A trouble-making non-entity from Gainesville, Florida, calling himself a pastor — whose name is not worthy of mention — intends to ‘commemorate' the 9/11 tragedy by burning 200 Qurans and is using the internet to incite others with similar hateful leanings to follow suit. As Muslims believe their Holy Book is the immutable Word of God, understandably, they are infuriated, offended and hurt by his divisive call with major protests having erupted in Indonesia, India and elsewhere. But let's put passions aside for a moment to give this topic some context.
This sad individual is nothing more than an attention-seeking, bigoted nobody with an agenda. It may be that he has a martyr-complex having announced that he's ready to die. It's possible that he is attempting to bring about a clash of civilisations in an attempt to hurry-in Armageddon, a precursor to the Second Coming.
Alternatively, he may be an egotistical lunatic out to attract a cult following like Jim Jones who ordered members of his Peoples' Temple to commit suicide in Guyana or the leader of Heaven's Gate who told his flock to kill themselves as a prelude to being carried off in a space craft. What is sure is that he's no ‘Man of God' and seems to be unconcerned that he is leading his congregation into potential danger.
I'm no authority on Christianity but I am aware that its main precepts are non-violence, forgiveness and peace. Obviously, the sheer hatred and aggression displayed by this gun-toting Florida man, who apparently persuades his followers to work in his furniture business without pay, in no way fits the bill.
Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper was on the button with his comment. "I don't speak very often about my own religion," he said. "But let me be very clear: My God and my Christ is a tolerant God, and that's what we want to see in this world."
If, however, the ‘pastor's aim was to get himself and his 50 or so parishioners in the media glare, he has succeeded. There isn't a newspaper or a television station in the world that isn't covering this story since the commander of US forces in Afghanistan General David Petraeus warned that the action might put American "troops in harm's way" and may elicit a negative reaction "not just in Kabul but everywhere in the world."
Since then, the White House, the State Department, the United Nations, Nato as well as a number of heads of state, religious leaders and celebrities have elevated this hate-monger's sense of importance by urging him to cancel the bonfire. An English Bishop says he's "horrified" by the plan likening to the Nazi burning of Jewish religious texts.
US President Barack Obama likens it to "a recruitment bonanza for Al Qaida" while imploring the pastor to call it off.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has slammed it as "despicable" and expressed her regret that so much media attention has been given to it. She's absolutely right. India has decided to impose a media blackout on this story; perhaps other countries where it is likely to escalate sectarian tensions should follow Delhi's lead.
At the time of writing, the ‘pastor' is still determined to pursue his goal although it may be that he will ultimately cave under such heavy national and international pressure. Whether he goes ahead or not is of little concern to me in the same way I wouldn't care if the inmate of a mental institution did something similar.
This preacher man is a person without any real constituency. He has no authority and no importance. Instead of garnering headlines he should be offered psychiatric care to prevent him from harming himself and the people who are gullible enough, ignorant enough or simply hate-filled enough to do his bidding.
My main concern is that Muslims should not allow themselves to be manipulated by the evil machinations of someone they had never even heard of a few weeks ago. Whatever the motive behind the book-burning may be, it was conceived in order to obtain a reaction. This deranged person is basking under the glare of the media and would be thrilled if Muslims turned to retaliatory violence which he would use as an excuse to declare that he was right about Islam after all. I would strongly advise my fellow Muslims to be guided by intelligence rather than emotion and avoid playing right into this devious person's hands.
The worst punishment that could befall this individual is to ignore him when he will very quickly find himself returned to obscurity where he belongs. Protests won't harm him. On the contrary, he will see them as welcome propaganda. We, as Muslims, have made such mistakes before.
The author Salman Rushdie wouldn't have been so well-known or sold so many copies of his anti-Islamic book without the Iranian fatwa against him and Danish cartoons insulting the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) would not have been so widely disseminated if Muslim protestors hadn't ensured they were seen all over the world. It is very disturbing, however, that the German Chancellor Angela Merkel has, last week, seen fit to reward the cartoonist in question with a freedom award.
Do we Muslims really imagine that this irrelevant pipsqueak of a preacher or his sick constituency threatens Islam in any way, shape or form? That's simply ridiculous. The religions adhered to by the Peoples of the Book — Islam, Christianity and Judaism — do not need to be defended from nobodies; they all have the Creator — the same One God — to protect them. I would ask my Muslim brothers and sisters to remember God's words expressed in Surah Al-Hijr (The Rocky Tract) as follows: "It is We who have sent down the Dhikr [the Quran] and surely, We will guard it [from any corruption] (15:9)
Our faith is not so weak that it cannot withstand insult. We must stand above those seeking to harm us and wrap ourselves in the impenetrable suit of armour that our sincere belief has provided us. They may be able to set fire to pages but our Quran can never be defaced or destroyed. Its verses are forever etched on the hearts, minds and souls of the believers … and will remain so until the end of time.
Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor is a businessman and chairman of Al Habtoor Group.