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Sunday, 16 December, 2001, 18:47 GMT
US Baptists push Muslim conversion
Roman Catholic Cardinal Adam Maida visits Islamic centre in Dearborn, Michigan
Catholics by contrast congratulated the Moslems
By the BBC's Mike Fox in Washington

The head of one of the largest Christian churches in the United States has called for its members to give special prayers at the end of Ramadan with the aim of converting Muslims to Christianity.

James Merritt, the head of the Southern Baptist convention which has nearly 16m members, said Baptists needed to act in order to share the gospel.

The Convention is calling on Baptists to pray for Muslims on Sunday.

One of the central beliefs of the churches within the Southern Baptist convention is that they must try and convert other religions to Christianity, which they see as the one true faith.

The convention has faced strong criticism in the United States in the past, when it called for prayers on the holy days of Jews and Hindus

The head of the convention, James Merritt, called on Baptists to unite in prayer for Muslims to try to bring Christ to the world's Muslims because they were lost without him.

He said God had been moving powerfully all over the world since 11 September and Christians should plead with God on the behalf of Muslims.

'Free country'

He said the last day of Ramadan was appropriate because that was the day when Moslems believe God speaks to them - and in previous years they have seen many converting to Christianity.

The convention has faced strong criticism in the United States in the past, when it called for prayers on the holy days of Jews and Hindus.

An official with the American-Islamic association said this week that it was a free country and that people could pray for whoever they liked.

He said he would only object if they actively went out and, for example, laid hands on a mosque in an effort to convert all those inside.

In recent years the Southern Baptist Convention has adopted an increasingly conservative and literal interpretation of the Bible - last year former US President Jimmy Carter announced he was severing ties with the organisation, saying that part of its increasingly rigid doctrines violated the basic premises of his Christian faith.

Yet the convention still wields considerable influence in the United States as the second largest Christian church, and its members say they believe their prayers will extend God's love to people who need it.

See also:

01 Dec 01 | Americas
Shadow over Ramadan
20 Nov 01 | Americas
Bush hosts Ramadan dinner
13 Oct 01 | Americas
New York Muslims pray for justice
21 Oct 00 | Americas
Jimmy Carter splits with Baptists
31 Oct 00 | Americas
Biggest US church suffers Texan snub
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