WASHINGTON (BP)–Thousands of Muslims gathered Sept. 25 on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol for prayer in what may have been the first such event of its kind at the site.
Although organizers announced on the “Islam on Capitol Hill” website their expectation of a gathering of 50,000, the attendance appeared to be no more than 7,000 to 8,000. The U.S. Capitol Police do not make crowd estimates, a spokeswoman told Baptist Press.
The event included recitations from the Qur’an, a sermon and the Friday prayer observed by Muslims. Those attending sat segregated by gender on the ground facing east toward the Capitol and Mecca, the sacred site of Islam in Saudi Arabia.
During his sermon, Abdul Malik encouraged Muslims while trying to reassure Americans of their support for this country.
“I want the American people to know: We love you…. America, this is our country. We are with you,” said Malik, a New York imam who plans to move soon to Washington to serve as chief executive officer of Islam on Capitol Hill.
America “is one of the best places in the world to live,” Malik said. “What we have done here today we couldn’t do in any Muslim country.”
Malik made it clear Islam would seek to make converts.
“America, I announce to you, it is my intention to invite your children to the worship of one God,” he said. “It is my intention to remove every idol from every place — nothing physical. It is a confrontation of ideas, because, brothers and sisters, the most powerful weapon you have in your hand … is truth.”
The prayer event was an attempt to show Americans that Muslims do not hate the United States, an organizer told The Washington Post beforehand, referencing a perception shared by some in the aftermath of the Islamic terrorists’ attacks in 2001.
Malik said President Obama inspired the event by his comments about Islam in speeches, but he said the president had nothing to do with organizing or sponsoring it.
On the eve of the Muslim prayer service, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said on a conference call by Christian leaders everyone has a right to gather in the nation’s capital, but he and others are concerned about the focus of the Muslim prayers.
During an “Urgent Call to Prayer” Sept. 24 prompted by the Muslim event, Perkins asked, “Are they praying for the wellbeing of our nation? There’s been a lot of silence in the Islamic community when America and Americans have been attacked by acts of terror from the Muslim community. We would hope that we would hear from the Muslim community that these acts of terror are not going to be tolerated, and denounce them.”
Perkins further called on Christians to evangelize the Muslim community and to pray for their eyes to be opened to the truth.
“That’s the only thing that’s going to stop radical Islam — the love of Jesus Christ and the Gospel that sets people free,” he said.
Speaking on the same conference call, Shirley Dobson, chairman of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, expressed concern about the country’s condition and urged action.
“Many of you realize as I do that we’re living in very perilous and troublesome times,” Dobson said before quoting 2 Chronicles 7:14.
“I think our problem is with the people of God. It’s not with the darkness, it’s with the light. We’re not being the light that we should be. We’re not spending the time in prayer and we’re not taking action in the culture — godly action against some of these issues that we’re seeing,” she said.
Dobson voiced a need for Christians to rise up and cover the nation in prayer, asking for God’s intervention in the affairs of men.
“O Lord God, we are so troubled at what we’re seeing going on in our nation. We’re watching the foundations crumble. You said in Your Word if the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” she prayed. “Well, we know what we can do, Lord. We can pray because we know that prayer touches Your heart and it moves Your hand. And, Lord, we need an intervention in our country. Lord, we need a revival. We need a turning back of God’s people to their first love, to the foundations on which this country was built.”
Dobson went on to pray for President Obama, that God would bring Christians into his life who would be bold in their witness and set an example for him, confronting him on issues where his stances are unbiblical.
Perkins said he is disturbed by what is happening in the United States, where the church has backed away from being salt and light.
“I think this could be a wakeup call for the church that if we do not fill the void that’s in this nation with the truth, it will be filled with something else,” Perkins said.
During the Sept. 25 Muslim event on Capitol Hill, some Christians gathered nearby to preach and share the Gospel of Jesus. Some spoke during the service by bullhorn from across the street. Others sought to share the Gospel with individual Muslims. Some gathered in prayer for the salvation of Muslims.
Muslims from such states as New York and New Jersey attended, as well as at least one from Los Angeles.
Compiled by Baptist Press Washington bureau chief Tom Strode, with reporting by Erin Roach and Cindy Ortiz.