Magazine article The Christian Century

Muslims Seek Light amid Political Firestorm

Magazine article The Christian Century

Muslims Seek Light amid Political Firestorm

Article excerpt

The crowd-control barriers and TV satellite trucks left after a Florida pastor called off plans to burn 200 Qur'ans, but American Muslims say the political firestorm in Gainesville was

more than a momentary flare-up. The incident laid bare the wildly different perceptions of Islam's sacred text between Americans--or at least some of them--and rank-and-file Muslims, not to mention the differing responses among Muslims at home and abroad.

But perhaps most troubling, Muslim leaders say the sacrilege of burning a holy text is less dangerous than the hatred or misunderstanding that motivated it, even after nine years of concerted outreach following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Even though Pastor Terry Jones's Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville promised never to set fire to a Qur'an, members of the fringe Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, did, along with an American flag.

Andrew Beacham, a Tea Party activist from Indiana, joined veteran antiabortion crusader Randall Terry at a small protest outside the White House, where Beacham ripped pages from a Qur'an. Vandals left copies of burnt Qur'ans at mosques in East Lansing, Michigan, and Knoxville, Tennessee.

The threatened bonfire showed the Qur'an's power to stir passions among Muslims, but the reaction can vary depending on Muslims' views of the Qur'an.

Muslims consider the Qur'an to be the word of God as revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, and to desecrate it is to desecrate the word of God. Some Muslims hold that because the Qur'an was revealed in Arabic, translations are not the authentic word of God. Thus, burning an English-language translation of the Qur'an would, to some, be acceptable, however distasteful. Others say that Qur'ans are mere reproductions of God's word, not God's actual word.

"It's not the Qur'an that's being burned, it's the paper," said Imam Talal Eid, a Muslim member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Overseas, violent protests raged in Afghanistan that left two people dead. In the past five years, seven alleged incidents of Qur'an desecration-most notably reports of a Qur'an flushed in a toilet at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility--have led to violence and death, mainly in Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Gaza Strip and Nigeria.


Muslim leaders tried to clamp down on efforts to burn Bibles in response. When a Muslim man in South Africa threatened to burn Bibles in response to Jones, Muslim groups sued to stop him. …

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