WASHINGTON -- California megachurch pastor and best-selling author Rick Warren spent his Independence Day here in the nation's capital addressing the largest Muslim organization in North America.
The evangelical megachurch pastor and author of The Purpose Driven Life, addressed a packed house at the 46th annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), an event which regularly draws 30,000 attendees.
Warren called on the world's two largest religions to partner in addressing global injustices like poverty and war. Warren emphasized interfaith action, not just interfaith dialogue.
"I like that for him it's not just about talking together, but about accomplishing something together," said Farhana Ahmed, 25, who heard the speech in its entirety. "With that, you have more interaction and relationship. You can talk forever and not get anywhere."
Ahmed's husband, Rafi Khan, 26, said he appreciated that Warren understood Muslim Americans seek not just to be tolerated, but to be respected.
Nadia Nawaz, an ISNA attendee, is a kindergarten teacher in Orange County, near Warren's 24,000-member Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif.
While she left early to see the show on Capitol Hill, she said Warren "made really good points about working together for peace, giving a message of unity."
Critics blasted Warren's appearance, but the minister has not shied from disagreeing with fellow evangelicals, either about his prayer at President Obama's inauguration or his talk at the Muslim Public Affairs Council in December of 2008.
He addressed the criticisms in his speech: t
"It's easier to be an extremist of any kind because then you only have one group of people mad at you," he said, according to the Associated Press. "But if you actually try to build relationships -- like invite an evangelical pastor to your gathering -- you'll get criticized for it. So will I."
Warren's talk was followed by a panel discussion that included Hamza Yusuf, a California-based Islamic scholar, and Yusuf Islam, who recorded music under the name Cat Stevens.
While publicity ignited before the speech, the actual event had some competing fanfare. The speech kicked off 40 minutes late, and just in time for the Fourth of July fireworks on Washington's National Mall.
Several conference attendees said they left halfway through in order to catch the patriotic display.