One of the most startling aspects of TheCall Detroit was its approach to the other Abrahamic faiths. Speakers sought to forge alliances between fundamentalist Christians and Jews, so as to bring about the kingdom of God. Speakers waxed poetic about Israel, pouring forth honeyed rhetoric about ending anti-Semitism and forging ties between Jews and Christians. On the other hand, one particular speaker cast Islam in a negative light, praising Christianity and Israel over his old Islamic faith. Given Lou Engle's history of anti-Islam comments (see here and here), I was not surprised at his choice of speakers.
As mentioned in a prior post, Lou Engle warned the audience about the alleged rise of anti-Semitism. He shared with them a dream he had while in Israel, which he interpreted as a portent of cultural healing.
"I was in Jerusalem with my friend. My friend had a dream, and in the dream, we were actually staying in Mary Magdalene's hotel, and he receives a dream of four Ruths calling us, four Ruths. Ruth Prince, Derek Prince's wife who loved Israel, was calling us. Ruth Graham, Billy Graham's wife, was calling us. Ruth Heflin, who was a worshipper and a prophet to Israel, was calling us. And Ruth of Boaz was calling us. Four Ruths. And we felt the Lord was saying to us that TheCall is to call the gentile bride back to Boaz, Jesus Christ, that we would connect with our bridegroom, Jesus, the Jewish man, and when we did that, it would release a great healing and would break anti-Semitism."Engle introduced a Messianic Jewish speaker named Rabbi Jason Sobel, the director of the Fusion ministry. Both Engle and Sobel used the Biblical marriage of Ruth and Boaz as a metaphor for rapport between Christians and Jews, as well as for the bond between a believer and Jesus. At the 17:07 mark of Part III, Sobel claimed that rapport between gentiles and Jews strengthened the force of global revival and encouraged an outpouring of God's power.
"When Jew and Gentile unite in partnership, we see the presence, power, and provision of God released in greater measure, because God's presence and power is always proportional to the unity that exists among God's people. And the enemy historically throughout the generations has tried to divide Jew and Gentile, because he knows that when we come together and unite in love, we form an unstoppable force in the world that brings forth total transformation and revival."By "gentiles," it was clear to me that that Sobel meant Christians. He hinted that such rapport could hasten the coming of God's kingdom on earth by saying, "When Jew and Gentile unite, we bring forth the kingdom." Another comment by Sobel at the 20:04 mark of part III clearly suggested that such rapport was meant to bring forth the kingdom of God.
"Until we deal with the root of discrimination, the root of enmity is rooted in the bitterness and the strife between Jew and Gentile. When we heal the root, we deal with the symptoms, and I believe if we love one another and walk together and bless one another, we will see life from the dead and the revival coming, an acceleration of the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. Amen!"After Sobel preached, TheCall Detroit leaders led the audience in a recitation of Ruth 1: 16, in which Ruth (a gentile) pledged loyalty to her beloved mother-in-law, Naomi (a Jew). For TheCall Detroit, this Biblical passage captured the bond that they wished to forge between Christians and sympathetic Jews.
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After this recitation came one of TheCall Detroit's most controversial speakers: Kamal Saleem. At the 25:39 mark, Saleem introduced himself as an alleged former Muslim terrorist whose heart was softened by Christ.
"My name is Kamal Saleem. I came to destroy this country as a terrorist at one time. And God got hold of me, and I had a vision of Jesus Christ, and he healed my senses. [Applause] Today, we still terrorize the kingdom of hell, but as an Arab from the bosom of Ishmael, I will bow before Israel today. [Kneels, then Sobel kneels.]At the 26:41, Saleem begged for forgiveness while heaping praise upon Israel.
"Forgive me. Forgive us. I went to Israel twice, twice, three times. Every mission, I carried my best friend with me. I went to destroy Israel, but the God of Israel stood for her, and today, I ask of you forgiveness of our jealousy and hate of you. And I ask you to receive me. As I left my father's table, I became an orphan son, but today, in Christ Jesus, I'm a son of the holy one of Israel. And I ask you Israel, forgive us, forgive us, forgive us Israel."Saleem's cries of "Arise, oh Israel!" shook the air as the audience was swept into ecstasy. For me, however, Saleem's talk seemed to represent a rejection of Islam in favor of Christianity and the spiritual supremacy of Israel. The symbolic significance of his appearance was staggering in this context.
According to a Muslim observer at TheCall Detroit, Saleem's words grew even stranger at the night went on. In a hard-hitting commentary at Religion Dispatches, Haroon Moghul described Saleem's 3 a.m. speech about Islam.
