On August 10, a symposium called “Is Islam a Religion of Peace?” was held at the Eastern Michigan University Student Center. The event was sponsored by Ave Maria Radio, a syndicated Catholic radio station based in Ann Arbor. Speakers included Robert Spencer, author and director of anti-Islam blog Jihad Watch, in the featured debate against Shadid Lewis of the Muslim Debate Initiative in the US, and the event concluded with a Mass celebrated by the Rev. Earl A. Boyea, bishop of Lansing.
“The phrase ‘Islam is a religion of peace’ is often cited but rarely argued for,” Al Kresta, president and CEO of Ave Maria Communications, said in a statement to The Eastern Echo. “Looking over the Muslim dominated world, it doesn’t appear that Islam is a religion of peace. If it is or isn’t the case must be made and not assumed.”
The appearance of Spencer in the debate has caused a minor stir due to his reputation for having extreme views. Jihad Watch has been designated an active anti-Muslim group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and according to the Detroit Free Press, Spencer was banned from entering the United Kingdom in June due to “what the British government said was his association with hate groups.”
Dawud Walid, the executive director of the Dearborn-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, expressed his disappointment with Boyea for his involvement with the event.
“I don’t believe that he would hold Mass at an event driven by a neo-Nazi or a skinhead,” Walid said. “Spencer is in the same category according to many in the civil rights community. We hope that the bishop will not give de facto support to this event, which the Michigan Muslim community does not support in any form.”
Still, Kresta hoped the debate would spark a healthy discussion.
“The Catholic Church teaches that rational discussion is vital for the common good and social harmony,” Kresta said. “We believe in civil debate. While our differences may be irreconcilable, yet they can be understood and respected in the public square. We cannot patronize those with whom we disagree. Love requires that we listen.”
In a statement in the Detroit Free Press from EMU, the university did not sponsor, promote or provide financial support to the event.