By Jacqueline L. Salmon and William Wan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, September 25, 2009
The organizers of a Muslim day of prayer scheduled to take place Friday in front of the U.S. Capitol have come under attack from some conservative Christians.
The event, called "Islam on Capitol Hill," is designed to highlight how U.S. Muslims can coexist with their fellow Americans. Hassen Abdellah, the lead organizer of the event, called on people to come to the Capitol to "pray for peace and understanding between America and its Muslim community."
But this week, some conservative Christians have called the event a threat to Christian values. In a statement, the Rev. Canon Julian Dobbs, leader of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America's Church and Islam Project, warned that the service is "part of a well-defined strategy to Islamize American society and replace the Bible with the Koran, the cross with the Islamic crescent and the church bells with the Athan [the Muslim call to prayer]."
Christian evangelist Lou Engle said the Friday event "is much more than a nice little Muslim gathering. It's an invocation of spiritual powers of an ideology" that "doesn't have the same set of values that our nation has had."
Abdellah called such criticism ridiculous.
"I don't understand. This is a simple event. All we want to do is pray," he said. "In America, name one event where Christians tried to pray and Muslims disrupted it."
Christians have a national day of prayer, he pointed out, so why can't Muslims pray as well?
Abdellah, a lawyer who is president of the Dar-ul-Islam mosque in Elizabeth, N.J., said he got the idea for the event after hearing President Obama speak about the need to reach out to Muslims in America.
In recent days, critics have begun attacking Abdellah in e-mails and blogs for being part of the legal team that represented Mahmud Abouhalima, one of the men convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. He has also represented a Baltimore Muslim cabdriver who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to aid a terrorist group.
Abdellah defended his past legal work. "They are trying to make it about me instead of the prayer. Yes, I have defended these people. I'm a lawyer; defending people and their constitutional rights is what I do for a living," he said. "I was also a prosecutor for five years. I put a lot of bad people in jail. These people say nothing of that."
Since the attacks against him began, fundraising has been difficult, Abdellah said. It is also unclear whether he will reach his attendance goal of 50,000 people.
Some local groups have been slow to sign on to the prayer event. Rizwan Jaka, a spokesman for the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, one of the region's largest mosques, said the congregation was too busy with Ramadan and other activities to become involved.
The main prayer event will be at 1 p.m. on the west side of the Capitol. Prayers also will be offered at 6 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.
Jihad Sileh, a spokesman for the Congressional Muslim Staffers Association, said his group's regularly scheduled midday prayer service is at 12:30 p.m., so it won't be an official part of the prayer event. The congressional association is also sponsoring a 1 p.m. prayer service for the Congressional Black Caucus at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, so many staffers will not have time to head over to the Capitol for outdoor prayers.