Zeshan Bagewadi sings during the opening ceremony of the Islamic Society of North America's annual convention on Friday. Behind him are from left, Mikaeel Jaka, 13, a Boy Scout from Washington, D.C., Syed Naqvi, chairman National Islamic Committee on Scouting and Azhar Azeez, president- elect of ISNA. (Clarence Tabb Jr / The Detroit News)
Detroit— Gov. Rick Snyder said Friday he supports peaceful coexistence between Jews and Muslims in the Middle East, drawing widespread applause at the opening of the Islamic Society of North America’s annual convention.
“We must all work hard to ensure peace at home and around the world,” he said as the country’s largest Islamic organization began its 51st annual conference at Cobo Center. It runs through Sunday.
Snyder also praised local Muslims and Arab-American groups for their work in the community and encouraged convention attendees to continue to overcome and heal divides.
“Thank you for your interfaith efforts with Christian and Jewish organizations,” he added.
Snyder also reaffirmed his support of Israel, saying he believes in the country’s right to exist.
“Let us send a message that peaceful settlements is good for both (Muslims and Jews).”
Imam Mohamed Magid, the president of ISNA, said in his opening remarks that he’s “looking forward to us using this as a platform where we can exchange ideas.”
“We can disagree, but at the end of the day our goal for all of us is to create a prosperous community,” he said.
On Saturday, former President Jimmy Carter will be the keynote speaker at a luncheon and a discussion session that follows. He will address discrimination and violence directed toward girls and women around the world. Muslim leaders at the convention will be invited to sign a declaration for peaceful communities as a way to join the former president’s movement for greater human rights.
Snyder also encouraged the promotion of equal rights for women, one of the topics the conference is expected to address.
“I encourage your organization to work hard to promote equality for women,” Snyder said. “It’s important for all of us to work together so women have equal rights, equal representation and equal pay.”
Among the other conference discussion topics are why culture matters, positive citizenship, responding to hate and intolerance, and working toward unity between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.
The opening ceremony began with a welcome prayer, Boy Scouts hoisting the U.S. and Michigan flags, and then the crowd joining in for the Pledge of Allegiance before a performance of the national anthem.
Snyder’s convention appearance did draw some criticism from conservatives. While ISNA said it represents “mainstream” Muslims, the Clarion Project, a controversial nonprofit activist site, posted an article Tuesday claiming the Indiana-based organization is “highly connected to terror funding.”
Edgar Hopida, communications director for ISNA, has said the allegations are false. The nonprofit research organization Media Matters for America has said the Clarion Project and the article’s author, Ryan Mauro, are not credible sources because of their “virulent history of Islamophobia.”
Speaker Elizabeth Eaton, the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, addressed the controversy.
“I myself received some criticism from my own people for coming here,” Eaton said. “I wish all of those people who would want to talk about extremists ... would have seen those young men posting the colors and saying the pledge and that beautiful singing of the national anthem.”
Eaton urged all people, whatever their religion, to stand up to extremists.
“We have to take responsibility for those in our own community that might be spreading discrimination or hateful speech,” she said. “We cannot allow those voices of extremism to drown out the voices of moderation that represent the best of our religions.”