by Sabahuddin Humayun,
The summer of 2010 saw media outlets across the world covering the now infamous Christian pastor Terry Jones who boastfully announced that he was going to host a Qur’an burning day. This story caused a huge outcry in the Islamic world and amongst world leaders. Given that the ugly head of anti-Islam sentiment has re-emerged over the past week, it is apt that we reconsider what happened in 2010, the lessons learned and how one Muslim community stood out from the rest in their response.
In July 2010, Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Centre in Florida announced that he would burn 200 copies of the Quran on 11th September to commemorate the terrorist attacks on the world trade centre. He started off by holding a mock “trial” of the Qur’an on the 20th of March in which he, sitting in as judge and executioner, deemed the Qur’an guilty of “crimes against humanity.” He proceeded to administer his punishment by burning a copy in the grounds of the church sanctuary! This caused a reprehensible attack by protesters on a United Nations Assistance Mission which resulted in the death of at least 30 people and injuries to at least 150.
The pastor’s actions and the looming date of the larger burning event caused a flurry of protests in multiple countries across the globe and calls by some world leaders, including the government of Gambia for the arrest and prosecution of the pastor. The American government, however, had no legal recourse except for citing the church under a local ordinance for public burning. This was viewed as a lame effort by the Muslim world.
On the 11th September, Pastor Jones announced the cancellation of the event and rather unconvincingly stated: “We will definitely not burn the Qur’an…Not today, not ever.” The pastor was later invited to join a rally by an English Right-Wing group at the start of 2011, but it was announced by the home secretary Theresa May that he would not be allowed to enter the country.
The response to the event in the Islamic community was varied. Some extremist groups announced their intentions to launch terrorist attacks on the church whilst others merely protested and condemned the Pastor’s actions. There was, however, a very pronounced silence. The Ahmadiyya Muslim community reacted to the event in a critical manner. His Holiness, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the head of the community, was quick to condemn all forms of religious extremism by stating, as reported by the BBC, that: “religious extremism, be it Christian extremism, Muslim extremism or any other kind, is never a true reflection of the religion.” The Ahmadiyya Muslim community then went on to organise a “Faith Day” in lieu of the Qur’an burning event to which representatives of various faiths were invited. Rather than using the prevailing controversy to divide, the Community saw it as an opportunity for good people, heralding from diverse backgrounds, to stand together against all forms of hatred – regardless of whether they were instigated by outrageous Christian pastors or blood-thirsty Muslim Mullahs.
The crude actions of a pastor with a following of an unimpressive 50 people, just as we are witnessing today with the film’s producer, caused a huge wave of events across the globe resulting in many deaths. The media’s wide coverage of the event contributed to its severe impact and it can be argued that, had the media not interfered so much, the ripples caused would have had far less reach. This event illustrated that religious extremism is the cause of much of the hate that is directed at individual religions and prevents many people from truly understanding their teachings and true meaning. Most importantly, we live in a diverse world where each society views what is sacred in different ways. A global community needs bold and ethical representatives from each nation and faith to sit and discuss the importance of freedom of expression in light of the hurt and destruction caused by its misuse. The man-made laws that govern us should never be considered as final and incapable of improvement. Even great laws can be made better!