RALEIGH (AP) — The Rev. Franklin Graham, a Christian evangelist whose criticism of Islam has frequently outraged Muslims, said Islam teaches its followers to "persecute" others until they convert, with the aim being "total domination."
Graham's comments, reported in The News & Observer of Raleigh on Monday, came as the evangelist said he plans to rebuild hundreds of churches that have been destroyed by the Sudanese government and its allied militias.
"There's a war taking place against the church of Jesus Christ in Africa," Graham said, arguing that the battle pits Muslims against Christians in countries such as Ethiopia and Sudan, where fighting in the Darfur region has left 200,000 people killed and 2.5 million other homeless.
In the wake of the 2001 attacks on the United States, Graham outraged Muslims in 2001 when he said that Islam "is a very evil and wicked religion." In an interview last March, he told ABC News' "Nightline" that he had not changed his mind about the faith.
In his latest salvo, Graham told The News & Observer: "It's the teaching of Islam that is not tolerant of any other faith."
"It's world domination. When they dominate an area, they'll let other belief systems exist, but they'll persecute them so that (people) convert to Islam and there's total domination. Once you're in Islam you can't get out of it. If you leave Islam you have to be killed," said Graham, who is scheduled to speak in Raleigh Tuesday at a fundraiser for the work in Sudan by his international Christian relief group, Samaritan's Purse.
Graham and other evangelicals say they are particularly opposed to what they say is a lack of religious liberty in countries like Saudi Arabia, which do not allow churches or the preaching of religions other than Islam.
He met with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir three years ago and said he pleaded with him to give Christians full freedom.
Graham, the son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, said he has identified 226 churches destroyed or burned in Sudan and that his group has completed or is building 34. In Sudan, his group has a staff of 21 as well as 100 Sudanese assistants. The project is estimated to cost about $5 million and includes bringing in Christian pastors from Arabic-speaking countries for one-month stays, he said.
The Winston Joseph Foundation, a Raleigh-based organization that has supported economic development projects in Africa, is helping.
The evangelist's comments drew a reply from Islamic scholars. Ebrahim Moosa, a professor of Islamic Studies at Duke University, said the problems to which Graham referred were not as simple as Muslims against Christians and that such a characterization only stokes more problems.
"There are intractable political problems in which religion becomes a language to express political grievances," Moosa said. "It's an abuse of religion."
Graham, however, said he bears no ill will to Muslims.
"As a minister," said Graham, "I love the Muslim people. I see what's done in the name of Islam and think it's my responsibility to speak out. I think God loves them as equally as he loves me. I think he wants them to know the truth."