It has not been a good month or two for the Muslim community here in the United States. As a nation we have been wrestling with the issue of the building of a mosque near the 9/11 site in New York. Then attention of the world turned to the crazy stunt threatened by a small (50 member) church to burn a copy of the Quran on the anniversary of 9/11.
Pastor Terry Jones leader of the Evangelical Dove World Outreach Center had said he would burn copies of Islam’s sacred book to protest the Sept. 11 attacks, despite a warning from the top U.S. General David Petraeus in Afghanistan that it could trigger a deadly backlash for troops and Americans in general.
For awhile Pastor Jones basked in the limelight of the international media by vacillating on whether he really would burn the Quran, which he ultimately decided not to do. Meanwhile, thousands of Afghans took to the street last Friday burning tires and shouting anti-American slogans. One man was shot and killed outside a NATO base in the city of Fayzabad. Security officials say clashes took place when protesters poured into the streets after traditional prayers at the start of the Muslim holiday Eid-al-Fitr marking the end of Ramadan. In neighboring Pakistan, hundreds of people in the city of Multan demonstrated; some burned American flags.
These reactions overseas, while totally unjustified, give insight into the respect that Muslims hold their holy book and the level of revulsion they experience at the prospect of such a blasphemy as burning the book as a protest. During a message to mark the start of Eid-al-Fitr, President Hamid Karzai criticized Pastor Jones’s threats to burn the Quran, saying the Quran cannot be harmed because it is in the hearts and minds of all Muslims. Any damage or show of disrespect to the Quran is deeply offensive to Muslims, who consider it the word of God and insist it be treated with the utmost respect, along with any printed material containing its verses or the name of Allah or the Prophet Muhammad.
The planned Quran burning drew condemnation from the world’s pre-eminent Sunni Muslim institution of learning, Al-Azhar University in Egypt, whose Supreme Council accused the church of stirring up hate and discrimination and called on other American churches to speak out against it.
“Whenever there’s a perception that America is somehow anti-Muslim, that harms our image and interests around the world,” said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American Islamic Relations, a Washington-based civil rights group. An Al-Jazeera article last week, titled “The Cost of Burning the Quran,” said that if Jones “wished to garner global attention for his actions, he got exactly that.” It also quoted U.S. based political commentator Ahmad Tharwat as saying that xenophobia was “a huge part” of American culture.
While I loathe showing any more attention to Pastor Terry Jones and his 50 members, their views do reflect the sentiments of many fringe groups’ anti-Islamic views. He told the Associated Press last week that America should quit apologizing for its actions and bowing to kings. “We think it’s time to turn the tables and instead of possibly blaming us for what could happen, we put the blame where it belongs — on the people who would do it and maybe instead of addressing us, we address radical Islam and send a very clear warning that they are not to retaliate in any form.”
The example of Jones and his group demonstrate that fringe or radical groups can harm the reputation of all established religions in the world.
Christians around the world condemned the planned burning of the Quran and used the opportunity to once again teach respect, tolerance and dialogue. The Vatican said Christians around the world protested the plan to burn the book. The article in “L’Osservatore Romano” reported that Catholic bishops, including the Archbishop of Lahore, Pakistan, were criticizing and condemning the planned burning. Archbishop Lawrence John Saldanha said the plan “is contrary to the respect owed all religions and against our doctrine and faith.”
The views and hateful actions of the Dove World Outreach Center give us insight into how a small extremist group can misrepresent the true sentiment, doctrine and teachings of the wider faith community. Perhaps these radicals have something in common with those who struck with deadly force nine years ago.