While saying he is called to love people regardless of their faith, evangelist Franklin Graham on Sunday wouldn't back away from his recent statement on a national news program that Islam "is a very evil and wicked religion."
In a prepared statement released to The Observer through a spokesman, Graham said his Samaritan's Purse ministry in Boone will continue providing millions of dollars in aid to Muslims in need around the world. But he did not take back the controversial comments aired Friday night on "NBC Nightly News" and repeated on cable stations.
Those pieces were based on an interview Graham gave last month near Wilkesboro, at the dedication of a chapel in his parents' name, when he said: "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."
In his prepared statement Sunday, Graham said: "It is not my calling to analyze Islam or any other religions, though I recognize that all religions have differences. In the past, I have expressed my concerns about the teachings of Islam regarding the treatment of women and the killing of non-Muslims or infidels."
Graham, 49, does not plan to comment publicly on the issue, and only will release Sunday's statement in response to questions.
His response comes a day after his ministry's Operation Christmas Child began processing 1 million shoe boxes in Charlotte for needy children overseas - including thousands destined for largely Muslim nations.
His comments were challenged by former Charlottean Ali Akber, who helped organize a meeting between local Jews and Muslims after Sept. 11, before he relocated to Maryland.
"That's spreading hatred," said Akber. "It is the same God. We just don't worship the same way. We all believe in God and charity and worshipping and not doing any evil."
Franklin Graham's views run counter to those expressed on Sept. 17 by President Bush, who called Islam "a faith that brings comfort to a billion people around the world."
It also stands in contrast to the message delivered by Graham's father at the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance service at the National Cathedral in Washington, on Sept. 14. "We come together today to affirm our conviction that God cares for us, whatever our ethnic, religious or political background may be," Billy Graham preached. "The Bible says that he is `the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles.'"