Though I’m Christian, not Muslim, I am just as distressed at the idea of the proposed “International Burn the Quran Day” as I would be if it were “International Burn the Bible Day.” But that’s precisely what Pastor Terry Jones and his church, the Dove World Outreach Center, of Gainesville, Florida, have proposed as a way of observing the next September 11, 2010, the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks ( burning copies of the Quran.

I’ve studied the Quran (or at least an English translation of it) and my supreme loyalty is still to the Bible. Yet I offer the Q’uran respect similar to what I offer my Muslim friends, just as most of them respect me and my Bible. This seems a fair and reasonable exchange. If Pastor Jones and the Dove Outreach Center wish to help people come to know Christ, as is his stated goal (mine too), will they gain a fair hearing by such a threatening and provocative act of flagrant disrespect? Or is his a magical world in which he expects respect, but he doesn’t have to give it?

In his interview on CNN, Pastor Jones recites a litany of charges against Islam, such as forced conversions, terrorism and lack of freedom. I’ve also heard Muslims recite litanies of historic grievances against Christians, going back to the Crusades and to old and contemporary forms of Western colonialism. Their reasoning is so similar, they must either both be right, or equally mistaken. To me, Al Qaeda is to Islam as the Ku Klux Klan is to Christianity. Both appeal to one religion or the other, and both are perversions of it. So, just as I would not want myself and my sacred scriptures discredited by association with the Ku Klux Klan, we must make the same distinctions when relating to all who call themselves Muslim. I know, love and respect all the many Muslims in my life. And I haven’t met an Al Qaeda jihadi yet.

I’d like to take Pastor Jones to meet some of my Muslim friends, including the Muslim family in West Africa that effectively “adopted” Becky, our daughters and myself, without requiring us to become Muslim. They even said we could host prayer meetings or a church on their property. That may not be as unusual as Jones thinks.

So, count me as a conscientious objector to International Burn the Quran Day on September 11, 2010. We have, as a nation, more and better grieving to do about the events of that tragic day, nine years ago, if we are to break out of the cycle of victimhood, vengeance and violence. The wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the burning of the Quran are part and parcel of our entrapment in aborted and misdirected grieving. Doing something as vindictive and disrespectful as burning the Quran, in order to poke Muslims in the eye, the vast majority of whom had nothing to do with the events of that day, will lead to no one’s healing, including our own. Quite the opposite. Respect and reconciliation will go much farther toward healing the wounds of September 11, which were felt just as strongly in the Muslim community of America, as among non-Muslims.

Similar errors and attitudes are at work over plans for a newer, larger Islamic center in Lower Manhattan, near the site of the World Trade Towers attack. My thoughts: outside of the people of Manhattan and their elected and appointed city officials, its no one else’s business. There may be reasons related to zoning laws and civil safety codes that would argue for or against it, same as if a church were proposed for that site. Religion (or which one), however, should not be a deciding matter in the case, unless we want to start a precedent of legalized religious preference and persecution. We Mennonites should be familiar with where that leads. Our experience has taught us instead that the Holy Spirit has more powerful means of convicting and convincing people than what human laws and regulations can ever provide.

More importantly, what does it say about us that a proposed mosque has become a major national election year issue? Besides fear of Muslims and Islam, it also indicates ignorance. There are already thousands of Muslims living, working and worshiping in Lower Manhattan, with plenty of mosques there even now. Furthermore, the imam and potential builder of the proposed Islamic Center is a Sufi Muslim. Sufism is the most peaceful and universalistic sect of Islam, the one least likely to inspire, recruit and send forth armed jihadists and suicide bombers. In fact, Sufis are more regularly targeted for persecution, violence and murder by Al Qaeda types than are Christians and Westerners, at least by number of successful attacks and body counts.

It all comes down to this: Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Wiccan freedom of religion (and atheist freedom from religion) is our freedom of religion as well. Respect for Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Pagans and atheists is tied up with our respect as well. Respect does not mean agreement, nor is it to be confused with postmodern relativism, the belief that all beliefs are equally true, that they all lead to the same destination. They aren’t, and they don’t. To say otherwise is not even respectful to any religion and its adherents. But respect is indispensable to a Christ-like way and witness in the world. In this fearful post-9-11 age, it could even distinguish us.

Pastor Mathew Swora



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