Muslim employees of the Defense Department are protesting plans for the Rev. Franklin Graham, who has called Islam an evil religion, to lead Good Friday prayers at the Pentagon.
In letters to the Pentagon chaplain's office, Muslim office workers said they were dismayed by the choice of Graham and urged officials to find "a more inclusive and honorable Christian clergyman" to lead the April 18 service.
Graham's statements about Islam "have been very controversial and divisive," said Zadil Ansari, lay leader of the Muslim community at the Pentagon.
Graham's humanitarian relief organization, Samaritan's Purse, confirmed that he is scheduled to appear at the Pentagon on Friday. A spokesman for the group said Graham was returning to the United States from Mexico yesterday and was not available to comment.
An Army spokeswoman, Martha Rudd, said the Pentagon chaplain's office would not rescind the invitation. Rudd said that some Christian employees had requested Graham as a guest preacher, and that the chaplain's office assisted them in extending the invitation.
"The chaplain's office here, just like at any Army installation, regularly assists groups of various faiths to hold their services," Rudd said. "If a Jewish group wants to invite a particular speaker, they'll do that. Muslims hold services here, too. The Army chaplains are absolutely nonjudgmental of any faith that soldiers want to follow."
Graham, who heads the evangelistic association founded by his father, the Rev. Billy Graham, delivered the benedictions at the Republican National Conventions in 1996 and 2000, as well as the invocation at President Bush's 2001 inauguration.
He has long championed efforts to convert Muslims to Christianity. During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, he irked Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf by sending 30,000 Arabic-language bibles for U.S. troops to distribute in Muslim countries. Shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Graham denounced Islam on national television as "a very evil and wicked religion."
Muslim groups recently have objected to plans by his relief organization to send aid workers into Iraq, calling the humanitarian efforts a cover for proselytizing. But Graham appears to have broad support among evangelical Christians. According to a poll released last week by the Ethics & Public Policy Center and Beliefnet, a religion Web site, 70 percent of evangelical leaders consider Islam "a religion of violence" and 81 percent believe it is "very important" to convert Muslims abroad.