Evangelist Franklin Graham recently attacked Islam as “a very violent religion” and argued that Americans could not practice “true Islam.” His comments, made last month on CNN, were criticized by Baptist leaders involved with a national effort to promote dialogue between Baptists and Muslims.

During the Dec. 10, 2009, broadcast of Campbell Brown’s program on CNN, Graham equated Islam in general to the version that practices Sharia law, even though many Muslim nations have not implemented such a system and some even have secular constitutions.

Brown interjected that such a form of Islamic governance could “just be one interpretation.” Graham ignored Brown and continued talking about Sharia law as if it were the only model found in Muslim nations.

“I work in Muslim countries all over the world,” Graham stated. “But when you see countries that where they live under Sharia law, Islamic law, where that is the law of the land, Campbell, trust me girl, you don’t want to live there.”

Brown attempted again to broaden Graham’s consideration of Islam by noting that “there’s certainly many people who, you know, define themselves as Muslim who don’t practice in those extremes.”

Graham, however, responded that those people are the ones who “would like to get out of Islam” but cannot because they would be killed under Sharia law. Graham, who is only 57, defended the accuracy of his arguments by claiming, “I’ve been working in some [Muslim] countries for 50 years, Campbell.”

Graham even suggested during the interview that because of Sharia law, Americans cannot be true Muslims.

“[W]e have many Muslims that live in this country,” Graham stated. “But true Islam cannot be practiced in this country. You can’t beat your wife. You cannot murder your children if you think they’ve committed adultery or something like that, which they do practice in these other countries.”

Graham’s recent comments have been criticized by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Nihad Awad, CAIR’s national executive director, also asked Graham to meet “in a face-to-face meeting with representatives of the American Muslim community” so that such “misinformation and misconceptions … could be cleared up.”

Baptist leaders have also voiced their criticism of the remarks uttered by the son of the famous Baptist evangelist Billy Graham.

Bruce Prescott, executive director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists, wondered why a journalist would consider Graham a credible source on Islam.

“I wonder how many Christians would want a fundamentalist imam defining ‘true Christianity’ for a Muslim audience and I wonder how many Christians would be interested in living under ‘Levitical law,'” Prescott wrote in an email to EthicsDaily.com. “I am certain that there are fewer true Muslims who would accept Franklin Graham’s definition of ‘true Islam’ than there are Christians who accept his fundamentalist Baptist understanding of Christianity.”

Robert Sellers, a professor at Logsdon School of Theology, criticized Graham for having “an air of superiority that discounts opinions other than one’s own and acts condescendingly toward those who hold them.”

“This broad-stroke portrayal of a worldwide religious phenomenon as diverse and complex as Islam is both simplistic and misleading,” Sellers wrote in an email to EthicsDaily.com. “Sadly, it plays well with Americans who worry about their own safety or our country’s security because of Islam or who want to spread fear and suspicion about those persons in our midst who are different from the majority of us.”

Noting the statement issued by CAIR, Sellers argued that the “most troublesome” problem with Graham’s remarks is that he “offended American Muslims and, yet again, painted Christians as unloving and disrespectful.”

“As one who is actively involved in Christian-Muslim interfaith relations, who has lived and ministered more than two decades in Indonesia – the largest Muslim country in the world, and who strives to follow the Way of the Prince of Peace, I personally consider these sentiments about Islam and Muslims to be embarrassing and damaging to the cause of Christ around the world,” Sellers added.

Both Prescott and Sellers participated in the first national Muslim-Baptist dialogue held in Boston last year. Prescott appears in the new EthicsDaily.com documentary “Different Books, Common Word.” The documentary is currently airing on ABC-TV stations (a listing of upcoming broadcasts can be found here, and the DVD can be ordered here). Prescott interviewed EthicsDaily.com Executive Director Robert Parham about the film during Sunday’s broadcast of Prescott’s radio program “Religious Talk.”

Graham has been criticized in the past for his comments attacking Islam. In 2001, he called Islam “a very evil and wicked religion.” The following year, he argued that Islam is an inherently violent religion. In 2006, he claimed to have been working in Muslim nations “for 40 years or more” as he defended his previous attacks on Islam.

Brian Kaylor is a contributing editor to EthicsDaily.com.

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