Muslims are once again placed in the difficult position of deciding how best to respond to an act designed to cause as much offense as possible to them and their faith.
Previously, it was a series of cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad. Then it was the bigoted response to the call for "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day."
Now, Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., says he will burn copies of the Quran, Islam’s holy text, outside his church on the anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.
He told a local television station that he decided to burn copies of the Quran, which he calls an "evil book," because Islam "teaches against the Bible. . .The Quran teaches against Jesus being God."
Perhaps Pastor Jones has not opened the Quran to verse 45 of chapter 3, which states: "Behold! The angels said: ‘O Mary! God giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from Him. His name will be Jesus Christ, the son of Mary, held in honor in this world and the Hereafter and in (the company of) those nearest to God.’"
So, how should Muslims in America and around the world react to this latest attempt by hate-mongers to smear Islam and cause intentional offense?
They must look to the Quran itself and to the example of the Prophet Muhammad, who faced many such insults during his lifetime.
God states in the Quran: "(But whatever they may say or do,) repel the evil (that they commit) with something that is better: We are fully aware of what they attribute (to Us)." (The Holy Quran, 23:96)
And also: "(Since) good and evil cannot be equal, repel (the evil deed) with one that is better. Then you will see that he with whom you had enmity, will become your close friend." (The Holy Quran, 41:34)
In other verses, God states: "When (the righteous) hear vain talk, they withdraw from it saying: ‘Our deeds are for us and yours for you; peace be on to you. We do not desire the way of the ignorant’. . .O Prophet (Muhammad), you cannot give guidance to whom you wish, it is God Who gives guidance to whom He pleases, and He is quite aware of those who are guided." (The Holy Quran, 28:55-56)
The Quran also says: "Invite (all) to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching, and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knows best who have strayed from His Path and who receive guidance." (16:125)
Another verse tells the Prophet Muhammad to "show forgiveness, speak for justice and avoid the ignorant." (7:199)
Islamic traditions include a number of instances in which the Prophet did just that — clearly demonstrating that forgiveness is an act of liberation and that it shows strength, not weakness. Most importantly, God commands us to show forgiveness.
The Prophet often had the opportunity to retaliate against those who abused him, but refrained from doing so.
All Muslims know the tradition (hadith) of the woman who would regularly throw trash on the prophet as he walked down a particular path. The prophet never responded in kind to the woman’s abuse. Instead, when she one day failed to attack him, he went to her home to inquire about her condition.
In another hadith, the Prophet was offered the opportunity to have God punish the people of a town near Mecca who refused the message of Islam and attacked him with stones. Again, the prophet did not choose to respond in kind to the abuse. Instead, he asked God to save the abusers.
Even when the Prophet was in a position of power, he chose the path of kindness and reconciliation.
When he returned to Mecca after years of exile and personal attacks, he did not take revenge on the people of the city, but instead offered a general amnesty.
These are the examples that Muslims should follow as they express deep concern about an intentional insult that is in reality just a cheap publicity stunt by a tiny extremist group seeking attention and donations.
Instead of protesting the Quran burnings — and playing into the hands of extremist publicity-seekers like Pastor Jones — American Muslims and Muslims around the world should spend September 11 reaching out to people of other faiths and beliefs to build bridges of respect and understanding.
For Americans who are not Muslim, the principle should be "learn, don’t burn." Request a copy of the Quran at www.explorethequran.com and read all the references to Biblical figures such as Moses, Jesus and Abraham (peace be upon them all).
Research has shown that anti-Islam prejudice goes down when people interact with ordinary Muslims and have greater knowledge of Islam.
It might also be a good idea for Americans of other faiths to borrow a Quran from a Muslim friend, neighbor or co-worker. In that way, knowledge may be increased as bonds of friendship are formed.
A calm and faith-based reaction to this provocative act, coupled with the fact that the Quran burning has been condemned by every mainstream American religious and political leader, will hopefully deflect Pastor Jones’ message of hate and instead result in increased interfaith dialogue and mutual understanding.