Graham, who has publicly called Islam a "wicked" religion, said the relief agency he runs, Samaritan's Purse, is in daily contact with U.S. Government agencies in Amman, Jordan, about its plans.
The group's main objective is to help refugees and people who have lost their homes or are sick and hungry as a result of the war, Graham told Beliefnet. For example, he said, Samaritan's Purse will hand out 5,000 hygiene kits, 5,000 kits of pots and utensils, thousands of yards of plastic to make tents, and enough medicine to take care of 100,000 people for three months. "We realize we're in an Arab country and we just can't go out and preach," Graham said in a telephone interview from Samaritan's Purse headquarters in Boone, N.C.
However, he added, "I believe as we work, God will always give us opportunities to tell others about his Son..We are there to reach out to love them and to save them, and as a Christian I do this in the name of Jesus Christ."
Graham didn't seem concerned that the public presence in Iraq of Samaritan's Purse-which has put out a press release about its activities-could prompt already-skeptical Muslims worldwide to view the war as a crusade against Islam. "We would not go in and participate in something that would embarrass our administration," he said. But he added, "We don't work for the U.S. Government, so we don't get our permission from them."
Some Muslims were outraged that Graham would be allowed to help with Iraq's humanitarian effort.
"Franklin Graham obviously thinks it is a war against Islam," said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "This is a guy who gave the invocation at President Bush's inauguration and believes Islam is a wicked faith. And he's going to go into Iraq in the wake of an invading army and convert people to Christianity? Nothing good is coming of that."
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Agency for International Development said Wednesday night she could not comment on short notice.
Meanwhile, officials from the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination, are also planning a large relief effort in Iraq once the war ends. The International Mission Board has already sent about $200,000 in hunger funds and $50,000 in general relief funds to its workers in Amman, Jordan.
"This is not just a great opportunity to do humanitarian work but to share God's love," said Sam Porter, state disaster relief director for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. "We understand that the individual people of Iraq have done nothing to hurt us. We want to help them to have true freedom in Jesus Christ."
On Wednesday, Graham was unusually guarded in his comments about Islam, saying only that "when people ask, I let them know I don't believe in their God. But I respect their right to believe whatever they want to believe." Two months after September 11, however, he called Islam a "very evil and wicked religion." Last summer he said Muslims hadn't sufficiently apologized for the terrorist attacks--and he challenged Muslim leaders to offer to help rebuild Lower Manhattan or compensate the families of victims to show they condemn terrorism.
In the midst of this verbal battle, one Muslim group in New York called him "bigoted, hateful and divisive."
But Graham is only the most significant leader of a widespread and rapidly growing effort by conservative American Christians to criticize Islam-and attempt to convert its followers. Since 1990, the number of missionaries in Islamic countries has quadrupled. Mission experts estimate they have spoken to or given Christian material to at least 334 million people in that time. Groups such as Youth With a Mission and the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board, sponsor two-week jaunts to places like Kyrgyzstan to convert Muslims to Christianity.