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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 4/23/11

Quran Burning: Exploring the Real Sin

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Message Reza varjavand
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Although the shockwaves that irrupted throughout the Muslim world a few weeks ago as a result of a Quran burning initiated by a Florida pastor have somewhat dissipated, the temptation to commit the same or a similar disrespectful and sinful misdeed in the future definitely has not. Unfortunately, that incident proved once again that Muslims are susceptible to manipulation and allow others, like this pastor, to take advantage of their vulnerability. This fundamentalist pastor, Terry Jones, successfully achieved his purpose of agitating fanatic Muslims. Playing right into his hands, Islamic extremists responded to his Quran burning transgression by resorting to violent rampages in the streets of Mazar Sharif in Afghanistan as well as elsewhere in Muslim countries. This violence once again put on public display the frightening face of religious extremism that underpins Islamophobia in the U. S. In my opinion, the fear of Islamic radicalism is not utterly unfounded given the atrocities being committed in the name of Islam and the images of public executions, destroyed buildings, and blown up automobiles that are being broadcast by the mass media on a non-stop basis.

  Conceivably, what people like the Florida pastor overlook is that the Quran is basically different from other holy books they are familiar with, namely the Bible, in terms of the source of its origination, its worldview, and its chronological developments. The dogmatic-minded mullahs believe that Quran is the miracle of Mohammad and the sacred eternal words of God, and thus none of its verses can be altered, abrogated, refuted, or nullified. The book is so sacred to Muslims that they are not allowed to touch it if their hands are considered unclean according to Islamic law. Almost all of the interpretations of the Quran, unlike those of the Bible, have been slow to address situations that have emerged in contemporary life, or to embrace modernity. In other words, the Quran has been unfairly denied flexibility by Muslim leaders who have a vested interest in keeping Islamic adherents in a dark-age mentality. They sift through the Quranic verses, medieval Islamic texts, and hadiths (the narratives of the actions and the words of the Prophet Muhammad and his close descendents or associates) to muster validation for their appalling ideology or to find excuses to instigate mob action. It is really hard to fathom why they dig so meticulously into the Quran and into the medieval Islamic texts, often cynically, in search of ambiguities and loopholes that support something that is incompatible with modern core moral values and with the essence of human dignity.

The innocent people who were slaughtered in these reactionary rampages had nothing to do with the Quran burning that set off the unbridled violence that led to their deaths; but Muslim fanatics are consumed by unbending zealousness. Zealousness is blind to the truth; it is indiscriminate and does not subscribe to any logic or common sense. The disproportionate response of these zealots only succeeded in making a bad situation humanly tragic. They also unwittingly aided the Florida pastor in his efforts to achieve his opportunistic objective of debasing Islam and extended indefinitely his "15 minutes of fame" that will predictably entice other would-be Quran burners to follow suit.

I believe Islam would have been better served if Muslims had exercised restraint and acted in a sane, rational manner instead of giving credence to Islamic stereotypes and fueling the bigotry of this pastor and others. If Muslims would have acted with restraint, they would have thwarted the Florida pastor's goals, deprived him of undeserved publicity, and could also have discouraged similar acts of hatred and intolerance from taking place in the future. Two wrongs do not make a right. Muslims should have shown grace through their self-discipline and their capacity to weather criticism. They should have demonstrated to the world that they have the capacity to thoughtfully fight an ideological war with ideological tools, and not through violence, use of force, and killing.

Many Muslims here in the U. S. have tried to rationalize this violent outrage by drawing a parallel between what Terry Jones did and what Muslim fanatics did. Frankly, there is no comparison. Pastor Jones did something really loathsome, but what was done by extremists in response was in no way on a par with what he did. Burning a copy of a holy book can never justify the gruesome killing of many innocent people. I scratched my head in disbelief and thought, what else would one expect from fanatics who boast about their warrior leader (Imam Ali) who they claim beheaded 700 people in one day? Sometimes I wonder and ask myself, what was he, a killing machine?

Many other Islamic thinkers who live in the United States have tried rightfully to condemn violence and distance themselves and Islam from extremism. They place a tactful mask on Islam by trying to promote a pacifist version of Islam created in the West, especially in the U. S. This is a welcome initiative; however, in my opinion, doing this will only divert attention away from much needed deeper reform. I believe Muslims need to get rid of medieval Islamic texts that promote violence, and urge the governments and influential religious leaders in Muslim countries to break their self-serving silence and censure such violence, push extremism to the sideline, and refuse to give extremists a voice and legitimacy. We need such endeavors in the countries in which religious extremism is popular and in power, and not in the U.S. The thugs in the streets of the cities in Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, and other Muslim countries do the bidding of their mullahs and are accountable to them, not to moderate Muslims living in the West. They do not take their orders from the progressive Muslim leaders in the U.S. but from the regressive mullahs in the East who may have no appreciation of modernity, human rights, social justice, and human dignity. These mullahs have a vested interest in continuing to incarcerate their constituency in a cocoon of backwardness, and they have plenty of verses from Quran and other Islamic texts that they can invoke to instill a violent mentality in them. Mullahs have been using that chicanery for 1,400 years and they will continue doing the same even in the 21st century. We will see the reoccurring slaughter of human beings and continued violence unless there are structural reforms in Islamic teachings. Promoting the pacifist side of Islam, of course, is not counterproductive, but it is not productive per se.

I believe Muslims in the U.S. are peaceful and open-minded, not because they are Muslim or because there is something in medieval Islamic scriptures that promotes pacifism, but because they live in a society founded on the pillars of respect for individual life, self-respect, mutual coexistence, tolerance, and utmost respect for human rights. However, some U. S. Muslims, if given the chance, would not mind installing the rules of Sharia (the system of governance totally based on Islamic laws) in this country.  

Nothing can be done in the short term to eradicate religious violence; however, if violence-inspiring texts are gradually removed, abrogated, and declared null by benevolent religious leaders, then we may see improvement in the long run because new generations of Muslims will not have been exposed to religiously sanctioned violence in scriptures. Violence inflicted on others in the name of God--the real sin--must be eradicated if we are to ever have peace and hope.


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Reza Varjavand (Ph.D., University of Oklahoma) is associate professor of economics and finance at the Graham School of management, Saint Xavier University, of Chicago. He has been an avid participant in many professional organizations and active in (more...)
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