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A Saudi Arabian cleric who prayed to God to “terminate” the Jews and was dropped from a Dec. 19 Florida program amid the ensuing media controversy was subsequently scheduled for an appearance at a similar conference in Toronto, along with the same Florida Muslim leader who had advertised his visit to Orlando.
Dr. Zulfiqar Ali Shah, CEO and chairman of the Universal Heritage Center in Orlando, had listed Sheikh Abdul al-Sudais’ name at the top of the center’s “Islam for Humanity” conference program as a “specially invited guest.”
After media reports in the Orlando Sentinel brought the cleric’s visit to light, his name was removed from the program.
Florida conference leader Dr. S.M. Syeed told media such “misguided imams” should have no place on the podium at an Islamic conference.
“We’re not those who say one thing in public and do another in private,” Syeed said.
As soon as the Orlando “Islam for Humanity” conference was over, however, Shah headed to Toronto to appear as a guest speaker of “Reviving the Spirit of Islam,” a huge conference that drew over 8,000 people and filled the Metro Toronto Convention Center to capacity this past weekend
Also listed as a special guest at the top of the program was al-Sudais.
An official with the conference told WND that due to logistical problems, al-Sudais was not able to conclude his Ottawa engagements in enough time to make it to the Toronto site and address the crowd.
Jeewan Chanicka, media relations director for the Toronto conference, called the sheikh’s absence “unfortunate.”
The Saudi Arabian Embassy in Ottawa had sponsored the cleric’s visit there and offered him as a speaker to the Toronto conference as well. Chanicka said the conference was pleased to receive the offer of al-Sudais as a special guest speaker.
Representatives from the embassy did not respond to WND’s request for comment.
Last April, before 2 million followers, al-Sudais, the chief cleric of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, prayed to God to “terminate” the Jews whom he called “the scum of humanity, the rats of the world, prophet killers … pigs and monkeys.”
Al-Sudais also urged Arabs and Muslims to abandon peace initiatives with Israel.
“We must say farewell to peace initiatives with these people [Jews],” he told worshippers at the Grand Mosque in Mecca.
The sheikh has also characterized Jews as “evil,” “evil forefathers,” a “continuum of deceit,” and full of “tyranny” and “treachery.”
WND asked Chanicka to explain why al-Sudais was invited as an honored guest of a conference slated to promote tolerance and respect.
Chanicka called the sheikh’s remarks “surprising,” adding, “I haven’t heard that myself. Our message is explicit – there’s no room for any kind of racism, especially anti-Semitism – within the parameters of Islam.”
“The purpose of the conference was to revive the authentic Islamic traditions of introspection, respect, tolerance, mercy and active citizenship,” Chanicka said, “and to discuss how can we engage society and become active participants in community affairs.
“Islam should never be about promoting hatred,” he said, adding that the values promoted at the Toronto conference received “resounding applause” from the audience.
The Toronto conference also addressed current fears of Muslims. Chanicka emphasized that while valuing the freedoms of democracy, Muslims after 9-11 have legitimate fears of having their identity mismatched with a terrorist who may have the same name. There are fears of being thrown in jail with no access to a lawyer or communication with loved ones, he said, pointing out that for many immigrants, they felt they had left such scenarios behind.
Chanicka cited the case of Ahmed Kutty, a Canadian cleric who was arrested on Sept. 11, 2003, and detained when he entered the U.S. He was later released after questioning. Some media reports quoted law enforcement as saying their initial suspicion was based on an Islamic Society of North America, or ISNA, business card in Kutty’s possession. A law-enforcement source was quoted as saying the group had been suspected of financing of terrorism.
Chanicka pointed out that ISNA was one of the oldest Islamic groups in North America and complained of media propagating stereotypes and “painting” groups with the “same brush.”
Kutty, a featured speaker of ISNA conferences since 1975, was described by Canadian press as a moderate cleric who had always preached for tolerance and against fanaticism.
WND asked Chanicka, given ISNA’s recurring track record of sponsoring terrorists who have claimed credit for suicide bombings like Hamas leaders Abu Marzuq and Muhammad Salah, as well as speakers like Yusuf al-Qaradawi who support suicide bombing, wasn’t the group itself propagating stereotypes? And how should such groups then be viewed by the public when they fail to disengage from such rhetoric and from the financial support of suicide-bombing operatives?
The media relations representative indicated he had not heard of the mentioned affiliations of ISNA.
“We need to engage in critical discussions, to look within, engage in introspection,” Chanicka said. “We need to go back to the basics of Islam. Islam doesn’t tolerate hate.”
“To discuss human-rights abuses doesn’t make you a racist,” he added.
Toronto Mayor David Miller
The Toronto conference also featured prominent Canadian officials, including Toronto Police Chief Julian Fantino and Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner Giuliano Zaccerdelli, who vowed to protect Muslims.
“The Royal Canadian Mounted Police will not tolerate racism and will not tolerate stereotyping,” he said.
Greater Toronto Mayor David Miller told conference attendees, “Stereotypes are simply unacceptable and we will not allow our city to be governed, or the law to be enforced, based on stereotypes of people.”