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'Burn Quran Day' an outrage to Muslims

By Akbar Ahmed, Special to CNN
  • Akbar Ahmed: Pastor Jones of Dove World Outreach Center plans "Burn a Quran Day"
  • Ahmed says 9/11 event will inflame Muslim world, put Americans at risk
  • Plan recalls Dark Ages and Nazi Germany, is un-American, he says, violates Christianity
  • Founding Fathers read and honored the Quran, Ahmed writes

Editor's note: Akbar Ahmed is professor and Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington. He is author of "Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam," Brookings Press 2010.

(CNN) -- In less than a month, Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center in Florida plans to host "Burn a Quran Day" to mark the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

The pastor, author of the book "Islam is of the Devil," is using the burning to urge American Christians to "stand up" to what he describes as a monolithic Muslim threat. A Facebook page for the event has accrued thousands of "likes" and Jones has said people have been mailing him Qurans to burn.

As a Muslim scholar, an adherent of one of the Abrahamic faiths -- Judaism, Christianity and Islam -- and as someone committed to interfaith understanding, I urge Jones to cancel this event. Not only are the actions of Jones contrary to the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, but they are also against the ideals of the American Founding Fathers.

The planned burning has already caused alarm in the Muslim world, with the pre-eminent Sunni university, Al-Azhar in Cairo, Egypt, condemning it as "stirring up hate and discrimination."

At a recent dinner in Washington, a host for one of Pakistan's top TV channels confided in me that he "didn't dare" report the story because if he did, "not a single American would be safe in Pakistan." He and the cameraman were quivering with anger as they asked me to explain why Americans hated Islam.

I tried my best to explain this was not the case, but Jones' burning will have great symbolic significance to a Muslim world already feeling under attack by the United States. It will cause undue harm to U.S. relations with the Muslim world and particularly the war effort.

Gen. David Petraeus, the head of American forces in Afghanistan, has repeatedly expressed the need for winning the "hearts and minds" of local people by treating them with dignity and respect. When Afghans see that their holy book is being burned, it will cause riots and attacks that will put U.S. troops further at risk. There will be similar riots and attacks in neighboring Pakistan and Iran. It will inflame the entire Muslim world and fuel acts of terrorism.

When Afghans see that their holy book is being burned, it will cause riots and attacks.
--Akbar Ahmed
Video: Preacher wants to burn Qurans
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It could also inflame anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States, especially in the context of the anger over the proposed Islamic center near ground zero in Lower Manhattan.

Many American Muslims will feel as if they are second-class citizens and it could push some angry young men toward violence.

On my recent fieldwork trip to 100 mosques in 75 American cities with a team of American researchers for the book "Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam," we documented that many mosques had been attacked, sometimes bombed. In May, not far from Jones' church in Gainesville, a pipe bomb exploded in a mosque in Jacksonville.

As objectionable as the prospect of Jones' Quran burning is, it may not cease with the holy book of the Muslims. I have always maintained that this kind of vitriolic hatred of one religion is a descent on a slippery slope, as no one can say who will be next. I was not surprised, therefore, when I heard Jones recently agree, when asked to do so in an internet podcast interview, to burn "a couple of copies of the Talmud" too.

Not only does the burning of holy texts reflect the darkest days of medieval Europe and Nazi Germany, but it is hard to think of anything more un-American, by the definition of the Founding Fathers themselves.

George Washington welcomed the Jews to America as the "stock of Abraham" while John Adams showed the utmost respect for Islam, naming the Prophet Mohammed as one of the greatest truth seekers in history. Benjamin Franklin called him a model of compassion.

The Founding Fathers read and honored the same Quran that Jones is now seeking to burn. Thomas Jefferson kept the same Quran in his personal collection and it informed his decision to host the first presidential iftaar during Ramadan.

The Founding Fathers were also inspired by Christian thinkers like John Locke, who declared that the true Christian's duty was to "practice charity, meekness, and good-will in general toward all mankind, even to those that are not Christians."

I consulted many distinguished Abrahamic friends for this article, all concerned with the drift toward intolerance exemplified by Jones' threat, who were happy to endorse this article's content and language.

They include the Episcopal bishop of Washington, the Right Rev. John Chane; Senior Rabbi Bruce Lustig of the Washington Hebrew Congregation; Imam Mohamed Magid, executive director of the ADAMS Center in Northern Virginia; Pastor Dr. Robert Norris of Palm Beach, Florida's, Royal Poinciana Chapel and member of the Presbytery of Tropical Florida; the Rev. Carol Flett of the Washington National Cathedral, the Rev. Dr. Clark Lobenstine of the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington; Sister Maureen Fiedler, Sister of Loretto and host of Interfaith Voices, and too many others to name.

At the core of the Abrahamic faiths, these esteemed figures represent the need to show compassion and understanding of others. By threatening to burn the holy books of two of these faiths, the Quran and the Talmud, Jones is violating the basic tenants of all the Abrahamic faiths and doing something that is unacceptable by any standard of religion.

As an adherent of one of these faiths, Islam, and one who respects the other faiths, I implore Jones as a Christian and an American to cancel his burning event, follow the true teachings of Jesus by loving his neighbor, and engage in respectful dialogue instead.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Akbar Ahmed.