Monday, August 25, 2008
By PETE BISHOP
FORT MYERS — The theological disagreements weren’t resolved but the atmosphere remained civil during a debate between a Muslim imam and a Christian evangelist at First Assembly of God Church in Fort Myers on Sunday night.
“It went better than I expected,” Imam Mohamed Al-Darsani said after the two-hour debate. “We connected with people, we started a conversation and I hope we can keep that conversation going.”
About 3,000 attended the event, which was organized by the church and WRXY, a local Christian television station.
The debate was scheduled after Al-Darsani saw one of Pastor Reza Safa’s programs on WRXY and approached station manager Paul Lodato to ask for equal time.
Based in Tulsa, Okla., Safa is a former Shiite Muslim who converted to Christianity about 20 years ago. He is founder of World Harvest Ministries and TBN Nejat TV.
Al-Darsani is the founder and imam of the Islamic Center for Peace in Fort Myers.
He regularly organizes interfaith programs at the center and with Christian churches and Jewish temples in this region.
During the debate, Safa used his personal experience to stress the lack of “salvation” in Islamic theology and the religion’s emphasis on earning entry into heaven through good works.
Using verses from the Koran as evidence, he also said the religion is hostile toward Christians.
“If there’s so much love for Christians, how come there is not a single Islamic nation that allows Christians to practice their faith in freedom?” he asked.
Darsani said Safa was using a “cut and paste” approach with the verses, to misrepresent a peaceful religion.
He also stressed that Islam is a religion that shares core beliefs with Judaism and Christianity, and that acts fueled by political feuds should not be used to judge the religion.
“Yes, there are acts of violence and crime, but does that mean Islam is behind it? Crimes are crimes no matter where they happen and who commits them,” he said.
Each clergyman presented his case for one-half hour, then each was given 15 minutes for rebuttal.
Both Safa and Al-Darsani also answered three questions from the audience.