In a hotel in Washington, DC, located between the White House and Capitol Hill, I was browsing through a book of guest services, and the phrase ‘Religious Services’ caught my attention. Through curiosity, I contacted customer service for further enquiries. A man named ‘Michael’ answered, asking which religion I required his services for. I told him Islam, and he said that the hotel offers a transport service to a Mosque, located five minutes away. I asked him what about the direction of the prayer, deliberately not mentioning the words ‘Mecca’ or ‘al-Qabla’, in order to establish the hotel administration’s attention to detail. He asked to be excused for half a minute, and then returned eager to explain to me that the direction was towards ‘Holy Mecca’, and told me the direction to face, in relation to my room. I’m sure that if I said I was Jewish, or Buddhist, then I would also have received the same service.
One would think for a moment that all the inhabitants of this country, such as Michael, have a high degree of openness and respect for other cultures, but unfortunately this is not true. America, like any other country, has crazy extremists from all religions, political beliefs and cultures. It has hawks and doves, and mercenary crows.
These days, American politicians denounced a church in Florida for [planning to] burn copies of the Quran, branding the act as foolish, impudent and dangerous. Jewish and Christian religious moderates in Europe, America and the Arab countries disassociated themselves from this act. The Vatican condemned it, and the Jewish Council in Germany considered it provocative, and an affront on the Bible. Yet meanwhile, extremists were preparing to burn the Quran in memory of September 11th, for there is always a rotten apple in the box. I do not know why they did not celebrate burning the Quran on the first anniversary of the September events, or why they did not wait for next year to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the event… Why this year?
The threat to burn the Quran was a crime in its own, because it provoked the emotions of more than a billion people, just as the project to build a mosque at the site of the Twin Towers in New York provoked the feelings of moderate Americans, and even ignited extremism in the hearts of those normally silent. This also happened with Pastor Jones, who has linked the suspension of his plan to burn the Quran, with an agreement to change the construction site of the Ground Zero mosque. This mosque brought harm even before it was built, and the interests of Muslims were damaged by the mere ‘threat’ of building it, like the threat to burn the Quran. It will continue to leave a bad impression, even after the idea has been extinguished. One individual, in opposition to the mosque project, said: “Muslims firstly should have put forward a project to build an interfaith dialogue centre [rather than an Islamic centre], to attack the idea of extremism, at the site of horrific extremism”. I told him that there was no need to build anything. They [who oppose the mosque] want the place to be empty of conflict and controversy, so that families of the victims can find space to put a bouquet of flowers every year, without mixed feelings of grief and malice, and so attention is not drawn away from the fact that it is a place of memory. [If built near to Ground Zero] the proposed Islamic Centre would ultimately focus on defending Islam, but this would be a weak defense, because advocates would be presenting their case over the ‘bodies of victims’.
There is a verse in the Quran which is a lesson in diplomacy and statesmanship, in dealing with difference, which both the Imam of the New York mosque, and Muslim zealots, must be aware of. God Almighty says: “Revile not ye those whom they call upon besides Allah, lest they out of spite revile Allah in their ignorance”. Provocation has devastating consequences, and those who understand the dimensions of this verse are aware of this.
It is shameful that most of those who excel in abusing Islamic values are Muslims themselves. Islamic history is full of instances of murder and intimidation that have taken place in mosques. Innocent people have been killed, with the perpetrators neither respecting the sacredness of the place or the sanctity worship. In contemporary history, dozens of mosques in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Somalia and Yemen have been blown up at the hands of Muslim extremists. These mosques contained worshippers and copies of the Quran. It is disturbing to learn of such news periodically, and find that condemnation is not in proportion to the obscenity of these acts. Meanwhile, we find that the threat to burn the Quran, by Christian extremists, results in outrage amongst Muslims, although there is no difference in the crime, the aim is the same, an attempt to abuse high religious values. Those who follow the news find a strange paradox, for Pakistan is witnessing explosions after every Friday prayer, and the public response is muted. Many of the targeted sites are mosques, including worshippers and copies of the Quran, yet the Pakistani people come out onto the streets denouncing Pastor Jones’s scheme, proposing to burn the Quran! This is a clear indication that the situation is not religious, but rather it is political.
Pastor Jones may continue with his plan, or he may decide to withdraw it. On the other hand, there may be a violent response from his counterparty, bombing churches or targeting American forces under the false pretext of revenge. Unfortunately, we have to accept the idea of extremism in every religion and in every society, suddenly manifesting itself in a frightening idea or horrific act. We see them today, carrying out bombings in Pakistan, preventing the relief efforts from reaching those affected by the floods. We see them threatening to burn a bible, or commit a massacre in a mosque, or praying for death for those who speak of peace.
There is no difference between Muslim, Jewish or Christian extremists; they are all axes of evil.