This article was published on ‘Times Online’ on 3rd September 2010.
I remember attending secondary school when at the end of one assembly, all pupils were presented with a copy of the New Testament. I also remember being horrified when on the bus home, many of the students, who were mostly atheist or agnostic, threw their copies out of the window, with others tearing the pages up. It upset me greatly.
How dare they treat the revealed words of God with such disrespect, I thought.
These were my feelings not as a Christian, but as a Muslim, brought up to revere the founders and scriptures of all faiths.
You will understand my outrage, then, when I learned about a group of American Christians urging people to burn a Qur’an on 9/11. The ironically named Dove World Outreach Center, which believes it is fulfilling God’s will, preaches that Islam “is of the devil”, “violent” and “oppressive”. If that wasn’t enough, it puts forward 10 reasons to set the Qur’an ablaze – among them being Islam’s alleged incompatibility with democracy, demand for apostates to be killed and affront to Jesus. All utter nonsense.
Of course some misconceptions regarding Islam are no particular fault of this church or indeed anyone in the West, as the twisted ideology and practices of certain Muslim groups are the real root of the problem. However there are times when a minority of evangelists and the media intentionally seek to mislead, as witnessed in this case.
The Qur’an, God’s direct revelation upon which the faith should really be judged, teaches that in matters of conscience, all human beings enjoy complete freedom. Indeed it was purely to safeguard this liberty that the Prophet Muhammad and his followers were permitted to fight, having been so brutally attacked for their beliefs. For 13 years, he and the first Muslims suffered torture, yet remained absolute pacifists. Only when hostilities against them reached an unbearable extreme – with their very survival at stake – were they justified in defending their lives. The conflict ceased once freedom of expression for all was restored.
When the Prophet became ruler of Arabia and faced his merciless persecutors, he had every right to exact revenge; instead, he granted a universal amnesty. So much for violence and oppression.
Had the Qur’an been derogatory about Christ, one may have excused the Dove World faithful. Again we find quite the opposite.
Examine the esteemed status afforded to not just the Messiah, but his blessed mother too. Jesus (or ‘Isa) is called a “blessed” and “virtuous” Prophet, “honoured in this world and in the next” and “granted nearness to God”. Similarly Mary (Maryam) is referred to as “truthful” and presented as a model of righteousness for believers, male and female; there is even a chapter named after her. Both are mentioned more times than even the Prophet Muhammad, and countless Muslims name their children after them.
Indeed, through their mutual love for history’s most famous mother and child, Christianity and Islam enjoy a special relationship.
When the Prophet Muhammad made his claim, some Christians visited him for a theological discussion. When it was time for them to pray they were about to leave, but the Prophet invited them to worship in his own mosque in whatever manner they wished, which they happily accepted.
Such compassion and courtesy are not limited to just the ‘People of the Book’. The Qur’an requires belief in all the Messengers and kind treatment of God’s creation without prejudice and discrimination. “Verily Allah enjoins justice and the doing of good to others” (Ch.16:V.91).
As an increasing number of converts from the West have also found, there is an abundance of beauty, not barbarism; enlightenment, not evil; truth, not terror, for those that read the Qur’an with an open mind.
And yet this is the text the Dove World congregation deems a threat and hence fit for burning.
What would be achieved by so provocative an act, which represents the very antithesis of Jesus’ own teachings and example? Would the world edge closer to the peace and harmony this church has been apparently commissioned to bring about? Or is it, as with The Satanic Verses, Danish cartoons and Geert Wilders movie, a deliberate attempt to offend and insult?
It is evident from the Qur’an and the life of the Prophet that Islam has the highest regard for Christ. Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community that is today leading a renaissance of Islam, also observed:
“Jesus, the Messiah, is a beloved of God, a chosen one, light for the world, a sun of guidance, a dear one to God, placed closed to His Throne.”
If the Dove World preachers seek to dishonour a book that inspires such sentiments about their faith, then even if they do not appreciate the true message of Islam, one wonders if they have understood the real essence of Christianity itself. If they had, then surely they would have a burning desire for peace, rather than fan the flames of hatred.