in the Koran] says, 'Let there by no compulsion in religion.' But that has been supplanted by a saying in the Hadith [supplemental writings to the Koran] that says, 'Any person who has changed his religion, kill him.'"

The Koran also states in Sura 3:85 that anyone who desires "a religion other than Islam, never will it be accepted of him," as Islam is the perfect expression of all religions that have come before it.

Inside U.S. borders, Muslim institutions such as the Saudi Academy expansion near Washington Dulles International Airport not to mention the 1,209 mosques around the country have absolute freedom to propagate Islam and seek converts.

A case in point is the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences in Leesburg. Set in an office park close to the airport, its 35,000-volume library has one of the largest Arabic-language book collections in the area. It trains Islamic chaplains for an estimated 4,000 Muslims in the U.S. armed forces and offers a master's degree in Islamic studies.

Its Iraqi-born president, Taha Jaber Alalwani, says one goal is to offset the anti-Muslim prejudice he says exists among Americans and Europeans.

"In any library, we find 600 or more books, novels and other things, talking about Islam and Muslims in a very bad way," he says. "These are best sellers about terrorists, about how Muslims put a lot of pressure on their women, how they deal with them in a very bad way, how a Muslim is a hypocrite and lives a double standard.

"Everyone looks to the West, especially to America, as an example. The Western culture dominates the whole world."

Muslims consider America to have enough clout, he adds, to stop Russian incursions into Chechnya, "because they are massacring Muslims there. No country can say 'stop' to Russia except America."

"The same thing with Israel," which gets $3 billion yearly from the United States in foreign aid, Mr. Alalwani said. "People expect America with its history and its founders to say, 'Enough is enough.'"

Reminded that the United States also supplies $2 billion yearly in foreign aid to Egypt, he says, "That is peanuts. Israel has 4 million people. Egypt has 60 million."

Israel and the Palestinian territories' 6.2 million combined inhabitants include 4.9 million Jews and 1.3 million Muslims.

The First Amendment allows U.S. citizens and foreigners alike to be frank with their political and religious views. But in Jordan, a relatively liberal country by Islamic standards, students at an evangelical Christian seminary have been jailed and deported.

The State Department's 2000 and 1999 reports on international religious freedom say the Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary (JETS) has been targeted.

The government has tied up the 150-student seminary in bureaucratic red tape, making it impossible for the school to obtain accreditation or even residence permits for some of its foreign students and staff, and has jailed students who have converted from Islam to Christianity.

The report lists three students: an Iraqi, a Sudanese and an Egyptian who were jailed under wretched conditions, then deported.

"I pray Christians in Muslim lands get the same freedom as Muslims in Christian lands," JETS President Imad Shehadeh said at a May press conference in Amman. "There are Muslim centers all over the United States, but no churches in Saudi Arabia or many of the Gulf states."

Muslims should be allowed to attend his seminary, he said, even as dispassionate observers who have no intention of converting.

"They are that interested," he said. "We could easily have 500 students."

JETS also has the support of several members of Congress, including Rep. Joseph R. Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican.

"I have been impressed with Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary and its leader, Mr. Imad Shedhadeh," Mr. Pitts says. "It's clear he greatly loves the people of Jordan and those of surrounding countries and imparts that love to the students as well."

JETS is not the only Christian group found problematic; the State Department also reports about a Campus Crusade for Christ staffer found leading Bible studies on an Amman college campus. After being detained three days, then transferred to a cell with 40 other prisoners and one toilet, the evangelist was persuaded to sign a statement two days later promising to desist from his activities.

"Our bottom line concern is for the quality of freedom we'd like to have," Mr. Shehadeh said. "They say persecution is good for the church. Well, we've had our share of it. We're a long way from where we'd like to be in terms of human rights."

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