Monday, August 23, 2010

Quran Burning and Other Issues of Religious Freedom

"Islam is a religion of the devil," proclaims a sign on the "Dove World Outreach" church in Gaineville, FL, which is planning to burn Qurans on Sept 11 and encourages others to do likewise. Its pastor, Terry Jones, also opposes homosexuality. (The mayor of Gainesville is gay.)

Jones is publicizing his incendiary call widely via facebook and the internet and it is possible that others might follow his example, especially since politicians are stoking the fires of biotry and hatred.

The National Association of Evangelicals has condemned this call to desecrate the Quran and urged Jones to reconsider this action, but so far he is adamant. I have crafted a statement condemning Quran burning which is being considered for endorsement by the South Coast Interfaith Council, Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace, and of course my Quaker meeting.

If Qurans are burned on 9/11, and pictures of this heinous act circulate around the world, there could be a violent backlash, as there was when Danish cartoonists published disrespectful pictures of the Quran. This concerns American Muslims.

"We are not worried so much about how American Muslims are going to behave," one Muslim leader told me. "But there are many uneducated, poor Muslims around the world who will be very offended. Many of them cannot read the Quran, but they take it very seriously. There could be violence, and that would be terrible."

Another Muslim leader told me that much as he reveres the Quran, he values human life more: "If 1000 Qurans are burned, it is not worth the loss of one human life."

Muslim leaders are trying to figure out ways to counter this threat through education and raising public awareness.

For more info see

Another concern troubling moderate Muslims: Ramadan ends on Sept 10 or 11, depending on how you calculate the beginning of the moon. Some Muslims use astronomical calculation, others insist on an actual moon-sighting. Some Muslim leaders are worried that if Muslims are seen celebrating on Sept 11, how will that play on Fox News?

Several Muslims have confessed to me that it's hard to be a Muslim these days, and that to be always on the defensive about one's religion is exhausting.

Even Disneyland has been drawn into this controversy. When a young Muslim woman asked to wear a hijab at a Disney restaurant, she was refused permission and this became a question of religious freedom for her and for others. Fox news reports: "Imane Boudlal, 26, of Anaheim, Calif., has filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming Disneyland violated her rights when it ordered her either to remove her hijab or agree to work where customers couldn't see her at Storyteller's Café at the resort's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa."

Last night the Islamic Shura Council honored her for her courage in standing up for her beliefs. She wept as she told her story.

"Whether you wear the hijab or not wear the hijab is your business," said Dr Maher Hathout, chair of the Shura Council, as he gave her the award. "No one has the right to force you to cover or uncover. That is a matter of your conscience. We support and honor you for having the courage to follow your conscience."

These are the words of one of the most respected leaders of the Muslim community in California, and the USA. Those that imagine that Muslim men coerce woman to wear the hijab should take note that here in the USA, this is definitely not the case.

Also honored at the banquet was the president of the interfaith council in Temecula who stood in solidarity with Muslims who are facing opposition from some of their fundamentalist neigbors.

Muslims in America have often faced opposition when they have proposed building a mosque, but in the past their neighbors have used zoning requirements as an excuse for their opposition. Now they are openly expressing their fears and prejudices about Islam. This is both troublesome and an opportunity for education. A lot of work needs to be done to educate Americans about the true nature of Islam in our country and around the world.

See also:

Letter Opposing Quran Burning

We support the right of people of all faiths to practice their religion as their conscience dictates, to build houses of worship where they wish without being subjected to discrimination, and to be free of harassment and “hate speech” because of their religious views and practices.

We are grieved, appalled and outraged that a pastor in Gainesville, FL, purporting to be an Evangelical Christian, has called for the burning of Qurans on September 11th. We grieve because such an act is hurtful not only to the one whose sacred text is being desecrated, but also to the one who does the desecration. We are appalled because history shows that the burning of books can lead to violence. As Heinrich Heine, the 19th century German playwright, wrote prophetically: “Where they burn books, they will ultimately also burn people." And we are outraged because we honor and appreciate all sacred books and consider them worthy of respect and appreciation. As Paul expressed it so eloquently: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:19).

