WASHINGTON (BP)–President Bush has attempted to distance himself from some prominent Christian leaders’ descriptions of Islam as a violent and evil religion.
Some statements about Islam “do not reflect the sentiments of my government or the sentiments of most Americans,” Bush told reporters at the White House Nov. 13. “Islam, as practiced by the vast majority of people, is a peaceful religion, a religion that respects others. Ours is a country based upon tolerance … and we welcome people of all faiths in America. And we’re not going to let the war on terror or terrorists cause us to change our values.”
Speaking prior to a meeting with United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, Bush also said the “war against terror is a war against individuals whose hearts are full of hate. We do not fight a religion.”
Among conservative Christian leaders who have attacked Islam’s teachings or practices since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks by Muslim terrorists are Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and Franklin Graham. Bush’s remarks came two days after the latest public criticism of Islam was expressed in televised comments by Robertson.
On the Nov. 11 edition of “The 700 Club,” Robertson said what Islamic writings and teachings say about Jews “is worse than the Nazis. Adolf Hitler was bad, but what the Muslims want to do to the Jews is worse. Those people want to destroy Jews. The Koran teaches that the end of the world will not come until every Jew is killed by the Muslims.
“Somehow I wish the Jews in America would wake up, open their eyes and read what is being said about them.”
The president has frequently described Islam as a peaceful religion since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. This time, Bush went a step further and made clear he rejected the comments by some of his prominent supporters among religious conservatives.
Some administration officials and foreign friends “believe that not specifically rejecting these remarks is tantamount to accepting them, and the president wanted to address this head-on,” a senior White House aide said, according to a CNN report on its website.
Secretary of State Colin Powell also repudiated such comments about Islam.
“We will reject the kind of comments you have seen recently, where people in this country say that Muslims are responsible for the killing of all Jews, and who put out hatred,” Powell said Nov. 14, according to CNSNews.com. “This kind of hatred must be rejected. This kind of language must be spoken out against. We cannot allow this image to go forth of America, because it is an inaccurate image of America. We are a welcoming nation.”
Earlier this fall, Falwell said in a televised interview he believed the Muslim prophet Muhammad was a “terrorist.” He later apologized, but Muslims overseas rioted, reportedly as a result of the remark, and Falwell’s life was threatened by an Iranian cleric, according to CNSNews.com.
In June, former Southern Baptist Convention President Jerry Vines distinguished Allah from the biblical God in a sermon to pastors prior to the SBC’s annual meeting. “Jehovah is not going to turn you into a terrorist that’ll try to bomb people and take the lives of thousands and thousands of people,” Vines said. He also described Muhammad as a “demon-possessed pedophile.”
When a storm of protest followed Vines’ remarks, defenders of the pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., said he was citing Islamic writings. One Muslim volume says Muhammad took a girl of 6 years of age as a wife and consummated the marriage physically when she was 9.
In his defense Nov. 14 on “The 700 Club,” Robertson also said his comments were based on Islamic texts and teachings. His initial comments followed a news report that Muslims are teaching children in the Middle East that Jews are descended from apes and pigs, a cohost said.
“[W]e must distinguish between the origin of the religion and the adherents to it in the United States, who indeed are peaceful people,” Robertson said Nov. 14. “So to say ‘the religion is peaceful’ I don’t think is accurate. To say that most of the adherents in America to the Islamic faith are peaceful is absolutely correct.”
Robertson called the president’s disagreement with his comments “minor” and said it would not end his support for Bush.
Falwell, the founder of the Moral Majority, is pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va. After many years as an independent Baptist congregation, the church has affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention in recent years.