Islam: Separating Fact From Fiction Free Event in Sunnyvale, Aug. 22

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truthislam_1In an era of misinformation prompting fear and wondering about Islam and Muslims, a Sunnyvale church is hosting a free community dinner and discussion on Thursday, Aug. 22, featuring a Silicon Valley “Woman of Influence” who is the founder of a national Islamic outreach group, and a local Christian author of a new book on Islam.

The goal of  “Islam: Separating Fact From Fiction”, taking place at 6:30 p.m., inside Fellowship Hall at Sunnyvale Presbyterian Church, 728 W. Fremont Ave., is to help people better understand their estimated 300,000 Muslim neighbors and coworkers here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Speakers Maha ElGenaidi, founder of Islamic Networks Group (ING), and Ben Daniel, a local Presbyterian pastor and author of The Search for Truth About Islam; A Christian Pastor Separates Fact From Fiction, will speak and answer audience questions.

Advanced registration is encouraged. Register at https://islamfactfromfiction.eventbrite.com. [Read more…]

‘Unprovoked Violence is Incompatible with Islam’

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truthislam_1With at least one news report of a Muslim woman being physically and verbally attacked in Boston after the Boston Marathon bombings—and as the news media continues to speculate as to the motivations of the two brothers from Chechnya suspected of planting the bombs—it’s important to remember that acts of terror are aligned with the political leanings of a few, and not with the religious beliefs of more than one billion Muslims worldwide. That is one of the main points in a new book about Islam by San Jose pastor and author Ben Daniel.

In Daniel’s new book, The Search for Truth About Islam; A Christian Pastor Separates Fact From Fiction, he devotes an entire chapter to what he says is the, “mythic narrative that equates Islam with all that is violent, oppressive, repressive, and vile.”

He told an audience at a book reading in San Mateo on April 6,  that the chances of a randomly selected Muslim being a terrorist are “less than shuffling a deck of cards and dealing a straight flush.” While it’s possible, he said, the odds are extremely long.

Terrorism is related to political and nationalistic leanings, he said, and not religious beliefs. In the book he writes, “(I)t would be impossible to overstate the extent to which religious violence lies outside the mainstream of Islam.” From his own research, he found that Muslims from all over the world, “insist that unprovoked violence is incompatible with Islam.” [Read more…]

‘There is Nothing to be Afraid of,’ Pastor Says in New Book About Islam

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ben-daniel-search-for-truth-about-islam-book-reach-and-teach-by-pam-marino-good-neighbor-storiesYou wouldn’t think the bastion of American TV motherhood, Donna Reed, would play into an impassioned argument in favor of people being less afraid of their Muslim neighbors. And yet, she does, as the role model and aunt of San Jose Presbyterian pastor Ben Daniel.

Daniel is the author of the recently released book, The Search for Truth About Islam; A Christian Pastor Separates Fact From Fiction. He told an audience in San Mateo on Saturday, May 4, that his Aunt Donna hired writers for her 1958-1966 show who were blacklisted during the McCarthy Era.

It was a bold move, since in the era of heightened fears about Communism, Reed exposed herself to being labeled a Community sympathizer, and possibly shut out of a career in Hollywood.

Just as his Aunt Donna’s brave actions helped allay America’s fears of Communists, either real or suspected, Daniel wants to allay the fears of today’s Americans.

“I want to be someone who is able to calm our fears. And that’s one of the most important things I hope comes out this book,” he said. “I hope I’m able to calm Americans’ fear of about Islam. Because, we are afraid of Muslims, and there is actually a lot of correlation between our fear of communism in the 1950s and our fear of Islam today.” [Read more…]

Outsiders or Neighbors? Pastor Seeks to Humanize Immigrants

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Who is a neighbor? Is it the person one knows and understands, or is it the outsider who looks and speaks differently?

Presbyterian Pastor Ben Daniel tackles those questions in a new book he wrote that explores the spiritual reasons why undocumented immigrants should be extended friendship, not shunned.

In Neighbor; Christian Encounters With ‘Illegal’ Immigration, Daniel makes the case that immigrants – no matter their status – are neighbors who should be embraced as newcomers who have the potential to bless the community.

“In my life I have been blessed by immigrants, not because I bless them, but because they bless me,” Daniel said in an interview at a San Jose café. The city is home to a large population of immigrants from around the world, including Mexico.

From harvesting the food Americans eat, to contributing an estimated $9 billion per year into the Social Security system, to the possible “life-giving” friendships for individuals, undocumented immigrants are a blessing, according to Daniel.

The book also brings up a point seldom ever mentioned in debates: many of the undocumented immigrants come north guided by a deep faith in God. The immigrants may come for secular reasons, such as economics or politics, but it becomes a spiritual journey as they ask God to bless them and protect them along the way.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) pastor wrote the book mainly for churches and individual Christians, with the hopes they will leave behind misconceptions and prejudices by humanizing immigrants, not politicizing them. However, anyone interested in the issue will find interesting insights.

“As a people of faith, we cannot compartmentalize our lives,” he said of Christians’ responsibility in how they treat undocumented immigrants. “(Our faith) doesn’t stop when we encounter people we don’t know, or who break immigration laws, or who don’t speak our language.”

Writing the book came out of a life lived with and among immigrants for most of his adult life. Daniel serves as pastor of Foothill Presbyterian Church, in East San Jose; the congregation includes people from more than 20 countries. At home he and his wife Anne are parents to three children, two of whom are immigrants, and they are foster parents to a young woman who came to the United States as a refugee.

As a high school senior on the northern coast of California he helped translate for an El Salvadoran refugee family. Later he served seven years on the fundraising board of Presbyterian Border Ministry, a bi-national organization supported by the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico.

Neighbor is not a policy book – although it does discuss policy and policy changes that Daniel believes are necessary – but rather a look at the spiritual and human sides of the immigration debate.

In looking at the spiritual reasons undocumented immigrants make often tortuous, and sometimes deadly, border crossings, Daniel likens them to modern day Pilgrims, spiritual travelers. And because these travelers rely on God for guidance, Daniel argues Christians in turn need to walk with them.

“If God is walking with immigrants as they ford the Rio Grande, if God accompanies undocumented folks through the fiery heat of the desert, them perhaps American Christians need to walk with immigrants as well – not just to influence public policy, but to strengthen our faith and to deepen our spiritual connection to the Divine,” he writes.

The book includes Daniel’s interviews with Representative Zoe Lofgren, D-CA., representing the 16th Congressional District in San Jose, about immigration reform, and conservative New Mexico District Judge Robert C. Brack about the human cost he sees in his courtroom. Although the two are on opposite ends of the political spectrum, they shared a common interest in the passage of what Brack called “compassionate and humane immigration laws.”

Daniel also includes many stories of people he has encountered, including Christians involved in border ministries, a woman separated from her children living in sanctuary at a church in Southern California, and an educator making a difference with charter schools that were in part developed by undocumented immigrants living in Daniel’s own neighborhood.

When asked what obligation churches and Christians have when it comes to immigration, Daniel said, “We need to speak up on behalf of immigrants in light of immigration policy and a society that doesn’t see immigrants as fully human.”

Later he said, “Whatever Christians think about policy issues, I hope they will take away the knowledge that immigrants are our brothers and sisters in Christ … As human beings they bear the image of Christ; they are icons of Christ.”

Daniel  – who also blogs for the Huffington Post and regularly contributes to a local NPR affiliate – is not shying away from complex national debates. He’s working on another book due out next summer that he hopes will humanize Muslims as he attempts to do with undocumented immigrants in Neighbor.