One of America’s most prominent evangelical preachers took his message to a somewhat unusual venue Saturday, the Islamic Society of North America’s annual convention.
Megachurch pastor Rick Warren, best known for his "Purpose Driven Life” book and philosophy, spoke to more than 8,000 American Muslims in Washington D.C. as he called for an interfaith coalition to combat stereotypes and solve global problems.
"I am not interested in interfaith dialogue, I am interested in interfaith projects," Warren said. "Talk is very cheap."
He urged the “two largest faiths on the planet” to work together to end the "the five global giants" of war, poverty, corruption, disease and illiteracy and form a coalition to end religious stereotyping and restore civility to society.
"Tolerance is not enough," Warren said. "People don't want to be tolerated, they want to be respected, they want to be listened to. They want to be valued."
The founder of the Saddelback Church in Orange County, California, is accustomed to speaking to large crowds, with more than 20,000 regularly attending his Southern Baptist services at one of the largest churches in the country.
"I think what he (Warren) said was fantastic," Shiran Elkoshairi of the Adams Center Mosque in Virginia, told the daily Orange County Register. "Historically, that (interfaith co-operation) was the way things got done, but we have forgotten that over time."
People don't want to be tolerated, they want to be respected, they want to be listened to. They want to be valued
Preacher Rick Warren
Some hardliner Christian bloggers criticized Warren’s decision to speak at ISNA, calling it a terrorist organization, likely a reference to a Senate finance committee investigation of several Muslim groups post Sept. 11, 2001 that concluded with no action taken in 2005.
Warren, known for criticizing the partisanship of some evangelical activists, acknowledged the controversy during his 20-minute speech that opened with the traditional Muslim greeting asaalamu aleykum, or peace be upon you.
"It's easier to be an extremist of any kind because then you only have one group of people mad at you," he said. "But if you actually try to build relationships -- like invite an evangelical pastor to your gathering -- you'll get criticized for it. So will I."
The Indiana-based ISNA is the largest umbrella organization for Muslim groups whose annual convention regularly draws more than 30,000 people.
Prominent Muslims figures like musician Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, and scholars like Sheik Hamza Yusuf of the Zaytuna Institute in Berkeley, California were among the main draw of the 46th annual conference.
Forbes magazine called the best-selling author Warren a "spiritual entrepreneur" whose ministry, if it were a business, “would be compared with Dell, Google, or Starbucks in impact."
Warren’s speech was the latest in a string of high-profile efforts to improve relations with the general public and the Muslim community after Sept. 11, 2001 created a climate of fear and mistrust.
It's easier to be an extremist of any kind because then you only have one group of people mad at you," he said. "But if you actually try to build relationships -- like invite an evangelical pastor to your gathering -- you'll get criticized for it. So will I
Preacher Rick Warren
Several speakers hailed the progress America’s estimated 2.4 million Muslims have made, with ISNA President Ingrid Mattson noting that the community have been relieved to be recognized as a part of America’s diversity in President Barack Obama’s inaugural address and recognition of his father’s heritage as a Muslim.