|Rev. Terry Jones at the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, FL|
"Where books are burned in the end people will burn." - Heinrich Heine
On May 10th, 1933 the Nazis burned 25,000 books -- including those written by Jewish poet Heinrich Heine, who had predicted in 1820 that "where books are burned in the end people will burn," - and eight years later the Holocaust began.
The connection is not too difficult to discern. Books are repositories of histories, of identities, of values. They are the soul of civilization. A society must abandon basic decencies in order to muster the immoral courage to burn books as a celebratory act. Once it starts burning the souls of civilization, human souls will not be left behind.
On September 11, 2010, some misguided Americans plan to burn the Holy Quran, the only book in the entire heritage of humanity that claims to be solely the word of God. This dastardly act is the brainchild of Terry Jones, a Christian Pastor from Florida. This act is not just some symbolic gesture of defiance. It is an act of egregious violence against the beliefs and the sacred symbols of one fourth of humanity. The act will scorch Muslim hearts everywhere. The searing pain will never be forgotten.
Along with the idea of God and prophets, the Quran is the thing that Muslims hold the dearest. My children have been listening to it since even before they were born. I use to recite it to them while they were still in the womb. Their children will be reciting it to them when they will be lowered in to their tomb. Believe me, there is nothing more precious to Muslims than the Quran, and watching people toss it into fire, will be horrifying. I would rather burn in fire myself, than watch a Quran burn.
I am amazed at how millions of Americans who are decent and honorable can watch this happen. No matter how ugly the act the Constitution permits this, is not an acceptable excuse. The Constitution does not permit this. The Constitution forbids cruel and unusual punishment. For Muslims this is worse than torture.
I have been agonizing over this since I heard about it. My feelings are mixed. Sometimes I feel dismayed at having to suffer this. At other times I feel betrayed, for I think Muslims may have invited this through their own hateful zealotry. In the past few years alone so many churches have been desecrated in the Muslim World, many missionaries were murdered, nuns stabbed to death and the worst of all, the 1500 year old Buddhas of Bamiyan were intentionally dynamited. It was an ugly blow against not just religion, but also a major landmark of human history. I can now begin to imagine how millions of devout Buddhists must have suffered.
The Quran explicitly forbids all such acts. They merely chronicle the savagery and meanness that Muslims these days display towards others and now it is unfortunately our turn to get a taste of our own medicine.
As a reminder to those Muslims who still appreciate what the Taliban did, let me quote the relevant Quranic source: "Do not insult their Gods, lest out of ignorance they insult Allah" (Quran 6:108).
Those determined to burn the Quran are doing so as a way to either hurt or get even with Muslims. They however are laboring under the illusion that Quran belongs to Muslims. Yes, Muslims attach unimaginable value to it, but the Quran belongs to all people, it is part of the human treasury and the Quran attests that it was sent, not to Muslims, but to the entire humanity: "It is nothing less than a message to all nations" (Quran 68:52). It belongs as much to Terry Jones as it does to Muslims. The only difference being, some have built great civilizations on its basis others may burn their own values along with it.
When images of Quran burning will be flashed around the globe, it will excite Muslim anger. I want Muslim leaders everywhere to council their communities. Recognize this provocation for what it is and ignore it. And remember do not let this become a source for anger and hatred towards Christians. Remind your congregations what the Quran tells Muslims about Christians:
"...Forgive them and overlook their misdeeds, for Allah loves those who are kind (Quran 5:13).
If Muslims react with anger and indiscriminate violence then one of Terry Jones' goals will be fulfilled. He would have shown the world that some Muslims are more barbaric than even he is. Be patient, encourage everyone to be patient, let Terry Jones enjoy the monopoly on barbarity for a while.
Dr. Muqtedar Khan is Director of Islamic Studies at the University of Delaware and a Fellow of the Institute of Social Policy and Understanding (www.ijtihad.org).
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