A Pittsburgh-area lawmaker's inflammatory remarks about how Muslims do not believe in Jesus drew rebukes yesterday, including ones from Gov. Rendell and the head of a national Muslim group at the center of the controversy.
State Rep. Darryl Metcalfe refused to apologize for the comments he made on the floor of the House on Wednesday and insisted they were taken out of context.
At issue are remarks Metcalfe made in opposing a resolution recognizing the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community U.S.A., a religious organization founded in 1889 that is holding its 60th annual national convention in Harrisburg this weekend.
"The Muslims do not recognize Jesus Christ as God and I will be voting negative," said Metcalfe (R., Butler), one of the legislature's leading conservative voices.
After Metcalfe's objection, the House postponed a vote on the resolution and sent it back to the State Government Committee. Whether the resolution ever comes up for a vote is problematic: the Muslim convention begins today.
Metcalfe spent much of yesterday conducting interviews in an attempt to fully explain his earlier words, which were seized upon by the media.
Metcalfe said he rose to oppose the resolution based on a passage in it that equated the group's spiritual leader, Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, with William Penn and his desire to "gain love and friendship by a kind, just and peaceable life, and to establish a society that was godly, virtuous and exemplary for all of humanity."
"William Penn and the founding fathers believed that Jesus Christ is God and Muslims do not," Metcalfe said yesterday. "I just stated what was factual. You won't find a Muslim in the world that would say Jesus is God."
Metcalfe, 45, of Cranberry Township, north of Pittsburgh, was first elected to the House in 1998. He has gained attention in recent years for his staunch conservative stand on issues in Harrisburg, including becoming the legislature's most vocal anti-immigration advocate.
Metcalfe also said he challenged the resolution because most lawmakers were told about it only hours earlier and asked to cast a vote without the chance "to do due diligence."
"Nobody knew what this group was," he said.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community claims a membership of 70 million in 189 countries. Its U.S. branch is based in Silver Spring, Md. The sect is controversial for its belief that its Indian founder, Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam, is the Messiah, awaited not only by Muslims but by Christians, Jews, and members of other faiths.
In themselves, Metcalfe's comments were "a form of extremism," said Ahsanullah Zafar, the U.S. group's president. Yet he tried to downplay the remarks as an estimated 10,000 group members were traveling from all parts of the nation to Harrisburg for the three-day convention.
Metcalfe, he said, "is passionate about his views of the divinity of Jesus Christ and he is being guided by that in a very strong fashion," said Zafar. "He is entitled to that but I hope and pray that he comes around to accepting that others have different views of Jesus Christ. (MORE)