Kamal claimed that he was raised in “jihad” in Lebanon, and kindly shared the implications with an audience that knew no better. For example, he said, when a Muslim’s blood is first shed in the path of God, he becomes a Messiah. (Unfortunately for Kamal, there is only one Messiah in Islam, and it’s Jesus—who, to take the previous speaker’s logic to its conclusion, loves us even if Lou Engle doesn’t want him to.) Kamal then told us that Islam teaches that there is only one way to go to heaven, and that is war. In fact, he shared many “facts,” the full effect of which was to convince the audience that Islam is purely demonic. Indeed, numerous references were made to “the darkness,” “the enemy,” and “false idols,” oblique enough to avoid outright outrage, but obvious enough to anyone more than half awake.With biting humor, Moghul added that "I’m not saying Kamal Saleem is definitely a fraud; it may simply be that he was raised by one of the dumbest Muslim families in the world." Taking a more serious tone, Moghul argued that Lou Engle's choice of this man as a speaker was disingenuous, thereby revealing Engle's Islamophobic agenda.
Stressing his Muslim credentials, Kamal said that one of his uncles was “the holiest of holies,” the Muslim Pope. There is no Muslim Pope, though to be fair, Kamal’s uncle might just have been lying to the poor boy. Kamal then told us that he was recruited by the Muslim Brotherhood and the PLO (a secular organization) and went on his first mission into Israel—we’re assuming that this was a military operation—at the age of seven. At the age of eight, he went on his second mission. Years later, when he first met Christians in America, Kamal was repulsed. His initial reaction was: “I’m allergic to Jesus.” (The audience loved this part.) Unfortunately for the supposed former Muslim, nobody taught Kamal that a Muslim who does not honor Jesus is by the consensus of every school in Islam not a Muslim.
This is not the first time Saleem has made questionable statements about Islam. During a September 20th interview with Rick Warzywak of Transformation Michigan, Saleem made strange comments about Islam in America. In an excerpt posted by Bruce Wilsom of Talk to Action, Saleem made outrageous claims that the president is a Muslim who wants to erect Sharia law in America.
"What we have to fear the most as American nation is Sharia law. Because even our president, he want to bring about Sharia law. He celebrated Eid al-Fitr, which is Ramadan in the White House. Therefore, he's about about to break down Article 6, which is the heart of the Constitution, which is separation of the church and the government. If he breaks this, the Sharia law will be supreme in America ... So in twenty years, America will be completely changing ... We [will] have to abide in a law that will be equal to our Constitution, which will be Islamic laws."What TheCall failed to mention is that several observers have condemned Saleem's message and questioned his account of his past. Saleem, who claims to be a former Muslim terrorist turned Christian, has spoken alongside other alleged terrorists-turned-Christians, such as Walid Shoebat and Zak Anani. When the three men spoke at the U.S. Air Force Academy in 2008, they drew heavy criticism from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation for their depictions of Islam. Reza Aslan summarized some of the doubts surrounding the men's accounts.
Additionally, Saleem's recent talk at the Independence Mayor's Prayer Breakfast drew criticism from some observers for reportedly misrepresenting Islam.* The St. Louis chapter of CAIR urged the Independence mayor to drop Saleem, on account of his reportedly divisive message.
Called a "fraud" and a "con artist" by Chris Hedges, Kamal Saleem has left observers with many questions about his account of his former life. In a review of Saleem's biography, The Blood of Lambs, Doug Howard raised an eyebrow to several of Saleem's claims and apparent gaps in his narrative.
Whether Saleem's claims be true or false, one thing is clear: by inviting such a divisive speaker to preach at TheCall Detroit, the event's organizers revealed a certain distaste toward Islam and an unwillingness to engage with Muslims.
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On the surface, TheCall Detroit's warm rhetoric about Jewish and Christian reconciliation seemed to be another facet of its call for racial harmony, as agenda-soaked as that call might seem. Upon closer inspection, it seemed to me that TheCall Detroit was trying to cast Jews in a larger Christian vision of the kingdom of God. To boot, by inviting a speaker with a history of hostile comments toward Islam, TheCall Detroit also demonstrated that Muslims would not be part of this striving for harmony. Amidst talk of repenting for racist wrongs and fighting bigotry, several groups -- LGBTs and Muslims, most glaringly -- were not included in the vision of reconciliation. This vision of reconciliation would be on right-wing Christian terms.
To read additional commentary, visit the following links.
Talk to Action: Phony Ex-Terrorist Kamal Saleem in Reconciliation Ceremony at TheCall Detroit
Talk to Action: TheCall Detroit: A Window Into 2012 Religio-Political Strategies for Minority Outreach
Religion Dispatches: Jesus, Carpet Bomb My Heart: An Undercover Muslim in Detroit
Sojourners: Why I Don't Heed "The Call"
* For example, the article claims that Saleem said Islam is the only religion that allows slavery, when in fact slavery has been sanctioned by several scriptures, including the the Laws of Manu and the Bible (see here, here, and here for examples).