Bush praises Islam for its 'morality'
By Bill Sammon
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
President Bush yesterday removed his shoes, entered a mosque and praised Islam for inspiring "countless individuals to lead lives of honesty, integrity, and morality." For the second time since the September 11 terrorist attacks, the president yesterday visited Washington's oldest mosque, the Islamic Center, where Muslims from 75 nations gather to worship. Mr. Bush marked the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan by praising Islam as a hopeful religion of mercy and tolerance.
"Islam affirms God's justice and insists on man's moral responsibility," said the president, flanked by a half-dozen imams. "Islam gave birth to a rich civilization of learning that has benefited mankind."
The overture to Muslims came four days after religious broadcaster Pat Robertson said Mr. Bush "ignores history" by not acknowledging that Islam is "violent at its core."
In an interview with The Washington Times last month, Mr. Robertson said he understood the president's political need for support from the Muslim world in the war on terrorism, but said the president should not speak about Islam as a religion and that he "is not elected as chief theologian."
The conservative commentator accused the president of succumbing to "political correctness" by praising the religion of terrorists who attacked America on September 11.
Mr. Robertson repeated that accusation on ABC's "This Week." The host, former Clinton aide George Stephanopoulos called the disagreement "a theological dispute which is driving a political wedge between President Bush and some of his conservative Christian allies."
That characterization was disputed yesterday by the White House.
"This may be an area where they disagree," a senior administration official said of Mr. Bush and his conservative Christian allies. "But there are areas of agreement."
The director of the Islamic Center, Abdullah Khouj, praised the president's visit and told him that it demonstrated "the value of human tolerance, a virtue taught by Islam and practiced here in America."
The president's visit came one day after a Pew Foundation poll found widespread anti-Americanism in some Muslim nations. With the United States preparing for war with Iraq, the administration is eager to mitigate rising tensions on the "Arab street."
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said Mr. Bush "acknowledged the United States has a job to do and we have to bring people together between the United States and the Muslim world."
To that end, Mr. Bush praised American Muslims for "upholding our nation's ideals of liberty and justice in a world at peace."
"Millions of our fellow Americans practice the Muslim faith," said Mr. Bush, a born-again Christian. "They lead lives of honesty and justice and compassion."
Mr. Robertson first criticized Mr. Bush in The Washington Times interview last month.
When Mr. Stephanopoulos reminded him of this quote, Mr. Robertson refused to back down from his assessment of the president's view of Islam.
"It ignores history," he said. "Any student of history knows that it's not a peaceful religion."
"It's violent at its core," he said. "There is absolute virulent hatred of Jews, and the idea that every Jew has got to be killed before the culmination of the age. That's what Islam teaches, and I think that's violent."
Other conservative religious figures have spoken out in recent months against Mr. Bush's frequent statements about the peaceful nature of Islam, including the Rev. Franklin Graham and the Rev. Jerry Falwell, the latter of whom called Islam's prophet Muhammad a "terrorist."
Deputy White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan disagreed.
"The president believes that America is a nation that welcomes people of all faiths — Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and many others," he told The Times. "He's made it very clear that the war on terrorism is not a war about religion. It's a war about good vs. evil."
Mr. Bush is not the only administration official making overtures to Muslims in recent weeks. Others who have participated in Ramadan events include National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans and Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill.