News / USA

Religious Leaders Appeal for Calm After Quran Burning

Effigy of the American pastor Terry Jones is seen burning during a demonstration in Shinwar, Nangarhar province, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, after protests erupted in Afghanistan again Monday against the Florida pastor's burning of the Quran, April 4, 201
Effigy of the American pastor Terry Jones is seen burning during a demonstration in Shinwar, Nangarhar province, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, after protests erupted in Afghanistan again Monday against the Florida pastor's burning of the Quran, April 4, 201

Last fall, when Florida pastor Terry Jones first threatened to burn a copy of the Muslim holy book, a group of Christian ministers met with him and urged him not to do it.

Geoff Tunnicliffe was among them. He's International Director of the New York-based World Evangelical Alliance, which represents 600 million Evangelical Christians around the globe.

He says he told Jones: "If you continue with your action and violence occurs, pastors are killed, churches are burnt down, would you actually come with me and sit with widows and explain to them why you had to take the action you did?"

That statement is thought to have helped persuade Jones to abandon his plans last fall. But when Jones made it clear earlier this year that he would go ahead after all, Tunnicliffe again tried to stop him and failed. Jones burned a Quran on March 20. And despite condemnations by U.S. President Barack Obama and Gen. David Petraeus, commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, angry mobs there have staged deadly protests including an attack on a U.N. compound,killing seven U.N. workers.

Christian and Muslim religious leaders in America are condemning the burning of a Quran by a Florida pastor and the deadly violence it triggered in Pakistan and Afghanistan. They also are appealing for moderation as the pastor plans to escalate his anti-Muslim activities.

Tunnicliffe says Jones' small church is not even a member of the World Evangelical Alliance. "The message that we're trying to get out is that Terry Jones operates a tiny fringe congregation that is not representative of mainstream church Evangelicalism or Christian belief," he said.

While Christian leaders condemn the desecration of Muslim scriptures, a number of Muslim leaders in America have condemned the violent reaction.

Daisy Khan is the executive director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement. She's also the wife of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, whose proposal to locate a mosque near the site of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks stirred controversy last year.

She said Jones cannot be accused of committing a crime. "Well, burning the Quran is not a crime because God doesn't need any defense," Khan said. "The Quran is the word of God. That's like saying when Pastor Terry puts the Quran on trial, did he invite God to come down and defend himself?"

Khan said Muslims everywhere should remember their faith is about moderation.

Robert Jones of the Public Religion Research Institute in Washington said most Americans are moderate in their view of Islam.

In a February poll by his institute, 62 percent of respondents said American Muslims are an important part of the U.S. religious community. He said Americans also have a high regard for scripture.

"So there's an intense respect for religion in the general public that in itself cuts against these sorts of acts being okay with many in public," said Jones.

Out on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., visitors from around the country said what the Florida pastor did was inexcusable.

"I don't know why anybody would burn a holy book, for any reason," says Marylin Paul of Virginia.

James Gibson, who is from Georgia, said he agrees, for the most part. "But I do find it kind of ironic that they can scream, 'Death to infidels,' but if we do anything we're just, you know, the devil."

As for Florida Pastor Terry Jones, his web site says he's now planning a protest in front of one of America's largest mosques in Dearborn, Michigan. He's also quoted as saying he wants to put Islam's prophet Mohammed on trial.

Jerome Socolovsky

Jerome Socolovsky is the award-winning religion correspondent for the Voice of America, based in Washington. He reports on the rapidly changing faith landscape of the United States, including interfaith issues, secularization and non-affiliation trends and the growth of immigrant congregations.

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