We feel that the burning of the Quran is a form of “hate speech” that could incite violence. As people of conscience committed to peace, we reject all forms of violence—whether physical, verbal or symbolic.

We therefore join with those of various faith communities, including The National Association of Evangelicals, the nation’s largest body of evangelicals, in condemning the call to burn Qurans. We urge people to read scriptures of other traditions with an open mind and heart, and to respect and appreciate the many ways in which people are being led to the One who is the source of Truth and Compassion.


  1. Hi Anthony,

    Thanks for posting this and for working for inter-religious peacemaking:-).

    I do have one caution, however. I haved lived in the Middle East myself. While some American Muslims oppose killing for Islam, this is NOT true in the M.E. In Palestine/Israel the dear Muslims I knew, (who were usually caring) wanted to kill Jews including Jewish civlians:-(

    Islam like other religions has inspiring aspects, however, tragically it has no separation of church and state.

    Seldom does one see any Jews, Buddhists, or followers of Jesus riot when their scriptures are disrespected. Followers of Jesus didn't attack Muslims worldwide when over 6 medical
    Christians (who helped little Muslim kids with their eyes)were executed by Muslims last week.

    On the other hand, I only knew one person in my present city who is opposed to our wars. She is a liberal Muslim and lived through the Iraq-Iranian War, losing some of her dear friends.

    What we need are followers of God who love each other,regardless of their own religion--such as the Muslim leader you mentioned.


    Daniel Wilcox

  2. I share your concern about the violent reaction among Muslims that is likely to occur if Christians burn the Quran on 9/11, but we must put this into context. First, the Muslims who are likely to riot are poor, uneducated, and oppressed, and see the US as a threat--an imperial invader or "Crusader" (to use the language of radical imams). They have some justification for being angry: Western powers, mostly Christian, have invaded and occupied their lands, killing thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of Muslims. For every Christian killed by a Muslim, thousands of Muslims are killed. Same with Israel: for every Jew killed by a Muslim, a hundred or two hundred Muslims are killed, usually with US-made weapons and the enthusiastic blessing of a mostly Christian Congress.

    That's why moderate, pacifist Christians need to work with like-minded Muslims and Jews to end this insane cycle of violence.

    BTW I checked out your website and am deeply impressed with your creativity and deep faith. May the spirit of Love prevailed, in the spirit of Christ and the great prophets (including the Prophet Mohammad).

  3. Hi Anthony,

    Thanks for responding. I'm with you in emphasizing interfaith dialog and peacemaking.

    I just disagree about your analysis of Muslims, especially in Palestine/Israel and Afghanistan. The Muslims who lead the terrorism in the M.E. don't tend to be ignorant or poor. They often are engineers and doctors! as in the case of HAMAS.
    I would be the first to agree that Christians have--and continue to at present--wage unholy war on Muslims, completely contrary to Jesus' express teachings.

    Where I disagree, is this: Muslims have very little basis for "being angry." Check out some of the scholarly histories of Islam versus Christianity or Judaism. For instance, Infidels by Andrew Wheatcroft of the University of Stirling in Scotland.

    And thanks for stopping by my website. I hope you had a chance to read my short story, "The Faces of Rock", a story of Palestine/Israel.

    May all Muslims, Jews, and Christians--all human beings!--grow to love one another.


  4. Dear Daniel, I am puzzled that you think Muslims today have little basis for being angry. If the shoe were on the other foot, if hundreds of thousands of Muslim soldiers were in the US and were killing civilians and trying to impose their ideal form of government, i.e. sharia, Americans would be very angry, and no doubt violent. And there would be riots by American Christians if Muslims burned the Bible!

    After 50 years of occupation, and humiliation beyond what most Americans can imagine, it is not surprising that Palestinians are violent. I know because I, too, was in Israel/Palestine. I also know tha violence such as we see today is not intrinsic to Islam, just as the violence of the KKK is not instinsic to Christianity. Both are distortions caused by historical circumstances and the dark side of human nature.

    What encourages me is that American and European Muslims are reclaiming the peaceful aspects of Islam. They are also reinterpreting Islam so that it can be compatible with democracy. I recommend "In Pursuit of Justice: the Jurisprudence of Human Rights in Islam," ed. by Maher Hathout, and also the works of Tariq Ramadan (who was only recently allowed back in the US). The reformation of Islam after colonialism is a slow, painstakingly slow process, but it is happening and needs to be encouraged.

