James McConnell row: Police probe firebrand pastor who called Islam 'spawn of the devil'
Published 22/05/2014 | 10:48
The PSNI is investigating an evangelical preacher who slammed Islam as "spawn of the devil" during a Sunday service.
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness yesterday condemned the remarks made by Pastor James McConnell, who slammed the Islamic faith as "Satanic" and a "doctrine spawned in Hell" at Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in Belfast.
Mr McGuinness called for a full investigation and said Sinn Fein will be raising the matter at the Policing Board.
Police say they are probing a hate crime in relation to the comments which have sparked anger in the Muslim and wider community.
The Belfast Telegraph revealed yesterday that during his Sunday evening sermon Pastor McConnell said: "Islam is heathen, Islam is Satanic, Islam is a doctrine spawned in Hell."
He said his remarks were inspired by hearing the story of pregnant woman Meriam Yehya Ibrahim (26), who has been sentenced to death in Sudan after refusing to recant her Christian beliefs.
Raied Al-Wazzan of the Belfast Islamic Centre said the pastor should apologise for his remarks.
Pastor McConnell has refused, and said he believes he is right.
"No way will I take back my comments. They are not getting it (an apology) because I believe I am right in what I am saying," he said, adding that he was prepared to go to prison for his views.
Sheikh Anwar Mady, who conducts services at the city's mosque, told the Belfast Telegraph that he had received scores of phone calls of support from local people disgusted by Pastor McConnell's remarks.
"We are doing so many things towards having good relationships with other people and faiths in Northern Ireland in general.
"We have shared events with Presbyterian and Catholic churches sharing our opinions and times to promote a better understanding of Islam," he said.
"We run regular courses on Islamic studies for people who are not Muslims – not to convert them, but to give an idea of what Islam is about, particularly the concept of friendship and brotherhood between all the people of the universe. We believe that this reverend is not representing the mainstream in Northern Ireland.
"We have been receiving so many phone calls from people offended by such offensive comments to tell us not everyone in Northern Ireland is like him.
"Even a Presbyterian minister who had never been to the centre before came to show support and solidarity with us."
The imam emphasised that his experience of Northern Ireland since he arrived here in 2006 from London had been positive.
"Generally, the people in Northern Ireland are very welcoming. That's my personal experience, although we receive some reports from some members of our community that sometimes they receive verbal abuse in the street," he said.
Around 400 people attend the Belfast mosque every Friday for the main prayer service of the week in two separate sittings because of space restrictions. It is currently fundraising to acquire or build a new centre to accommodate its whole congregation.
Mr McGuinness called on police to thoroughly investigate the remarks by Mr McConnell.
"This type of hate-mongering must be condemned in the strongest terms," he said.
"Coming in the wake of the recent spate of disgraceful racist attacks against families in parts of Belfast and elsewhere, such inflammatory comments only serve to fuel hatred.
A PSNI spokesman said: "Police are aware of an incident at premises at the Shore Road on Sunday, May 18. Enquiries are continuing, and at this stage police are investigating a hate crime motive."