HOUSTON (ABP) -- While religious and national leaders including President Bush urged tolerance for Muslim Americans following terrorist attacks Sept. 11, a Southern Baptist evangelist speaking at Houston Baptist University compared Islam's founder to Satan and told a Muslim student he is bound for hell.
Both Muslim and Christian students said they were offended by statements of evangelist Anis Shorrosh, delivered two days after deadly attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania
Shorrosh, a popular evangelistic preacher known for staging public debates with Muslim leaders, had been invited to speak at the university about the basic tenets of Islam. After he termed Islam a false religion and quoted a Bible verse comparing Mohammed to Satan, however, a group of students walked out on Shorrosh.
A small group of Muslims later met with the evangelist to discuss his views. According to a report in the university's student newspaper, The Collegian, a heated conversation followed.
One student accused Shorrosh of stereotyping all Muslims without knowing them or their beliefs.
Shorrosh responded: "Your religion is a lie. Your Allah (god) is the devil himself."
A second Muslim student then condemned Shorrosh to hell. Shorrosh countered, "No, you are going to hell."
As the discussion was dying down, Shorrosh roused the crowd again. Saying, "Those students were so angry, if they had had a knife they would have killed me."
The newspaper report said the Muslim students responded with "comments suggesting that his attempted assassins 'should have cut off (his) head.'"
The verbal fighting ended with each side again condemning the other in the presence of students, staff and faculty.
University officials denounced and apologized for Shorrosh's statements.
"You don't invite someone to come to your house to insult you," HBU President Doug Hodo said in a "letter to the university family" that appeared in a special edition of the campus paper that afternoon.
"Unfortunately our 'guest' insulted our students, faculty and staff," Hodo said. "Events of Thursday hurt many of you and me, and the words of our speaker caused great pain."
Jack Purcell, the school's vice president for student affairs, said the university does not have a problem with Shorrosh's basic argument that Muslims, who regard Christ a prophet but not divine, are lost, because that is a common Christian viewpoint.
But Shorrosh should have been more sensitive to his audience at such an emotional time in the nation, Purcell said.
"This issue is not what was said but how it was said," he commented. "When you're in an environment of people with other faiths, you don't insult them. I don't think you have to apologize for your theology, but you don't have to say it in a way that is intentionally insulting in a setting where you are speaking to an audience of several faiths."
Shorrosh expressed no remorse about his comments.
He claimed that while many so-called Muslims are peaceful people, the true followers of Allah are violent. He said Muslims have tried to kill him several times as he has attempted to evangelize or debate them.
"I sincerely love all Muslims," Shorrosh said. "I am one of thousands of Christians who every Friday night fast and pray for the fall of Islam."
Shorrosh said all Muslims who have entered the country since 1991 and cannot prove they are not connected with any terrorist organizations should be deported.
He said the United States should call all U.S. citizens back to America and drop atomic bombs on the capitals of several countries in the Middle East.
University officials called a campus-wide meeting the next afternoon to discuss Shorrosh's comments. About 275 students participated in a question-and-answer session with several administrators.
Because of this meeting, as well as many individual meetings with Muslim students, the student body has begun discussing interfaith relations more thoroughly, Purcell said.
"That is the good thing that has come out of this -- that there has been increased dialogue between Christian and Muslim students," he said.
Shorrosh's outspoken views on Islam are nothing new.
Commenting on 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, Shorrosh told Baptist Press that such violence is an ever-present possibility among Muslim extremists. He said Muslims play the role of peace-loving citizens in countries where they are a minority but in every nation with an Islamic majority, there is a dictatorship.
"Islam is the most insecure religion on earth," Shorrosh said in an interview in 1996 with the Alabama Baptist newspaper. "It is also the bloodiest."
The Alabama-based evangelist has written several books, including "Islam Revealed" in 1988, which challenges the truthfulness of the Koran, the Muslim Scripture.
Born in Nazareth and converted to Christianity at 18, Shorrosh traveled to the United States at 19 to attend Baptist-affiliated Mississippi College. He went on to earn a master's at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and a doctorate from Luther Rice Seminary.
He was a pastor and evangelist in the Middle East before forming the Anis Shorrosh Evangelistic Association, a ministry to Muslims.
He is best known for a 1985 debate with Sheikh Ahmed Deedat of Durban, which was taped and has been played throughout the Muslim world.
Shorrosh has been criticized in the past by some Christians who say putting Muslims on the defensive is not the best way to win them to Christ.
But Shorrosh said he got his method from the Bible. "We have tried the dialogue system for so long," he said in a 1992 interview. "We've tried friendship evangelism and talking with them sweetly, and one comes here, one comes there. We have not used the confrontational system. But Paul, you see, dealt with debates. He confronted the cults and religions of the ancient world. At Athens, he tried to explain things. Jesus used that system, and so did Stephen and others."
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