Muslim-Christian Clash Looms Over Islamic Teachings

Pacific Rim Bureau ( - An Australian Muslim organization, seizing on controversial new hate legislation, has brought a complaint against a Christian group it accuses of vilifying Islam. The Christians say all they did was quote from Islamic scriptures.

The Muslim Council of Victoria is acting on behalf of three Muslims who attended a Christian seminar on Islam last March. They claim the seminar incited "fear and hatred" against Muslims.

The complaint to a state legal commission cites an evangelical group called Catch the Fire Ministries, the group's pastor, and the speaker at the seminar - a professor in Islamic studies who moved to Australia from Pakistan to escape persecution for his Christian faith.

Danny Nalliah, the Sri Lankan-born pastor of Catch the Fire, said in an interview the complaint could be a test case of legislation introduced in the state of Victoria at the beginning of this year, which Christian critics at the time vigorously opposed.

Nalliah denied that the seminar speaker, Daniel Scott, had incited hatred against Muslims, and said he was confident the Islamic Council's complaint would fail.

What Scott had done, Nalliah said, was to inform Christians concerned in the aftermath of last September's terrorist attacks in the U.S. about Islam and its teachings, especially the Koran.

"Most Christians don't have a clue about what's happening in the Middle East and what the Muslims want to do in other nations," Nalliah said.

"We can't brand all Muslims as fundamentalists ...maybe only five percent of Muslims are fanatics, but the ultimate authority of all Muslims is the Koran."

Scott, whom he said was "a walking encyclopedia on Islam," had quoted from the Koran - a book he said many Muslims had never read extensively themselves - and from other texts revered by Muslims.

Nalliah said the three complainants, who had come to the seminar uninvited, had apparently taken offense.

He noted that two of the three were recent converts to Islam, and it was possible they did not know the Koran well themselves, and so had obviously been surprised at what they heard.


In its complaint, the Islamic Council alleges that the seminar audience was told, among other things, that Muslims were lying when they said they wanted peace, that Mohammed "taught that Jews were bad," and that Muslims are killed by other Muslims if they leave the Islamic faith. The fact that one of Mohammed's many wives was nine years old at the time their marriage was consummated was also mentioned.

Speaking by phone from Melbourne Thursday, Bilal Cleland, human rights coordinator for the Islamic Council, conceded the seminar speaker had quoted frequently from the Koran and other Islamic texts.

But he likened this to what he said was a Nazi tactic used in Germany in the run-up to World War II.

"The Nazi Party used quotations from the Talmud, but they were taken out of context and used in a hostile way [against Jews]. That's exactly what's happening here."

Cleland said the three Muslims who attended the seminar -- organized by what he called "an extremist group" -- had been "very concerned at the hate and ridicule being incited."

He called the information being delivered "an extremely strange interpretation of Islam."

"We're concerned that a lot of extremist groups are getting onto the bandwagon, turning the war on terrorism into a war on Islam. We're not going to permit that."

Nalliah said he thought the Islamic Council had made a "foolish mistake" by lodging the complaint, as far more ordinary Australians would now become aware of the true nature of Islamic teaching.

Although he did not want the publicity, he said, he would use the opportunity to warn Australians, "We need to be aware about the dangers which Australia could face if we simply accept Islam."

"The whole seminar came into place mainly because of Sept. 11. We aren't saying all Muslims are bad - but the ultimate authority of Islam is the Koran. And if you are looking at whether Osama bin Laden did the right thing, yes, according to the Koran he did the right thing."

Nalliah said he has received backing from churches, and a number of Australian Jews had also contacted him to express their support.

Contentious law

Nalliah said he and many other Christians had objected strongly to plans to introduce the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act, which can impose fines of $3,380 on individuals and $16,900 on groups found to have vilified others on the grounds of religion or ethnicity.

"We said it would not unite the people but divide them," he said. "It think this will be a very big test case. Possibly the [state] government is regretting passing this law, because it has already caused quite a hassle in the community."

A Christian ethical action group called Saltshakers spearheaded opposition to the bill. The group's research director, Jenny Stokes, said Thursday it had argued that offenses such as slander and defamation were already covered by common law provisions.

But the anti-discrimination legislation was trying to "enter the realm of thought, especially in the field of religion."

"This is where we thought the bill would go," Stokes said, referring to the Islamic Council's complaint.

Stokes herself attended the seminar at the center of the protest.

She said the complainants, who had not been present for the entire meeting, had taken a number of points out of context from Scott's detailed study on Islam, based on the religion's texts and the life of Mohammed.

"The idea of the seminar was that the Muslim faith is based on the Koran, and we need to know what the Koran says."

Both Nalliah and Scott have first-hand experience of Islam's approach to Christians. Scott and his wife left Pakistan in 1987, amid persecution after the introduction of Islamic (shari'a) law there.

According to Nalliah, Scott was condemned to death under Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws but had managed to flee the country.

Nalliah, who in the 1990s held meetings with U.S. congressmen during the process leading up to passage of the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, worked in Saudi Arabia for two years from 1995-97.

He said he had had close shaves with security agencies in a country where "you cannot mention the name of Jesus, you cannot have a Bible in your house."