What's the religious connection between Islam and the worldwide cult known as the Moonies?
That's why some local Muslims are growing concerned over the relationship the Rev. Sun Yung Moon's Unification Church - popularly known as the Moonies - has forged with prominent Colorado Muslim leader Mohamad Jodeh.
Jodeh, who has served as chairman of the Colorado Muslim Society and is its longtime spokesman, readily admits that since 2001 he has persuaded several Colorado Muslims to attend international interfaith conferences sponsored by Moon's Unification Church.
Moon, a former Korean minister, founded the Unification Church in 1954. Preaching world unification and strong families, he's become known for extravagant mass weddings at which he's performed marriages between thousands of strangers.
Moon also teaches that he is the Messiah, and that Jesus Christ and Buddha, among others, have personally told him so. In recent years he's added the Prophet Muhammad to his list of admirers.
"I am not concerned with his theology," said Jodeh, who has met with Moon several times since 2001 and has attended some mass weddings with his wife, Siham. "I am very strong in my faith. What I admire very much is the emphasis on family and his teaching on marriage and the forbidding of sexual relations before marriage."
Jodeh says he is especially interested in Moon's goal of establishing a religious presence at the United Nations.
"I believe in that," Jodeh said. "It's not for the Unification Church, but to get all religions in."
But Jodeh concedes that local Muslims attending interfaith events were not told of the link with Moon's church. It wasn't relevant - "the conferences weren't about Unification philosophy," he argues, but about interfaith dialogue.
The Unification Church holds such conferences, including one in Denver in 2002, under the auspices of a department called the Interreligious International Federation for World Peace. Jodeh says that group picks up all the conference fees.
But some Muslims became concerned after Ibrahim Kazerooni, a well-known Muslim leader from Lakewood, wrote recently in a local Arab paper about his "disappointment and revulsion" over finding out the true nature of the "Faith and Family" conference he was invited to in Washington, D.C., in December.
"The whole show seemed to be nothing but self-glorification of the founder of that organization, Rev. Moon, and a few of his associates," Kazerooni wrote.
Kazerooni was disturbed that Moon's treatises quote the Prophet Muhammad as endorsing Moon - "I desire that Muslims study Unification principle," said one statement - which Muslims consider blasphemous, since the prophet himself is considered the last and greatest of God's messengers.
Kazerooni said Thursday that he had been invited to the conference by a Christian friend. He said he complained about the ties to Moon to his friend and to Jodeh, who also attended.
Rima Barakat, a member of the Colorado Muslim Society, said she was invited by Jodeh to attend a "Peace and Reconciliation" conference last summer in Jerusalem between Palestinians and Israelis.
Born in Jerusalem - as was Jodeh - and deeply interested in interfaith issues, Barakat said she was on her way there to visit family anyway and agreed to attend the two-week conference.
Once there, Barakat said, "What got my attention was there were a lot of Koreans and Japanese - I didn't know they had such an interest in the Middle East. Then I started hearing the name 'Moon' all the time."
Increasingly puzzled, Barakat said that at one point, she got on the stage and asked the audience, "Why are there no Palestinians or Israelis here?"
"I was asked to get off the stage," she said. When she later questioned Jodeh, who also was attending, "he said he would explain later."
Since then, Barakat and Jodeh have not spoken, but Jodeh questions Barakat's authority to criticize because she's "a newcomer" at the Colorado Muslim Society.
Barakat, a businesswoman who has been in the United States for 17 years, agrees she became heavily involved in the society only a few years ago. But she says that's not a reason why she shouldn't be concerned that Muslims could be drawn into unwittingly supporting a philosophy at odds with Islam.
"Moon himself has declared he wants to establish a world religion where everybody believes in his messianic mission," Barakat said. "I have no problem if he says he's the sun, the moon and the universe, but I do have a problem if the Muslim community doesn't know what's being done in his name."
Jodeh says that from now on he "may go into more detail" before signing up people for conferences. Barakat wonders if that's enough.
"In my opinion, the followers of Moon are using familiar friendly faces (like Jodeh's) to infiltrate societies," she said. "Now they are focusing on us, under the pretense of peace and humanitarian work."