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September 09, 2010

UAE: US Condemnation of Quran Burning Sends Powerful Message to Muslims

This week, the Muslim world celebrates Eid-al-Fitr, the joyful three-day celebration marking the end of the Ramadan fast, which this year coincides with the ninth anniversary of September 11and plans by a radical Christian community in the southern U.S. state of Florida to burn copies of the Quran.  The Dove Outreach Center in Gainesville has suspended plans for its controversial bonfire but some analysts say even if it does not take place, the damage to relations with the Muslim world has already been done.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan is minister of foreign affairs for the United Arab Emirates, which has a large expatriate community representing many religious faiths.

Hilleary: Your highness, the UAE has a large expatriate community, including many Christians.  Are you concerned about the possible backlash, whether this cleric proceeds with the burning or not?

Sheikh Abdullah: First of all, this is a very small church, and his voice is not very well respected, even in his own community, and I'm very glad that the community - the United States, President Obama, the international community - has condemned this crazy idea, which definitely should be condemned in the harshest words.

Nevertheless, the UAE is a country of tolerance, of respect.  We have a lot of different religions living in peace in the UAE. We have over 50 churches in the UAE, and I don't think that this will have in any, sense, any backlash in the UAE. The people in the UAE are well aware that this does not represent the American people, who respect Muslims and respect the religion.  

Hilleary: This coincides with one of the biggest religious holidays [Eid al Fitr] of the Muslim calendar year.  Is this detracting, do you believe, anything from this big celebration?

Sheikh Abdullah: Not at all.  I think the Muslim world is very much impressed - as they should do - with the amount of outrage that the international community is taking against this.  I believe that Muslims around the world are seeing that in a very positive way, and I think that this is even a much more important message to the Muslim world how much their religion and their faith is respected.   

Hilleary: That's a very positive message.   If you had a message for Terry Jones and others like him, what would it be?

Sheikh Abdullah: Well, I would definitely say that Muslims overall do respect other faiths.   There are extremists in different religions and faiths.  There are, unfortunately, in our faith as well.   And I really hope that we, in our message, can show the entire world that as much as we can, we respect their religion, we respect their faith-or not, if they don't have one.   

But it's unfortunate that whatever these extremists in other-than-Muslim religion are behaving, this only helps people like Osama bin Laden or his followers who do not - not only do not respect our religion, as I see it, but don't talk on behalf of it.

Hilleary: It's been nine years since 9/11.   Why do you believe there has been this resurgence of Islamophobia in the United States?

Sheikh Abdullah: I don't think it's because of 9/11.   I think 9/11 unfortunately has been used by the extremists on both sides.  And we, as moderates in all religions, have to stand in front of them and show the world that whoever is using 9/11 as a tool has to be condemned in the harshest words.