A Keller pastor continues to push back against “Islamophobia” after making national news for standing up for Muslims when evangelist Franklin Graham said they should be stopped from immigrating to the U.S.
Pastor Bob Roberts Jr. of NorthWood Church in Keller works closely with Grand Imam Maulana Syed Muhammad Abdul Khabir Azad from the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, Pakistan. The two also work with Father James Channan, director of the Peace Center of the Dominican Order in Lahore.
After gunman Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez killed five U.S. servicemen in attacks at two military installations in Chattanooga, Tenn., Graham wrote on Facebook that Muslim immigration to the U.S. should stop. Abdulazeez, 24, was born in Kuwait and raised in the U.S.
“During World War 2, we didn’t allow Japanese to immigrate to America, nor did we allow Germans,” Graham wrote. “Why are we allowing Muslims now?”
Last month, Roberts stood with American Muslim leaders on Capitol Hill to challenge Graham’s comments.
“I was so sad when I read the Facebook posting of Franklin Graham,” Roberts said in a report by the Religion News Service. “This is not ‘evangelical’ and even less evangelistic. I don’t want American Muslims to think we fear them or that they are our enemies.”
Roberts said Channan and the grand imam have taken courageous steps to encourage their congregations to become grassroots emissaries for religious tolerance.
“They are in Pakistan and they are standing up for Christians,” Roberts said. “Here, all I have to deal with is people being critical. Over there, they can literally lose their lives.”
The grand imam’s mosque has access to about 100,000 people. Channan, who works to promote dialogue among different faiths, has called for a review of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. He published the book Path of Love: A Call for Interfaith Harmony and recently received the Global Ambassador of Peace Award from the Institute of International Social Development, which is affiliated with the United Nations.
“The pastors and the imams are the funnel to get to the masses of people to build relationships,” Roberts said.
‘A religion of peace’
Roberts said the questions are “How do Christians here push back against Islamophobia?” and “How does the Muslim majority in Pakistan deal with religious minorities, including Christians?”
Roberts has long worked to support people of other faiths. He defended the inclusion of a Muslim imam at this year’s Fort Worth Stock Show after the issue sparked controversy on social media. In 2011, his church had an event to promote Muslim-Christian cooperation. The Building Bridges with Fellow Texans event drew 2,500 people.
Channan said Pakistani Christians feel very much a part of the social fabric that makes up the South Asian country. He said both Protestants and Catholics have contributed to the country’s independence, development and security.
Most Muslims want to live in harmony, he said, but a few extremists have targeted Christians. In 2013, a mob torched dozens of houses in the Joseph Colony in Lahore. The neighborhood, home to Christians, was attacked after a Christian man was falsely accused of blasphemy, according to international reports.
“One problem is fundamentalism that we are faced with — particularly the strict implementation of Islamic Shariah — has made us feel like second-class citizens,” Channan said.
Azad steps up to defend Christians and defuse tensions.
“He is a blessing for Pakistan,” Channan said. “Wherever an incident happens — or there is an attack or Christians are persecuted — he is the first one to go there.”
Azad emphasized the need to carry the message of peace and harmony.
“Islam is a religion of peace,” Azad said in Urdu. “All religions preach peace, love and respect. In the Quran, it is written that the killing of one person is the killing of all humanity.”
‘All brothers and sisters’
Azad said all minorities are part of a “human family.”
“We are all brothers and sisters who belong to one family of Adam,” Azad said, explaining that he is proud of Muslim Americans.
“It is very good to see that Muslims in America are free to go to their mosques, they are free to worship and they are free to work with other people,” Azad said. “They are leading a good life in America.”
Still, Roberts said, the interfaith effort draws criticism in the U.S. from people who don’t understand the mission or don’t see how hate speech here can put Christians in danger in Pakistan by provoking extremists.
“Christians in America are very concerned about what is happening to Christians in Pakistan,” Roberts said. “What they don’t understand is how they treat Muslims here — what they say to the media here — affects Christians in Pakistan and Syria and all over the world.”
Christian leaders and Muslims met in Nepal last year, and the initial talks led to meetings in Texas and Pakistan. Those gatherings resulted in a commitment by American Christians to look out for Muslims here and by Muslims to look out for Christians and other minorities in Pakistan.
Roberts’ work with the grand imam and Channan echoes biblical teachings of the golden rule, which asks people to treat others as they would like to be treated.
“I’m a Baptist so I am passionate about religious freedom,” Roberts said. “I have to be concerned about freedom of religion for the Muslim in America. If I want freedom of religion for the Christian in Muslim countries, I need to be very concerned about that here.”
Diane Smith, 817-390-7675