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As we approach the ninth anniversary of the airliner suicide attacks by al-Qaeda, there is a worldwide controversy over the threat of burning Korans to mark the anniversary. The threat comes from Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center in Florida, and even though nearly 3,000 people from over 70 countries were killed in the terrorist’s attacks in 2001, Muslims are being singled out and held responsible because the terrorists happened to be Muslims.
Simultaneously, there is another controversy taking place over the proposal to build an Islamic Cultural Center in York, including a mosque and a 911 memorial. Ground Zero is approximately two blocks away from the proposed cultural center. To culminate this week, we approach the anniversary of the terrorist’s attacks with the upcoming celebration of the end of Ramadan, the last day of the month-long Islamic
tradition of fasting called Eid al-Fitr that falls near or on September 11th. This is a joyous celebration and both the Cultural Center proposal and the celebration of Eid al-Fitr are considered by some to be disrespectful of the 3,000 fallen on September 11, 2001.
Having delineated the current issues facing the Islamic community, leaving out the last nine years in which Muslims have faced discrimination due to the terrorist’s association with Islam and the development of what is now being referred to as Islamophobia, I feel compelled to take a stand for what the Constitution of the United States guarantees us all in the First Amendment, including the free exercise of religion.
I therefore must respect the right of freedom of speech and must always be mindful when I am reacting to someone’s opinion if it is different from my own. I would prefer that we speak to one another with respect, but I cannot force my style of communication on anyone or get someone to change their behavior and I myself am not always able to respond rather than react. We can however, strive to educate ourselves so that we have the means to meet each other with respect.
What I have learned about Islam is that the Muslims I know are wonderful and generous people who have a deep conviction of faith and a love of God and one another that are exemplary. One of my teachers is a Sheik and a Sufi master who is more than willing to spend time teaching me about Islam. When I questioned what I felt was the Qu’ran’s most controversial verse, Surah 4:34, my teacher, Dr. Robert Frager took the time to share this with me:
“The following is a translation made by Muhammad Asad, who was born in Austria and lived for many years in Arabia and is the most sophisticated translator into English. His commentaries are also excellent—he lived with the Bedouin in the 1940’s and learned both modern and older Arabic usages which are closer to the Qur’an. Also, it helps to put this in context—women had NO rights in Arabia or in most other cultures at this time. They were more like possessions than anything else, and Islam consistently preached giving women rights and dignity they never had before:
Men shall take full care of women with the bounties which God has bestowed more abundantly on the former than on the latter, and with what they may spend out of their possessions. And the righteous women are the truly devout ones, who guard the intimacy which God has [ordained to be] guarded. And as for those women whose ill-will you have reason to fear, admonish them [first]; then leave them alone in bed; then beat them;* and if thereupon they pay no heed, do not seek to harm them.
*It is clear from the sequencing here that beating is a last choice—and it was probably a first choice for many if not most men at the time of Muhammad. And, I imagine that the somewhat barbaric Arabs of his day often seriously injured their wives when there was a family dispute, so this ayat clearly teaches them to behave with restraint compared to the culture of the day. Muhammad himself hated the idea of beating women and preached against it, and that he was not happy that this line implied it was at all permissible. It was recorded that he said after this was revealed, ‘I wanted one thing but God has revealed another.’ I know that at first it is somewhat shocking reading, especially some other translations.”
When I take the time to learn about things I don’t understand, I find myself opening to new ideas and different ways of looking at things. The idea of diversity is to see the differences amongst us within the Oneness that connects us all. The Constitution of the United States does not condone violence like the pipe bomb that blew up in the Islamic Center in Florida in May of this year. And while the burning of the Qur’an in itself cannot hurt anyone physically, it does in fact hurt people emotionally causing an escalation of tension that can lead to violence. Indirectly then, the burning of the Qu’ran is a violent act and I believe there is a better way, through education, to take a stand for what we believe in. I am not saying we have to agree with one another, but we do have to stand together for our freedom to disagree as there is no freedom in violence.
Many Muslims died in the terrorist’s attacks on September 11, 2001. This week Muslims will joyously celebrate the end of Ramadan at the same time many will be mourning the loss of their loved ones in the 9/11 attacks. For the love of God, let us all join in the fight against terrorism without participating in the accusations and blaming of innocent people, which in itself is an act of terrorism. We have laws that punish terrorists so that we as a people can walk amongst each other in safety and peace.