International Burn a Koran Day – Why it was a bad idea

International Burn a Koran Day – Why it was a bad idea

Dove World Outreach Centre in Florida has declared that it will burn a Quran on 11 September 2010 on what they have declared as ‘Burn a Koran Day’.
In response Muslim groups throughout the world have warned that this event will result in extreme reactions.  Would-be martyrs have declared their readiness to die in bombing the Dove Church. Radical groups such as Hizbut Tahrir and the Muslim Brotherhood have warned about uncontrollably violent reactions.  For example a statement posted by the Muslim Brotherhood said:

Dr. Diaa Rashwan, Islamic movements’ expert at Egypt’s Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, described the intended burnings of the Quran [as] unreasonable and exceedingly dangerous going beyond all reason and sensibility. He maintained that a serious crisis will arise and extremism will be initiated in the Muslim world stressing that it is imperative that the US administration and UN interfere before a vicious circle of violence and extremism is initiated. He added that the burning of the Quran was not freedom of expression but a clear violation of the rights of nearly one and a half billion Muslims worldwide.

An effigy of Pastor Jones of DWOC has been burned in Kabul, by protestors shouting ‘Death to America. Death to Obama’,  and General David Petraeus, the US military commander in Afghanistan has warned that the act ‘could endanger’ American troops, and play into the hands of the Taliban.

Many have spoken out against the burning ritual, including American Christians.  The National Association of Evangelicals has urged cancellation of the burning because:

God created human beings in his image, and therefore all should be treated with dignity and respect. The proposed burning of Qu’rans would be profoundly offensive to Muslims worldwide, just as Christians would be insulted by the burning of Bibles.

Rick Sanchez of CNN in his interview with Terry Jones, pastor of DWOC asked him why he would burn the “sacred” book of Muslims, and also asked how he would feel if Muslims burned a Bible. Jones said that he wouldn’t like it, but this would be their right.

Kiran Chetry in another interview suggested to Jones that he would have the blood of American soldiers  on his hands.

This Quran burning ritual is a bad idea, but not because it shows disrespect to Muslims, nor because Jones will have ‘blood on his hands’.

Re disrespect.
It is unhelpful for the NAE to demand that Christians must respect Islam for the sake of Muslims’ sensibilities.  If someone believes the religious ideas or beliefs of others are bad, it is wrong to demand that the person must show respect towards these ideas or beliefs.  Bad and harmful beliefs do not deserve respect, no matter how ardently they are held.  The assumption that if you reject someone’s beliefs, you are attacking or offending the person who holds them is also a very, very unhelpful idea. People should be free to disagree with or vehemently reject the beliefs of others without being accused of hatred.

Re blood guilt.
If some people rise up and kill others on the basis of a Koran burning incident – or any other incident which is believed to insult Islam –  then the only people who will have blood on their hands will be the killers.  Opposition to Islam’s teachings does not and never will justify acts of violence by offended radical Muslims.

These two ideas, i) that if you attack Islam, you are attacking Muslims; and ii) that criticism of Islam justifies violence – these are very bad ideas, bad for freedom, bad for justice, and bad for peace.  It is true they are claimed by some Muslims to be the legitimate teachings of Islam.  Some cite, for example the verses of the Koran which state that ‘persecution [fitna] is worse than slaughter’ (Sura 2:191, 217) or ‘fight them until there is no more persecution [fitna]’ (Sura 2:193, 8:39).  These are the same verses used to justify killing those who leave Islam (so-called ‘apostates’ from Islam).  According to the fitna worldview, violent responses to criticism of Islam are justifiable.  However they are not, and it is unwise for critics of the DWOC to veer into a dalliance with the fitna worldview by commanding respect for bad beliefs, while expulcating perpetrators of violence and terror.

Yet I do oppose the Quran burning.  The best explanation, from a Christian perspective, for opposing this reckless act, has come to me, not from Christians, but from Ahmadiyyah Muslims.  It is found in a statement Love for All, Hatred for None – A Peaceful Message to the World Burning Scriptures – A Biblical Teaching?

The Ahmadiyyah response begins by citing Jesus’ words from the sermon on the Mount:

But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven … (Matthew 5:44-45)

The Ahmadiyyah statement correctly rejects Dove Church’s reliance on Acts 19:19, in which pagan Ephesians burned their magic books and articles:

This is the only such incident of “book burning” recorded in the New Testament. However, for verse 19:19 to be used in support of Christians gathering together to burn the scriptures of other faiths publicly is not logical and is unsuported by any other Christian teaching.  The scrolls that are burnt in this verse are burnt by their owners themselves, the implication being that they are aware that what is contained within is not truthful and they fear being disgraced as those who had been using Jesus’ name to drive out demons were disgraced.  They openly confess their actions and then burn the scrolls to show they are putting an end to such practices in the future.  This is a completely different scenario from the one being presented by the Dove centre to justify burning the Qur’an.

 Indeed.  The Ahmadiyyah statement then goes on to point out that Jesus taught meekness, showing mercy, peacemaking, forgiving others, not judging others, and repentance, citing Matthew 5:5, 5:7, 5:43-45, 6:14-15, 7:1-2, 11:25, and 9:10-13. It points out that burning is an action of destruction and hatred, and this is not in accordance with the message of the New Testament: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:17-18).
It is sad that some Christian leaders, in their rejection of the DWOC’s foolhardy and dangerous Quran burning proposal, have fallen into the trap of appeasing the sentiments of Muslims, instead of standing up for Christian principles of love and grace.
Finally, I can refer readers to an entertaining presentation of information about the original Burn a Koran Day, namely that of the Caliph Uthman, when he standardized the Quran by fire.  See the video on YouTube here.
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