By Ray Hanania
When I was a child, my mother took my younger sister and I to see the Reverend Billy Graham in downtown Chicago.
It had to be around 1959.
My mom was a very religious Christian. She was born in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus and of Christianity. And she was proud of it.
When we entered the hall where Graham was to speak, the greeters noticed my mother and asked her where she was from. When she said she was from Bethlehem, it was like Jesus had just risen from the dead and they excitedly took my mother, my sister and myself up the center aisle to the stage where they told Graham.
Graham was excited and brought us on the stage and told everyone, probably a few thousand people, “This beautiful woman is from Bethlehem.”
It’s one of those events you can never forget, although the location and details of the lengthy comments Graham made about Bethlehem and my mother have faded.
My mother died in 1985, but I know she would be ashamed to hear Graham’s son, Franklin, who was only nine months older than I was at the time, rant on and on today with a happy face against the “evils” of Islam and Muslims.
Last month, Graham injected himself into a controversy involving Duke University, which decided to allow Muslims to conduct a call to prayer on Fridays at 1 p.m. from the tower of the Duke chapel for their religious services.
The call to prayer is to Muslims what ringing church bells is to Christians. I remember as a child our church, Bethany Lutheran, ringing its bells loudly throughout the predominantly Jewish community in Pill Hill on Chicago’s Southeast Side every Sunday morning before we began services.
I don’t recall the Rabbi at nearby Rodfei Sholom Temple, where I would sometimes go with my Jewish friends for Synagogue services, complaining about the Christian call to prayer that loudly took place.
In an interview with CBS News on Jan. 15, 2015, the same day that Duke announced the new policy for Muslim students, Franklin Graham denounced Islam saying that allowing the Muslim call to prayer at Duke was “a slap at the Christian faith.”
Graham argued the Duke University chapel was funded by Christian Methodists. He urged Christians to boycott the University. The next day, Duke University reversed the decision and prohibited the Muslim students from using the chapel for their prayer call. (Click here to view video clip of the CBS interview with Franklin Graham.)
This week, less than four weeks later, three Muslim students at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, a few miles from Duke University, were slaughtered in their condominium.
The victims are Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, of Chapel Hill, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha Barakat, 21, of Chapel Hill, and Yusor’s sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, of Raleigh.
Deah and Yusor were married six weeks earlier and Razan is Yusor’s sister. They were shot in the head, execution style. The police immediately arrested a suspect, Craig Stephen Hicks, 46.
Although the motives for the murder were not immediately confirmed, the slaughter has all the earmarks of another anti-Muslim racist attack. Both of the murdered women wore Hijabs and traditional women’s Muslim scarves and clothing.
(Hicks told police he had a dispute with the victims over a parking space in their shared condominium parking lot. But even in a dispute, why kill the male motorist and then ALSO kill his wife and his wife’s sister, unless the fight festered into racist hatred?)
The three students were active in the Muslim Student Association and other Muslim activities. In fact, in his last Facebook post visible to the public befor ehis murder, Deah Barakat posted a photo of himself with other Muslim students doing what Muslims often do there, feeding and helping 75 homeless people in nearby downtown Durham on Jan 25.
Graham went on and on in his interview about how Islam was so unchristian-like and how Muslims worship “Allah,” who he insisted is “not the same God,” as the Christian and Jewish God.
Of course, Graham is not very educated. Most racists and bigots are uneducated. “Allah” is the Arabic word for “God.” It’s used by Muslims and by Arab Christians, too, like my mother, whom Graham’s father celebrated so long ago when Christians had not yet forgotten what it was like to be true Christians.
In fact, I am sure that in speaking with Billy Graham about Jesus and God, my mother would have used the word “Allah” because that’s how she would reference the “Christian God.”
I can’t help but feel that “Christians” like Franklin Graham are twisting the teachings of Jesus and distorting the true meaning of Christianity, all because of a growing cancer of hate that is spreading in America.
And I can’t help but feel that Graham and many other right-wing Christian fanatics have forgotten what it means to be true Christians; instead they are fueling a growing environment of anger and racism in their sermons and lectures.
Coming only weeks after terrorists who claimed to be Muslim massacred the editorial staff of the satire publication Charlie Hebdo, the level of anti-Muslim anger in this country has risen too high.
I wonder if Graham will denounce Christianity if it turns out that the suspect who massacred the three innocent students, who happened to be Americans, too, did it because he shares Grahams’ anti-Muslim hate?
I wonder if Graham will go back to Raleigh-Durham and conduct a service to memorialize the three Americans who were slaughtered by their assailant.
I have a feeling that in Graham’s world of twisted Christianity, that’s not Christian-like at all.
Ray Hanania is an award-winning Palestinian American columnist managing editor of The Arab Daily News at www.TheArabDailyNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @RayHanania. To find out more about Ray Hanania and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.
For more updates on the slaughter, click here.