Bush: All religions pray to 'same God'
'That's what I believe. I believe Islam is a great religion that preaches peace'
President George Bush has repeated his belief all religions, "whether they be Muslim, Christian, or any other religion, pray to the same God" – an assertion that caused outrage among evangelical leaders when he said it in November 2003.
Bush made the statement Friday in an interview with Al Arabiya reporter Elie Nakouzi.
Al Arabiya is Al Jazeerah's top competitor in the Mideast.
As the president and Nakouzi walked from the Oval Office to the Map Room in the White House residence, Nazouki asked, "But I want to tell you – and I hope this doesn't bother you at all – that in the Islamic world they think that President Bush is an enemy of Islam – that he wants to destroy their religion, what they believe in. Is that in any way true, Mr. President?"
"No, it's not," said Bush. "I've heard that, and it just shows [sic] to show a couple of things: One, that the radicals have done a good job of propagandizing. In other words, they've spread the word that this really isn't peaceful people versus radical people or terrorists, this is really about the America not liking Islam.
"Well, first of all, I believe in an Almighty God, and I believe that all the world, whether they be Muslim, Christian, or any other religion, prays to the same God. That's what I believe. I believe that Islam is a great religion that preaches peace. And I believe people who murder the innocent to achieve political objectives aren't religious people, whether they be a Christian who does that – we had a person blow up our – blow up a federal building in Oklahoma City who professed to be a Christian, but that's not a Christian act to kill innocent people.
"And I just simply don't subscribe to the idea that murdering innocent men, women and children – particularly Muslim men, women and children in the Middle East – is an act of somebody who is a religious person.
Friday's statement echoes one made by Bush in November 2003 during a joint press conference with then-Prime Minister Tony Blair. A reporter noted Bush had frequently expressed the view that freedom is a gift from "the Almighty," but questioned whether Bush believes "Muslims worship the same Almighty" as the president and other Christians do.
"I do say that freedom is the Almighty's gift to every person. I also condition it by saying freedom is not America's gift to the world," Bush replied. "It's much greater than that, of course. And I believe we worship the same god," reported the London Telegraph.
Reaction from U.S. evangelical leaders was swift and strong.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination, was quoted in the Baptist Press as saying the president "is simply mistaken."
According to a Washington Post account, Land said in an interview: "We should always remember that he is commander in chief, not theologian in chief. The Bible is clear on this: The one and true god is Jehovah, and his only begotten son is Jesus Christ."
The Rev. Ted Haggard, then-president of the National Association of Evangelicals, also contradicted the president in a press statement. "The Christian God encourages freedom, love, forgiveness, prosperity and health," said Haggard. "The Muslim god appears to value the opposite. The personalities of each god are evident in the cultures, civilizations and dispositions of the peoples that serve them. Muhammad's central message was submission; Jesus' central message was love. They seem to be very different personalities."
In November 2006, Haggard was forced to resign from NAE following allegations of drug use and sex with a homosexual prostitute.
Gary Bauer, former presidential candidate and president of American Values, said Bush's comment was "not helpful to the president. Since everybody agrees he's not a theologian, he would be much better advised to punt when he gets that kind of question."
In Friday's interview with Al Arabiya, Bush emphasized his outreach to Muslims.
"We are having an Iftaar dinner tonight – I say, 'we' – it's my wife and I," Bush told Nakouzi. "This is the seventh one in the seven years I've been the president. It gives me a chance to say 'Ramadan Mubarak.' The reason I do this is I want people to understand about my country. In other words, I hope this message gets out of America. I want people to understand that one of the great freedoms in America is the right for people to worship any way they see fit. If you're a Muslim, an agnostic, a Christian, a Jew, a Hindu, you're equally American.
"And the value – the most valuable thing I think about America is that – particularly if you're a religious person – you can be free to worship, and it's your choice to make. It's not the state's choice, and you shouldn't be intimidated after you've made your choice. And that's a right that I jealously guard.
"Secondly, I want American citizens to see me hosting an Iftaar dinner."
"That's a strong message for the Americans," said Nakouzi.
Last year, WND reported criticism of Bush from Wafa Sultan, a native of Syria, who said the president was empowering terrorist leaders whose ultimate aim is for Islamic law to govern the world by proclaiming Islam a "religion of peace."
"I believe he undermines our credibility by saying that," said Sultan. "We came from Islam, and we know what kind of religion Islam is."