    Thanks for recommending some readings for me. I will look them up when I am next in the library.

    Meanwhile, let's do our best to follow the Golden Rule and treat others as we would like to be treated.

  5. Hi again Anthony,
    Side note: I took your suggestion on you blog about joining the fasting during Ramadan. Because of my health problems I had to stop after a week, but the experience helped me focus more on God, and it gave me a deeper appreciation of Muslims and their devotion to God.

    Clarification: Remember I said that I think Muslims have little “basis” for being angry. Violence in Islam has little to do with America’s unethical war in Iraq. Muslims across the world in Nigeria, Indonesia, the Philippines, India etc. kill innocent civilians that have done them no physical harm at all. They even kill Muslims of different faiths within Islam and of the Baha’i religion. Most of this takes place at the instigation of Islamic leaders. I don’t understand why. Why the thousands of “honor killings” in Holland, etc.? When I lived in Palestine/Israel a brother shot his sister because she talked with a Catholic:-( Palestinian soldiers
    attacked an apartment building near where I worked and shot up families!

    I’ve been opposed to American (and Israeli) war actions in the M.E. for all of my life.

    I have read all of the Koran and know of its calls for killing others (similar to the Jewish Bible), and of the violent hadiths, but why do modern Muslims do so?

    Thanks for the recommendation of Hathout and Ramadan. I will check them out tomorrow at the library.
    Yes, let the Golden Rule become the basis of relationship—“compassionate listening” not Sharia Law:-(

    Peace in God,
    Thanks for the dialog.

  6. Hello Anthony,

    You look very familiar, I know I've met you somewhere, at a peace rally probably.

    I thought you might want to know about the Facebook group I started:

    I expect to have 4000 members soon, mostly Muslims from around the world giving thanks and blessings. More non-Muslims joining would be good.

    Here is the event page:
    People of all faiths to wear Hijab or Kufi on September 11th
    As a protest against persecution of Muslims we pledge to show that not all Americans are bigots. We will adorn ourselves with symbols of the Islamic faith on an infamous date that is falsely blamed on Muslims. We are calling on people of all faiths, or no faith, to join us and to prove that Muslims are people of peace and NOT our enemies.

    Here is the link for the Facebook group:
    Wear Hijab on 9/11, Defy "Burn a Quran Day"
    Join us! If you are also horrified by the recent outrageous fear mongering of the right wing against American Muslims then here is a way to push back. I am not a Muslim but I plan to wear the hijab on 9/11 as a gesture to American Muslims that they are full citizens of this country and deserve the same rights as the rest of us. Concerned men might wear skull caps in solidarity with us women.
    Yes, it will take some courage to make this gesture. However, I remembered how the people in Billings, Montana put menorahs in their windows to protest the anti-Semitic activities of the KKK in their town. See
    Another wave of anti-Semitism is sweeping our nation, this time against Muslims. Let's stand up and stand out to demonstrate that not all Americans are bigots.
    I hope you'll join me in making this gesture. I feel that it demonstrates true American values as written in our Constitution.
    Peace, Shalom, Salaam,
    ~ Charell

    In Peace,
    ~ Charell

  7. I have to respond to the niavety of the comments of above saying that the muslims have no basis to be angry first of all I do not believe in violence and persecution of anyone. If you have so much knowledge about the bible why have you not researched your history on the persecutions of the palestinians they have been treated just as poorly as the so called "americans" treat the hispanics. There is such cruel irony that people who hope to spread knowledge and peace are only willing to choose what best suites them to make them sleep better or to sound acceptable. I appreciate the respect you do show for religions because that is most important to understand that all creatures of this earth have a write to believe in there own culture and beliefs as long as it does not hurt anyone else. America does have alot of human rights issues that have never been addressed in assisting the Israeli's percecute the Palestinian's. It is not to late to change things though I always believe it is possible as long as people are willing to speak out for the little people and not ignore the truth. Believing in humanity is what proves all doubters ignorant in there own possibilities. Human rights is my guide and history is my teacher. May all your peaceful work show fruit.