Leading Evangelist in
first ever “Dialogue” with Islamic Scholar
By Melody Fox Ahmed
to R: Luis Palau, Akbar Ahmed, Ambassador Doug Holladay,
Washington, DC: Luis
Palau, an internationally famous Christian evangelist, and
Akbar Ahmed, named the world’s leading authority on
contemporary Islam, met to discuss their faiths in an unprecedented
session hosted by Washington D.C.’s The Buxton Initiative.
The event took place at the home of George Kettle, a prominent
Washingtonian, with about 100 attendees. Some of the notable
guests included Secretary John Dalton, Ambassador John Hanford,
Dr. Sohail Khan and Mr. Gardezi of the Embassy of Pakistan,
Manager of Pakistan International Airlines, Secretary Joe
Reder, Imam Magid, Doug Johnston, DCM Walid Abdelnasser
(Egypt), and Rev. Clark Lobenstine.
Ambassador Doug Holladay chaired and moderated the event.
He introduced the Buxton Initiative to the audience, which
was born when Amb. Holladay and Dr. Ahmed began talking
about their faiths together shortly after 9/11. They became
close friends and acted on their idea to invite others to
join in the Muslim-Christian Dialogue, with the goal of
fostering reconciliation among people from different faiths
Secretary John Dalton introduced Luis Palau, praised him
for his work, and said that “he makes the Gospel clear
and understandable”. Mr. Palau is considered to be
as popular and well known around the world as Billy Graham.
This was the first dialogue session that Mr. Palau has had
with a Muslim.
Imam Mohammed Magid of the All Dulles Area Muslim (ADAMS)
Center introduced Akbar Ahmed as “a voice of modernity,
peace and understanding”. He said that he does not
preach tolerance, but is tolerance. He added that Dr. Ahmed
had opened doors for Muslims living in the US, which has
created bridges of understanding.
Both were asked to discuss three misconceptions that they
feel the other holds about their faith.
Dr. Ahmed emphasized three points that non-Muslims need
to know about Islam. Firstly, the depiction of Islam as
a violent religion is wrong. In essence, it is a religion
of compassion. The problem is that now the world is experiencing
a collapse of morality, and the challenge for Muslims is
to rediscover the compassion fundamental to their religion.
Secondly, he is dismayed by the depiction of Islam as a
satanic religion, when it is Abrahamic at its roots, and
very consciously sees itself as part of the Judeo-Christian
tradition. Dr. Ahmed read Rumi’s “Jesus Poems”
as an example of the reverence that Muslims feel toward
Jesus. Finally, he emphasized that Islam has a global, universal
vision that is unfortunately overlooked in the midst of
violence and terrorism. He quoted the Koranic verses about
different tribes and nations that were created to know each
other, and how Islam sees “no compulsion in religion”.
However, Dr. Ahmed fears that society is at a tipping point
– both morally and environmentally – and knows
that the voice of moderation faces a difficult task in an
age of new intolerance, strict literal interpretations,
and radical sects. Now more than ever, it is fundamental
that Islam’s global outlook be remembered and revitalized.
Author Melody Fox
Ahmed, and husband
Luis Palau emphasized
that Muslims should not confuse Christianity with the West,
especially Europe, in an age when many profess to be Christians
but do not live a spiritual and pure life. He wants to clarify
that Christians do not worship three gods: God chose to
reveal himself as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but
He is only one God. Finally, he spoke of the resurrection
of Jesus and the need to understand this.
Dr. Ahmed emphasized that there is nothing in Islam that
incites violence. The Prophet emphasized love and compassion.
But he also pointed out that Muslims need justice, and there
is much anger at the injustice in the Muslim world today.
He cited the problems in Palestine, Kashmir, and Chechnya
that need to be resolved. Systems are falling apart due
to the effects of globalization, the poor treatment of scholars,
and the cumulative effect of decades of slow decline. He
urged that the spirit of scholarship must be revived in
the Muslim community.
Mr. Palau reprimanded those Christian leaders who denounce
Islam, noting that we all come from Adam and Eve, and were
meant to live among each other. When Dr. Ahmed spoke of
the hurt that Muslims have felt because of abuse of the
Prophet, Mr. Palau said he found it “appalling”
to insult a prophet and that you cannot have dialogue with
Muslims if you attack them. He feels that people are frustrated
and make mistakes when they think they are defending their
religion, which cannot be done by offending or insulting
After the session eloquently moderated by Ambassador Doug
Holladay, members of the audience asked questions.
Nafees Ahmed, Dr. Ahmed’s 15-year-old daughter, asked
Mr. Palau what his advice was for young people to follow
a spiritual life. He urged her to avoid the present superficial
culture, to always analyze her faith and study it by reading
the original texts, and to always show love to others in
spite of disagreements. Nafees invited Mr. Palau to speak
at Walt Whitman High School, where she is a sophomore and
president and founder of the Interfaith Club. Mr. Palau
was delighted to learn of her initiative and replied that
he loved to speak to the young generation, who are our future.
Secretary Reder asked Dr. Ahmed what Americans can do to
win the hearts and minds of Muslims around the world. Dr.
Ahmed stated that the best thing Americans can do is to
“be more American. America stands for democracy, human
rights, and minorities. This resonates in the Muslim world.”
Dr. Ahmed urged the dialogue to continue, noting that it
relates to 1.4 billion people, and is thus far more than
“just a drawing room conversation”. Dr. Ahmed
said that Mr. Palau should visit a mosque so the world and
ordinary Muslims would see their efforts, which need to
be public in both the USA and the Muslim world in order
to have a positive effect. He said that we need to read
more about each other, and finally, we must create friendships
– not just formal dialogues that end, but true friendships
that grow over years and help change and reaffirm our own
Mr. Palau agreed, calling for the need to respect and love
all people, and emphasized that we can be friends without
agreeing on everything. He urged that we should not be afraid
to seek the truth, for the truth is what will set us free.
These comments hold particular relevance in the midst of
the anger, violence, and confusion caused by the recent
publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. The
outrage felt in the Muslim world, and the insensitivity
of the West, clearly shows the lack of understanding that
each culture has of the other. Efforts at public, global
dialogue and understanding must be redoubled, lest we reach
a tipping point from which there is no retreat.