The Holy Qur’an and interview with Dr. Terry Jones
As mentioned in last month’s edition of The Review of Religions, on September 11th this year, the Dove World Outreach Church in Florida, USA, had planned to burn copies of the Holy Qur’an as a protest against what they see as the spread of Islam, which in their eyes, is evil and a serious threat to the United States and indeed the world. Representations were made by numerous leading personalities attempting to dissuade the Dove Church from taking such action. Ultimately, the threat was not carried out, albeit in somewhat confused circumstances. The Church is led by Pastor Dr Terry Jones, who is the author of a book entitled Islam is of the Devil. Despite the proposed burning not going ahead, it is important to reflect on this incident because it generated worldwide media attention and raised many pertinent issues.
Under the US Constitution, Dr Jones would most likely have been entitled to carry out his proposed actions in burning copies of the Qur’an. The US has extremely strong protections for free speech guaranteed by the 1st Amendment – many would argue rightly so. Apart from speech that would directly and immediately provoke violence, anything goes, including burning flags and books. However, what is often forgotten is that simply because a legal right to undertake a particular course of action exists, this by no means entails a moral right (or indeed duty) to do so. Indeed, even where there is a legal right to act it may not be morally right to do so. In most countries, there is a legal right to commit adultery, there is a legal right to be a rude person, to lie and be unkind to one’s parents. By no means would, or should, anyone argue that such actions are morally praise-worthy. What this shows is that there is a moral responsibility to exercise one’s legal rights with a certain appreciation for good behavior, decency, and in order to promote good societal relations, to act with respect, tolerance, dignity and good faith. Thus, although it may be that laws will protect an individual’s right to be rude and offensive to others, there may be a moral responsibility on that individual, not to be rude and offensive. This relationship between law and morality is one that is worth bearing in mind.
About a week prior to September 11th, Dr Terry Jones was interviewed by Muslim Television Ahmadiyya International (MTA)1. A number of salient points emerged, not least that Dr Jones had never read, nor had any intention of reading, the Qur’an, and indeed knew very little about Islam beyond false rhetoric and hyperbole. Upon reflection, three issues are worth considering.
The first is the ignorance behind much of the criticism levied at Islam by individuals like Dr Jones. The following is a short extract from his interview on MTA2:
Interviewer: …have you read the Qur’an yourself?
TJ: I have not no.
Interviewer: Do you think it would be wise to read the Qur’an before you can make comments about it?
TJ: I think definitely not because I have read the Bible and the Bible is very clear that if an Angel of light appears to you and gives you a different gospel than this one then let them be accursed. And the Bible says in Revelations if you add to this book or take away from this book let them be accursed. The Bible is actually very clear that the Bible considers itself the only holy book.
Interviewer: You said that the Qur’an is evil. How can you say that the Qur’an is evil if you’ve not read it?
TJ: Well because I know that the Qur’an does not recognise Jesus as the Son of God as the saviour as the only way as the risen son of God as part of the Godhead. I know that those things are not recognised by the Qur’an. So of course that makes it Evil.
This total absence of any relevant knowledge by individuals such as Dr Jones who have become so prominent in criticising of Islam is concerning. It indicates the malice and deception behind the vitriolic attacks. What is exceptionally worrying is that Dr Jones, in his book Islam is of the Devil, is presented as an expert on Islam, and yet he has not read the Qur’an nor does he have any knowledge of Islamic law by his own admission. Interestingly, the book does, mysteriously, have quotes from the Qur’an contained in it. How Dr Jones claimed sufficient knowledge of the Qur’an without reading it in order to make references to its text in a book that he purported to write is an intriguing question.
The second issue that stems from the first is the clear necessity for individuals to discover truth for themselves. It seems axiomatic that this should be the case, but in light of the inaccuracies and misrepresentation that exist in the public domain with respect to Islam, it is worth emphasising. One of the criticisms made by Dr Jones is that “the notion of a moral individual capable of making decisions and taking responsibility for them does not exist in Islam.”
In fact, the reality is quite the opposite. The Qur’an repeatedly exhorts those that wish to follow its advice not to blindly follow what their forefathers followed. Rather, ‘the right way has become manifest from error’ (Ch.2:V.257) and those that follow the right way, do so for the sake of their own soul. All individuals should consider themselves as seekers of truth, and endeavor to search for knowledge, understanding and ultimately wisdom. Blind faith is just that, blind. It is only through the opening of eyes that truth and beauty can be seen.
Finally, what these recent incidents have shown once again is the continued success of extremist preachers and religious figures in monopolising the media limelight, presenting a false narrative of religious hatred and division. In his interview, Dr Jones claimed that “Christianity doesn’t teach tolerance … because Jesus said he was the only way so if he is the only way then of course he does not tolerate other religions.”
This cannot be correct, and a simple overview of the life of Jesus counters this proposition of Dr Jones. In this time when religion is under threat both due to its too often own corruption of morality and divine guidance combined with a concerted assault against it by many atheists, it is all the more necessary for interfaith dialogue and mutual cooperation to take place.
It is only through harmony and unity – and a practical manifestation rather than empty words and rhetoric – that love and peace, the ultimate telos of religion, can be promoted. The words of Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad(aba), Khalifatul Masih V, Head of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim community in this regard are highly inspiring. In response to the ongoing debate over the building of a mosque near ‘Ground Zero’ in New York, His Holiness said that if a mosque was to be built there, then so should a church and a synagogue and a Hindu place of worship and places of worship for all religions. Such an approach reflects the Islamic position that all places of worship must be protected, for of course it is the same God to whom all religious followers turn.
The proposed actions of the Dove Church were extremely sad for the global community of religious adherents. Yet if from the flames of intolerance, believers of all persuasions can unite in favour of tolerance and harmony, there is hope. If from the ashes of hate, love and peace can be spread throughout the world, there is hope. And if from darkness and blind ignorance, the light of knowledge and truth can illuminate the hearts and minds of people, there is always hope.
1. (The official 24-hour television station of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. Broadcasts in the UK on Sky channel 787. For more information visit www.mta.tv – Ed)
2. (The interview with Dr Terry Jones was part of a special programme on MTA entitled ‘The Holy Qur’an, Truth Revealed’ examining the Dove Church controversy in detail, and can be seen at www.youtube.com/mtaonline1, type in ‘truth revealed’ – Ed)