plan for protests
Hundreds of supporters of Concord-based Operation Save America are expected to gather in the Charlotte area today for a week of events that will include rallies in front of area mosques, abortion clinics and gay and lesbian churches.
On Friday, members of three mosques hosted an interfaith dinner and a news conference geared at educating non-Muslims about Islam and addressing Operation Save America's position about their faith.
Some 200 people, including Christians, Jews, Buddhists and Muslims, gathered at the Islamic Society of Greater Charlotte in northeast Charlotte for a meal designed to strengthen the ties between the Muslim community and those of other religions.
People sat together on the floor and as they ate, they discussed everything from religion to sports.
"The most important thing for us to remember is that we are not far from each other. Islam is a religion of peace," said Ali Khan, a 29-year-old Muslim. "Our religion teaches of peace and friendship for all humanity."
Members of Operation Save America were not invited to the dinner, although Operation Save America leader Flip Benham said he wanted to attend but was told he was not welcome.
"I wanted them to see me and to know ... that there is a God who loves them greatly," Benham said in an interview before the dinner.
Benham said it is Muslims -- not he -- who is intolerant.
"The Muslims ought to be thankful, because if I were to try to go to Saudi Arabia, I am not allowed to practice my religion there, because Islam is absolutely intolerant of any religion but its own."
Benham characterizes Islam as a religion "filled with violence and war."
"The reason they are free to worship here is because we are built upon a foundation of Christ," Benham said. "It wasn't a group of Muslims and Hindus -- it was a group of Christians."
Muslim leaders said they had been planning the dinner for several months, but decided it would be appropriate to hold it the week prior to Operation Save America's visit.
Local Muslims said they wanted to send a message too.
"We felt it was necessary as a Muslim community to wake up and get out there and share our views," said Rose Hamid of the Muslim Women of the Carolinas.
The attention generated by Operation Save America, Hamid said, "has offered us an opportunity to bring our message forward."
At the morning news conference at the International House, local Muslim leaders were joined by supporters, including members of Mecklenburg Ministries, a national spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, as well as city councilwoman Nancy Carter and Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board member Louise Woods.
Islamic Center of Charlotte spokesman Mujahid Idlibi said his group isn't planning any actions for next week because "we feel doing a counterprotest might result in counterattacks. ... We believe he just wants to incite anger out of us."