Six surprises from the Islamic ‘Peace Conference’
Surprise no 1: Free tickets were not honoured: We arrived at the Conference on the first morning (Friday) to be told that our free tickets would not be accepted. Thousands of free tickets were printed to be given to non-Muslims to attract them to the conference so they would hear the message of Islam and become Muslims – the conference was really all about da’wah or propagation of Islam. Conference reception staff told us that the Victoria Police had advised that everyone must pay the $50 entry fee. We refused, saying that we had not come prepared to pay $50, since we had free tickets. We said that it was false advertising to issue free tickets and then not to honour them. Eventually a young Muslim reception girl had pity on us and spoke to her supervisors on our behalf and we were let in free.
Surprise no 2: Muslim numbers were low: The organisers had hoped for 20,000 attendees, including 4,000 non-Muslims. However they did not achieve anything like this. The biggest day was Friday, when it was planned that 5,000 Muslims would pray behind the Imam of Mecca who was coming from Saudi Arabia. However news of his coming brought condemnation in the Age, Herald Sun, Australian newspapers and Jewish organisations because he had called for the extermination of the Jews, referring to them as ‘monkeys’, ‘rats’ and ‘the scum of the earth’. Although he never applied for an Australian visa (probably due to this negative publicity), it was not until the night before that the conference organiser announced on their website that he was not coming. Consequently, only 1800 people turned up for the prayers. The other main speaker, a sheik from Kuwait, arrived but fell sick and was not able to attend the conference. Muslims were disgruntled at the high price of the conference, expensive food and carnival rides, and the cancellation of some meetings. Eventually cold driving rain sent people home and kept them away the next day. Meetings set up to hold thousands were attended by a couple of hundred people. If the conference was relying on gate takings for income, it will be in significant financial trouble.
Surprise no 3: Opportunities for Christian witness were high. Over the weekend, a team of 60 Christians turned up to witness to Muslims. The vast majority, by the grace of God, managed to get in free. We had applied for and been given permission to hire stalls and sell or give away Christian literature including Bibles. However this permission was withdrawn by the conference organisers saying they could not guarantee the safety of Christians from radical Muslims inside the Showgrounds. This ban on Christian stalls turned out to our advantage, as it enabled us to spread out, rather than being concentrated in one place. Christians could be seen all over around the conference, making friends with Muslims, asking questions and sharing their faith in Jesus. It soon became obvious, and non-Muslims arriving at the gates were asked by the reception staff: “Are you part of Bernie’s team?” Sometimes conference staff would order Muslims to stop talking to the Christians and send them away. Despite this, we had hundreds of wonderful conversations about Christ throughout the weekend and arranged to meet up with some more open Muslims afterwards.
Surprise no 4: Some Christians got kicked out of the conference. Because of their impact, the Christians came to the attention of the conference organisers. Some high-profile Christians were assigned Muslim ‘taggers’ to follow them around and intervene in their conversations. On the Saturday, one of our Christian team, a former Muslim, rang me (Bernie) in distress. He had been giving out a DVD about Muslims who had come to Christ. Some-one complained and he was surrounded by security guards and the conference organiser who were threatening him. They claimed that this was illegal, as he had no permit to do it. I pointed out that many other people were also giving away brochures and materials. The conference organiser (Abdul Samii) was rude and aggressive. We were marched to the Showgrounds exit by the eight guards, and told we must leave all Christian materials in our car before re-entering. We did so, deciding that a continuing verbal witness was better than no witness at all. Later that day, another of our team had a long conversation with a British man who had converted to Islam, and asked him if he would like a Christian booklet. The man agreed and accepted it, but the man’s Somali wife complained: “My husband became a Muslim and they want to turn him back into a Christian.” Security was called. The Christians asked: “Is Islam is so strong, why are you so scared of a piece of paper?” The conference organiser was hostile and insulting, saying “Get out! Shut your mouth,” to the four Christians. He told the security guards to escort them from the Showgrounds, and they were ejected.
Surprise no 5: The Conference publicly advocated Sharia law including the cutting-off hands for theft, the death penalty, the cruel slaughter of animals, and it did not condemn all terrorism. A woman’s clothing was suggested as contributing to her rape: In an Exhibition hall, a series of pull-up posters outlined aspects of Islamic teaching. One entitled: “Sharia Law” stated that “Like every thriving country follows a constitution, likewise an Islamic state is bound to follow Sharia law.” An illustration of this was given on another poster called “Why follow only Islam?” It stated: “All major religions teach that theft is an evil act. Islam teaches the same. The difference lies in the fact that Islam, besides teaching that robbing is evil, shows a practical way of creating a structure in which people will not rob. … Islam prescribes chopping-off the hand of the convicted robber … [the Qur’an chapter 5 verse 38 is quoted] … America is supposed to be one of the most advanced countries in the world. Unfortunately it also has one of the highest rates of crime, theft and robbery … Suppose [that] every convicted robber has his or her hand chopped-off as a punishment. Will the rate of theft and robbery in America increase, remain the same or decrease? Naturally it will decrease. Moreover the existence of such a stringent law would discourage many a potential robber. Islamic Shariah is therefore practical and achieves results.”
The “Islam & Capital Punishment” poster proclaims the virtues of the death penalty for certain crimes, following the teaching of the Qur’an. It states that “any country following this rule will see their murder rate go down.” In fact, US states which do not practice capital punishment have significantly lower rates of murder than those which do execute criminals.
A poster entitled “Slaughtering animals” promoted the Islamic method of Halal killing which is opposed by the RSPCA as cruel to animals.
Another poster about “Fundamentalists and Terrorists” stated: “Every Muslim is a fundamentalist because he follows the fundamentals of Islam which are the best of the fundamentals any person can follow or practice. No Muslim should be a terrorist if he terrorises other innocent human beings. On the other hand, Muslims are ordered to stand against and fight those who terrorise other innocent human beings as well as animals.” The key phrase is “innocent human beings”. Who decides which people are innocent and which are guilty? British Muslim leader Anjem Chowdary has declared all non-Muslims “guilty”, thus making them legitimate targets for Islamic terrorist attacks. But this IREA poster does not give a definition of who is innocent or guilty.
A poster labelled “Hijab – a solution to rape?” implies that it is the way a woman dresses that contributes to her rape. It promotes Islamic law as the solution to all social problems. “Naturally as soon as Islamic Shariah is implemented positive results will be inevitable. If Islamic Shariah is implemented in any part of the world, whether it is America or Europe, the world will breathe easier.”
Surprise no 6: Protests happened on the last day: On the Sunday morning, a group of about 20 ‘Australian Protection Party’ protestors stood outside one of the Showground gates holding posters saying: “No Sharia Law”, “No Mosques”, and “End Discrimination against Women.” They abused Muslims who were driving into the conference. Eventually they packed up and went home.
We went to the Police and asked if we could display a Christian banner with a positive message “Jesus loves Muslims. So do we” outside the Showgrounds as an alternative. They gave permission for us to do so. We said that we would also give the New Testament (‘Injeel’), which is a holy book in Islam, to anyone who wanted a copy. But the Police advised against it, saying that there might be a violent reaction. So we agreed not to distribute any New Testaments. About eight of us went to the Muslim reception staff at the gate and told them what we were about to do. Some were so happy and excited that they took photos of us with our banner and then agreed to be in the picture with us.
Thank you so much to the many who prayed, gave or came so that this Conference would be a significant witness to Christ. We will continue to pray for Muslims and plan for other Islamic events that will be happening around Melbourne.