California: Presbyterian church invites pastor to separate Islamic fact and fiction

Ben Daniel and Maha ElGenaidiThrough research, traveling and writing, a local Christian pastor is hoping to debunk stereotypes about Islam.

Sunnyvale Presbyterian Church invited Pastor Ben Daniel of San Jose’s Foothill Presbyterian Church to speak to the community last month after the release of his book earlier this year. His book, The Search for Truth about Islam: A Christian Pastor Separates Fact from Fiction, discusses Islamophobia in American society.

Two years in the making, the book explores the core beliefs and practices of Islam, as well as the history behind the growing fear and confusion around the religion in public discourse.

“Islamophobia is out there and it comes as a result of our fear, the fear of Muslims and Islam, which has been with us a long time,” Daniel said. “In North America, it dates back to the 18th century, but I don’t think fear has ever been productive. It doesn’t make us safer; it doesn’t improve us as people. What we really need is hope and common sense and we need to get to know each other. If we do that, we will all be OK.”

There are about 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, Daniel said. The CIA suspects there are fewer than 20,000 active members of terrorist organizations in the world. “The fact is that people who match these negative descriptions are a tiny fraction; people need to remember that,” Daniel said. “The main thing I want people to do is to use common sense and think through what they are saying and hearing.”

Nearly 150 people attended the event, held in the Fellowship Hall of Sunnyvale Presbyterian on Aug. 22. Daniel co-presented alongside Maha Elgenaidi, founder of the Islamic Networks Group, a local nonprofit that works to counter prejudice and discrimination against American Muslims.

“This is a church that is engaged in important issues, which I really admire,” Daniel said. “I think most Presbyterians go to churches where issues around interfaith dialogue don’t happen. Sunnyvale is the kind of church that is not afraid to tackle such important issues. It might make some people uncomfortable, but this is a brave and vibrant church holding this conversation there.”

The Rev. Steve Harrington said Sunnyvale Presbyterian enjoys hosting such events. “While we are a Christ-centered church, we are also interested in learning about others and contributing to a culture of respect and civility at a time when our society is becoming more and more polarized,” Harrington said in an email. “Conversations and opportunities to learn beyond yourselves are always good things to pursue.”

Although there were a handful of people who tried to disrupt the event, Pamela Marino, one of the event organizers, said the event was an overall success. “Some people are asking if we can do interfaith events in the future, which is definitely something that is being thought about,” Marino said.

San Jose Mercury News, 4 September 2013