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“Islamic Society reaches out to other faiths”
by - Robert King   
June 22nd, 2009

D.C. convention to feature popular pastor; area group hopes Obama will attend

The Plainfield-based Islamic Society of North America is holding out hope President Barack Obama might make an appearance at its convention this year in Washington, D.C., over the Fourth of July weekend.

But even if Obama doesn't show, the nation's largest Muslim organization already landed a high-profile guest: Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren.

He will join a panel discussion that is the main session of a four-day convention expected to attract 40,000 Muslims from across the country. Warren will be joined on the panel by Islamic Society President Ingrid Mattson and noted Muslim scholar Hamza Yusuf, among others.

"We are living in a pluralist country. It is critical for us to have positive relationships with people of other faiths," said Sayyid Syeed, a longtime leader with the Islamic Society who focuses on building the organization's interfaith ties. "(Warren) realizes that it is equally critical for him to work with people of other faiths."

Syeed invited Warren during a gathering they attended last year at the White House. Since then, the Islamic Society has introduced Warren to Muslim groups in California, where his 20,000-member church is based.

Warren was unavailable for an interview, said Kristin Cole of A. Larry Ross Communications, which handles his media contacts.

While an appearance by the nation's most prominent evangelical pastor at a gathering of its oldest Muslim organization might seem an unlikely pairing, scholars and observers from various perspectives say it makes sense.

"ISNA is very interested in extending their connections with Protestant groups," said Rafia Zakaria, an Indiana lawyer and associate editor at, a Web site that looks at Muslim issues. "Having a figure as high profile as him gives them legitimacy to extend those kinds of alliances with church groups that have a significant amount of power in the United States."

In the past two years, the Islamic Society has forged friendships with the Union of Reform Judaism and the American Baptist Churches, USA.

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