Why the Quran remains a burning issue

Protests continue in Afghanistan over the burning of the Quran, with many dead and injured. Should any book have the power to stir such emotions?

Afghanistan has new troubles.

Today they're throwing stones at police in Jalalabad. Yesterday, in Kandahar, protestors burned cars and buildings, chanting: 'They have insulted the Quran' and 'Death to America.'

The previous day, seven United Nations workers were killed, two of them beheaded, in similar protests in Mazar-e Sharif.

The death toll from these public demonstrations is now put at 24, with 150 injured - and all because a tiny church on the other side of the world burned a copy of the Quran, the holy book of Muslims.

Last year, Pastor Terry Jones, of the Dove World Outreach Centre in Florida, USA, threatened to burn a Quran. But, under public pressure, he backed down.

Two weeks ago, however, his church put the Quran on trial and, finding it guilty of 'crimes against humanity', set it alight in a portable fire pit, sparking the present rage in Afghanistan.

'The foreigners brought the wrath of the Afghans on themselves by burning the Quran,' said spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid. Meanwhile President Obama has called the burning 'an act of extreme intolerance and bigotry.'

This is not the first time the Quran has been the cause of controversy. In 1989, the novelist Salman Rushdie wrote a book called 'The Satanic Verses'. Many Muslims believed he was saying the Quran was the work of the devil, and death threats forced Rushdie into hiding for many years.

And in 2005 a Danish newspaper printed cartoons of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad in a variety of humorous or satirical situations.

Islamic anger brought boycotts of Danish products in Muslim regions, the closure of embassies and death threats against the artists involved and European citizens in Arab states.

So why does attacking the Quran have the power to cause such offence?

Innocent life
For Muslims, the Quran is an exact record of the words revealed by God through the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad 14 centuries ago. As the last revealed Word of God, it has a special place in their lives and belief.

But does this mean that others must respect it in the same way? Freedom of worship is a human right. Yet many in the West would say that an equal human right is freedom of speech, which includes the right to offend, without the threat of violence or death.

As the Quran reminds us, 'the taking of one innocent life is like taking all of mankind... and the saving of one life is like saving all of mankind.'

But as this disturbing story reminds us, humankind is still learning how to disagree.

You Decide

  1. 'It's only a book'. Should any book be the cause of violence?
  2. Terry Jones' next plan is to put Mohammed on trial. Should there be limits to freedom of speech?

Activities

  1. Your class is asked to send a representative to speak with Terry Jones. Discuss amongst yourselves and come up with a message for him. You may not all agree over everything.
  2. Burning something is an aggressive act, whether it's a book, a flag or a treasured object. Write a short story about a treasured possession being burned – and the consequences.

Some People Say...

“Free speech should have limits.”

What do you think?

Q & A

So does Pastor Terry Jones speak for many?
No. His church membership has dwindled, he's a hate figure in his own community and he's practically broke.
But surely the American army support him?
Not at all. General Petraeus, the American head of NATO forces in Afghanistan, has told Afghans that only a handful of people had shown disrespect to the Quran. 'We condemn, in particular,' he said, 'the action of an individual in the United States who recently burned the Holy Quran.'
So the Quran is all for peace?
Many Islamic scholars believe so and there have been a number of peaceful demonstrations in Afghanistan that haven't made the news.A Well, there are verses in the Quran that are less conciliatory. One verse says 'As for those who reject our revelations, they incur the retribution for their wickedness.'

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