WASHINGTON -- Muslims at the Pentagon are incensed by what they say is an insensitive invitation to the Rev. Franklin Graham, who has called Islam an ''evil religion,'' to preach on Good Friday at the Defense Department.
In letters to the Pentagon chaplain's office, Muslim office workers complained strongly about Graham's plans to lead prayers Friday, one of the most holy days in the Christian calendar.
The Muslim employees urged officials to find a ''more inclusive and honorable'' religious leader to replace Graham, son of the Rev. Billy Graham and head of a Minneapolis-based evangelistic association in his father's name.
An Army spokesman at the Pentagon, Lieutenant Colonel Ryan Yantis, said yesterday that Graham was invited several months ago to deliver the homily at the Good Friday service and that the chaplain's office would not rescind the invitation.
''We are in a balancing act between accommodating the interests and requests of many faiths, and we will do our utmost to keep that balance in mind in providing religious support to workers in the Pentagon,'' said Yantis.
Yantis said he was aware of a small group of Muslims working at the Pentagon who met the deputy chaplain last Friday to complain about comments made in the past by Graham.
''They asked that the Pentagon chaplain's office be mindful and take into consideration these sorts of things for future events, and the deputy said he would certainly keep this in mind,'' said Yantis, who added a broad range of religious leaders had been guests at the Pentagon.
Criticism by Muslims at the Pentagon is embarrassing for the Bush administration, which has gone to great lengths to try to convince Arab nations the US invasion of Iraq was aimed at toppling Saddam Hussein and not at the Islamic faith.
Graham angered Muslims after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks when he called Islam a ''very evil and wicked religion.''
He has also ignited controversy over plans for his relief organization, Samaritan's Purse, to go into Iraq to deliver aid, a move the Arab community says is aimed at trying to convert followers of Islam rather than helping Iraqis in need.
A spokesman for Graham confirmed yesterday he would attend Friday's service, where prayers were likely to focus on US military action in Iraq -- a largely Muslim country.
''As far as Friday is concerned, the Rev. Graham will be attending prayers at the Pentagon,'' said spokesman Jeremy Blume, adding Graham was in board meetings yesterday and was unlikely to comment personally on the issue.
Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, said inviting Graham to the Pentagon prayer service ''sends entirely the wrong message to the Muslim and Arab world that the Pentagon will host someone who has such Islamophobic views.''
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