ISTANBUL, October 5 (CDN) – Christians across the Middle East said they will be the ones to suffer if a group of anti-Islamic protestors in the United States goes through with its plans to publicly tear up or otherwise desecrate the Quran.
They roundly condemned the proposed actions as political stunts that are unwise, unnecessary and unchristian.
“This kind of negative propaganda is very harmful to our situation in Muslim countries,” said Atef Samy, assistant pastor for networking at Kasr El Dobara, the largest Protestant congregation in Egypt. “It generates uncontrollable anger among the people around us and gives the impression that all Christians feel this way about Islam.”
Samy said U.S. Christians who are protesting Islam need to think about the results of their “irrational actions.” The desecration, he said, will lead to protests and will incite people to commit anti-Christian violence.
“How do they expect Muslims to react?” he said. “And has anybody thought how we will pay for their actions or even their words?”
Tomorrow and Thursday (Oct. 6 and 7), political activist Randall Terry will host “Hear Muhammad Speak!” a series of demonstrations across the United States that he said are meant to “ignite national and world-wide debate/dialogue/education on the anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, and at times violent message of the Quran.” During these protests, Terry plans to tear out pages from the Quran and encourage others to do the same.
He has said he is conducting the protest because he wants to focus attention also on the Hadith and the Sunnah, the recorded sayings and actions of Muhammad that Muslims use to guide their lives. Terry said these religious documents call “for the murder, beheadings, etc. of Christians and Jews, and the suppression of religious freedom.”
Known for his incendiary political approach, Terry is founder of Operation Rescue, an anti-abortion rights group. After stepping down from Operation Rescue, he publicly supported the actions of Scott Roeder, who murdered a Kansas physician who performed late-term abortions. Terry also arranged to have a protestor present an aborted fetus to then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton at the 1992 Democratic National Convention.
On this year’s anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Terry stood outside the White House and denounced Islam as one of five other protestors ripped out pages from the Quran and threw them into a plastic trash bag, which along with Florida Pastor Terry Jones’ planned (though ultimately cancelled) Quran-burning provoked isolated attacks across the Islamic world that left at least 19 dead.
Terry is part of a seemingly growing tide of people destroying or threatening to destroy the Quran as an act of protest against Islam or “Islamic extremism.”
Terry has said that he wants to “highlight the suffering of Christians inflicted by Muslims” and to call on Islamic leaders “to stop persecuting and killing Christians and Jews, and well as ‘apostates’ who leave Islam.”
But Christian leaders in the Middle East said protests in which the Quran is desecrated have the opposite effect. They are bracing themselves for more attacks. Protestors in the West can speak freely – about free speech, among other things – but it’s Christians in the Middle East who will be doing the dying, they said.
“This message of hate antagonizes Muslims and promotes hatred,” said Samia Sidhom, a Christian and managing editor of the Cairo-based newspaper Watani. “Thus churches and Christians become targets of counter-hate and violence. Islam is in no way chastised, nor Christianity exalted. Only hate is strengthened. Churches and Christians here find they need to defend themselves against the allegations of being hateful and against the hate and violence directed at them.”
Martin Accad, a Lebanese Christian and director of the Institute of Middle East Studies at Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut, agreed with Sidhom.
“We are held guilty by association by extremist Muslims, even though the vast majority of Muslims will be able to dissociate between crazy American right-wingers and true followers of Jesus,” he said.
Leaders in the Arabic-speaking Christian world said Terry’s protests and others like it do nothing positive. Such provocations won’t make violent Muslim extremists re-examine their beliefs or go away.
“Islam will not disappear because we call it names,” said Samy, of the Egyptian Protestant church. “So we must witness to our belief in Jesus without aggressively attacking the others.”
Accad, a specialist in Christian-Muslim relations and also associate professor of Islamic Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary, said positive engagement is the best approach for Christians to take toward Islam.
“Visit their places of worship and get to know them, and invite them to yours,” Accad said. “Educate your own congregation about Islam in a balanced way. Engage in transformational partnerships with moderate Muslim leaders who are working towards a more peaceful world.”
The element of the protests that most baffled Christians living in the Muslim world was that burning or tearing another religion’s book seemed so unchristian, they said.
“In what way can burning or ripping the Quran serve Christianity or Christians?” Sidhom of Watani said. “It is not an action fit for a servant of Christianity. It merely expresses hate and sends out a message of extreme hostility to Islam.”
Accad called publicly desecrating the Quran an act of “sheer moral and ethical absurdity.”
“These are not acts committed by followers of a Jesus ethic,” Accad said. “They will affect the image of Christianity as badly as the destruction of the World Trade Center affected the image of Islam.”
Accad added, “Since when do followers of Jesus rip an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth?”
Such protests also defeat the purposes of churches in Islamic nations, Christians said. H. Ramdani, a church leader in Algeria, said Christians must strive to build bridges with Muslims in order to proclaim Christ.
“It’s destroying what we are doing and what we are planning to do,” he said of the protests. “People refuse to hear the gospel, but they ask the reason for the event. Muslims are more radical and sometimes they are brutal.”
At press time Compass was unable to reach Terry by phone or e-mail for a reply to the Middle Eastern Christians’ complaints about the planned protests, but after he staged a Sept. 11 Quran-tearing event he released a statement expressing “great sadness” over the deaths that followed while denying that it was right for Muslims to react violently to such protests.
“Such logic is like saying that a woman who is abused by her boyfriend or husband is guilty of bringing violence on herself because she said or did something that irritated him,” Terry stated.
In the weeks leading up to the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attack, Terry Jones, leader of a small congregation in Gainesville, Fla., made his mark in the media by threatening to burn a stack of Qurans in protest of Islam. At the last minute, after wide condemnation from around the world, Jones stated that he felt “God is telling us to stop” and backed out of the protest.
Despite Jones’ retreat, protestors unaffiliated with him burned Qurans in New York and Tennessee, and demonstrations swept across the Muslim world. In the relatively isolated attacks that ensued, protestors set fire to a Christian school and various government buildings, burning the school and the other structures to the ground. In Kashmir, 17 people were killed in Islamic assaults, and two protestors were killed in demonstrations in Afghanistan.