Saturday, September 11, 2010

'Fahrenheit 451' and the Quran Burning Issue

Ray Bradbury’s famous 1951 novel uses ‘451’ in the title to denote the temperature at which book paper burns. Who would have guessed that fateful number would compel worldwide attention in the early 21st-century?

The pastor from Florida (he will remain nameless, for he has had far more than his fifteen minutes of fame already) who threatened to burn the Quran seems to have had a change of heart. He and his flock of fifty will not burn copies of the Quran after all on the ninth anniversary of 9/11.

The pastor is claiming that his decision is based on a quid pro quo: Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has agreed to move the Not-At-Ground-Zero mosque farther away from Ground Zero, and therefore, he will not go ahead with his planned bonfire.

Imam Rauf has denied any agreement with the pastor. It now appears that this was yet another attempt by the former hotel manager from Gainesville, Florida, to focus media attention on him.

There are two points worth noting about this Quran burning issue.

One is that the pastor and his likes do not represent America and its values, a point emphasized by both President Barack Obama and secretary of State Hillary Clinton. This includes the few thousands who befriended the pastor on Facebook and who mailed him copies of the Quran to create a bonfire.

The other, the more significant point, is that the threat by the pastor to burn Islam’s divine text should motivate Muslims to reflect on their own relationship with the Quran.

Lunatics and extremists have in the past burned, and will no doubt burn again, sacred texts to draw attention to their delusional and psychopathic mindsets. We shouldn’t really get worked up over this.

But where do we Muslims stand with respect to the Quran? Do we not dishonor the Book through negligence and indifference? How many of us dust it off only when a loved one departs the earth? Do we set aside time to read and understand it every day, even if for a few minutes? Does the Quran speak to us equally when we experience both joy and sorrow? And what about those Muslims who, responding to the pastor's threat, incline to violence? Do they not read in the Quran that "Nor can goodness and evil be equal. Respond to evil with doing good deeds to the evil doer. Then will he, between whom and thyself was hatred, become as though he was thy friend and intimate!" (41:34)

The Quran is a guide for the living and not a trope for the dead. The power and the beauty of the Quran becomes manifest only when it becomes an intimate companion to the living.

Some of us have a habit of acquiring multiple copies and translations of the Quran. We proudly display our “collection” on the shelves in our personal libraries or on our smartphones. But when it comes to actually studying the Book with seriousness and concentration, on or off Internet-enabled gadgets, suddenly time becomes scarce.

In contrast, there are Muslims who can afford only one copy, and a tattered one at that from overuse, that they study with awe and reverence every day. They read and they ponder and they give thanks for all the blessings they enjoy from the Creator, even if these blessing are not apparent to their affluent co-religionists.

In these challenging times, Muslims must remain patient, respond to what is bad with what is good, and rely on God for help and guidance. That is the surest way to defeat fanatics and

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