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Issue: "2008 Daniel of the Year," Dec. 13, 2008

In one clip El-Gendy argues that "the Quran is enough" and the hadiths on Aisha aren't needed. Another scholar cites a recent magazine article claiming she was a teenage wife. As Islamic authorities shout at one another onscreen, Botros calmly asks, "Are these holy books or not?" "If you are explaining her age based on a magazine article, what's your reference?"

On the set Botros alternates between a jovial Captain Kangaroo persona and a finger-pointing, cloaked authority figure who sets his face toward the camera and declares, "Everyone should question all these discrepancies." But Botros says he's not looking to leave Muslim viewers with only questions: He begins and ends each episode with prayer, he sometimes reads from the Bible, and he almost always brings on a guest who is introduced as a Muslim convert to Christianity.

In another recent episode titled "Was Muhammad a messenger from God or Satan?" Botros recites the characteristics of a false prophet by Sunni scholar Ibn Taymiyya, then lays down his book, looks into the screen, and says each of the characteristics cited by Taymiyya apply to Muhammad. He quotes Matthew 7 and asks viewers, "Does this sound like a real prophet to you? Remember: 'Ye shall know them by their fruits.'"

Botros told me in our first interview, "When I started to preach this way many or most Christians refused the style. They were afraid. For 14 centuries we [as Middle East Christians] are under the threat of the sword of Islam. So they were afraid and told me, 'They will kill us! They will destroy our houses!' But after I preached the gospel and spoke in this manner for years now, many of them now say, 'We are no longer ashamed of our religion when Muslims attack us.'"

Others this year have joined Botros in prominently questioning the teachings of Islam. In July the son of Sheikh Hassan Yousef, a leader in the radical Palestinian group Hamas, gave his first public interview declaring that he had become a Christian and renouncing Hamas. "I reexamined the Quran and the principles of the faith and found how it is mistaken and misleading. The Muslims borrowed rituals and traditions from all the surrounding religions," he said. In November Germany's first professor of Islamic theology, Muhammad Sven Kalisch, surprised colleagues by declaring that his research had led him to conclude that Muhammad probably never existed. "The more I read, the historical person at the root of the whole thing became more and more improbable," he said.

At the same time, emphasis on Muslim-Christian interfaith dialogue has grown. Last month King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia hosted a UN interfaith dialogue in New York, which was preceded by similar meetings in Madrid and at Yale, as well as a dialogue that included discussion of theological distinctives at the Vatican.

Botros believes such rapprochement can succeed only for a short time. But he says his methods won't work unless the motive is "nothing else but love." Despite his confrontational style, he says: "I am not against Muslims although I am against Islam as a false religion. I don't want to disgrace Muslims but to expose Islam. My ultimate intention is to glorify God and to save people, especially Muslims. Muslims are victims. Muhammad deceived them as he himself was deceived by Satan. Muslims believe that Muhammad is the best prophet, that the Quran is the only proper book from God, and Islam is the only religion from God. Muslims are in bad need to be saved from these false beliefs."

Botros is fairly sure he'd be dead by now if it weren't for the virtual universe in which he operates. Were he to make these kinds of statements on a street in almost any Islamic-dominated country, he would be hauled into court on charges of insulting Islam, where a guilty verdict could lead to his being killed. His broadcasts are aired from an undisclosed studio and he is strict about keeping his whereabouts out of public light. More positively, he discovered as he neared his 70s that with some tech-savvy, he could reach Muslims with Christian teaching in a way not possible in nearly 50 previous years as an active priest.

So besides the weekly program, Thursdays find him seated with his laptop to sign into the "Truth Talk" chat room. He quickly clicks through his admin passcode and finds hundreds of attenders already signed in online. When username "Father Zakaria" shows up, they begin to ask him questions about Islam and Christianity, all behind the safety of their screen names. Botros will spend six straight hours this way, answering questions and having conversations while anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 chat room guests show up.


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