Evangelist Franklin Graham stood by remarks he made in 2001 calling Islam a “very evil and wicked religion” in an interview aired Wednesday night on ABC’s “Nightline” program.

Graham, heir to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and head of the international relief agency Samaritan’s Purse, rebuffed offers by Muslim leaders to meet with him and try to get him to change his mind about Islam as attempts to “indoctrinate me.”

“I know about Islam. I don’t need an education about Islam,” he said. “I’ve been working in Muslim countries now for 40 years or more. So I know about Islam.”

“If people think Islam is such a wonderful religion, then go to Saudi Arabia and make it your home,” Graham said. “Just live there. If you think Islam is such a wonderful religion, go and live under the Taliban somewhere. Children, women cannot be educated, and if they weren’t dressed a certain way they were beaten. If a woman was caught in bed with another man they pulled them out into the street and shot them in the head with an AK.”

Graham’s comments were aired on the heels of controversial comments by televangelist Pat Robertson describing radical Muslims as “satanic” and charging that the goal of Islam is “world domination.”

An American Muslim leader called on mainstream religious and political leaders to repudiate Robertson, saying failure to do so would send the false message that most Americans share his views.

Nihad Awad of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said unchallenged statements of anti-Muslim rhetoric are “poisoning the public’s attitude toward ordinary American Muslims,” citing two recent polls showing growing percentages of Americans believe Islam is a violent religion.

Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics said neither Robertson nor Graham “show much familiarity with the largest bulk of Jesus’ moral teachings which are found in the Sermon on the Mount.”

“If they would hear and follow Jesus’ teachings, then they would halt their anti-Islamic diatribes,” Parham said. “The Sermon on the Mount is crystal clear about peacemaking, loving enemies, doing good to others, striving after God’s kingdom and practicing discernment. Regrettably, fundamentalist Christians ignore the Sermon on the Mount, because it is not a manual for war-making, which is at the heart of Christian crusades.”

Asked in Wednesday’s broadcast about hundreds of millions of Muslims in places like Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, India and the United States, who don’t live in extreme settings, Graham responded “it’s the teaching” of Islam that is the problem.

“There are millions and millions of Muslims that I believe would like the freedom to choose, but under Islam they cannot,” he said. “You do not have that freedom to choose. You have to stay in Islam.”

Unlike totalitarian Islamic leaders, Graham said he doesn’t want to force anyone to become a Christian. “I want to win someone through persuasion, through conversion, not through force,” he said. “I want Muslims, I want Hindus, I want Buddhists, I want people of all religions of the world, I want them to know the truth that I know. And that is the only way to God is through Jesus Christ.”

Graham also said he doesn’t believe Hurricane Katrina was God’s judgment on New Orleans, but Satan might have been behind the disaster, destroying not only homes but churches as well.

“If God was going to use a hurricane to judge sin,” Graham said, “there might be other places he would like to strike first, like maybe [Las] Vegas.”

Graham angered Muslims following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks when he told NBC News: “We’re not attacking Islam but Islam has attacked us. The God of Islam is not the same God. He’s not the son of God of the Christian or Judeo-Christian faith. It’s a different God, and I believe it is a very evil and wicked religion.”

Some religious leaders criticized anti-Islamic comments by Graham and other religious leaders, saying they could endanger missionaries living in Muslim lands, strain interfaith relations and make it appear the U.S.-led war on terrorism was a crusade against Islam.

The Nashville, Tenn.,-based BCE, Parham said, has a clear record of “stepping up often to speak against demonizing Muslims and to speak for following the Sermon on the Mount.”

Parham said the Christian community “needs to hear the deep concern and perception within the Islamic and Arab communities about American Christianity” not doing enough to counter inflammatory comments that degrade people of other faiths.

“Perhaps American Christian clergy should speak this Sunday about another way, away from Robertson and Graham toward the Sermon on the Mount,” Parham suggested. “Perhaps clergy should include in their pastoral prayer a reminder of the kind of talk about which the Apostle James wrote—civil, controlled, constructive speech.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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