Florida pastor suspends burning of Holy Quran

September 10th, 2010 by Staff

Source: The National — A Florida pastor put on hold plans to burn hundreds of Qurans and said he would cancel the event if the Islamic centre project near Ground Zero in New York is relocated.

In a day of high-stakes religious brinkmanship, Reverend Terry Jones at first announced he had cancelled Saturday’s ceremony, which world leaders fear could ignite a fierce Muslim backlash around the globe.

But when his claims of a deal over the cultural centre in New York dissolved in acrimony, he threatened to go ahead with the incendiary ceremony to mark the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

“I will be flying up there on Saturday to meet with the imam at the Ground Zero mosque,” Jones said initially. “The American people do not want the mosque there, and, of course, Muslims do not want us to burn the Quran.”

But the imam leading the New York project quickly denied any agreement to move the planned mosque, which is slated for a building two-and-a-half blocks from the site of former World Trade Center which was struck by 9/11 hijackers.

“I am glad that Pastor Jones has decided not to burn any Qurans,” Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf said in a statement to CNN, but added: “We are not going to toy with our religion or any other. Nor are we going to barter.”

Mr Jones, head of the tiny Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, has threatened an international crisis with his promise to immolate the Muslim holy book on Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Concern is so high that the US defence secretary Robert Gates put in a personal phone call to Mr Jones to try and get him to change him mind, warning that the Quran burning would put US soldiers’ lives at risk.

This rare decision by President Barack Obama’s administration to cede to Mr Jones’s demand for direct contact followed growing worries of a disaster for US interests worldwide.

The State Department warned citizens of “the potential for anti-U.S. demonstrations in many countries … some of which may turn violent.”

Global police agency Interpol predicted “tragic consequences,” with experts fearing riots in Muslim countries similar to those in response to the 2005 publication of cartoons blaspheming the Prophet Mohammed.

Initial relief at Mr Jones’s apparent retreat turned to dismay when he renewed his threat to go ahead with the ceremony and the supposed deal with Mr Rauf unravelled.

Orlando-based imam Mohammed Musri, who played the crucial role of go-between in Saturday’s proceedings, said he had made it abundantly clear to Mr Jones he could provide no assurances about the mosque project.

“What we agreed is, we had a commitment from the office of the imam in New York to set up a meeting and to invite Pastor Jones to present this proposal,” Mr Musri told CNN.

“We did not have an agreement from them, from the imam himself or anyone in his office, that the project will be moved or cancelled in New York,” he said.

“But when we stepped out in front of the cameras, he stretched that to say that I gave him a commitment or assurances, or as he puts it, guarantees, that would happen. I did not. I have no control over the project in New York.”

Mr Rauf, a cleric who travels the world on behalf of the State Department to improve US-Muslim relations, says the centre would be used to promote inter-faith peace.

But the plan has become a major controversy ahead of mid-term Congressional elections on November 2.

More radical opponents accuse the site of amounting to a monument honouring the Islamist terrorists who carried out the September 11 attacks.

Mr Jones had cast himself as having single-handedly resolved the stand-off thanks to his threat to desecrate the Quran.

“The imam has agreed to move the mosque. We have agreed to cancel our event on Saturday, and on Saturday, I will be flying up there to meet with him.”

Later, once the organisers denied any bargain, Jones, expressing disappointment and shock that Musri had perhaps lied to him, resurrected the specter of the Quran-burning if no deal is done.

“We would be forced to rethink our decision, because we cancelled it based upon his (Musri’s) word.”

Imams at Al Azhar University in Cairo, one of the world’s oldest institutions of religious scholarship and the seat of Sunni Islamic thought, said yesterday that Mr Jones’s plans would be a disaster that could provoke angry feelings in the Muslim world.

Bambang Yudhoyono, the president of Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, said the world could not relax until Mr Jones abandoned his “despicable idea” once and for all.

“Therefore I continue to urge the government and people of the United States to ensure the prevention of such an incomprehensible, irrational and immoral act,” he said.

Mr Yudhoyono has also written to Barack Obama to urge the US president to intervene to stop the Quran burning, saying it would damage Mr Obama’s attempts to mend relations with the Muslim world.

The Afghan President Hamid Karzai said today that Mr Jones “should not even think” of burning copies of the Quran.

“We have heard that in the US, a pastor has decided to insult Qurans. Now although we have heard that they are not doing this we tell them they should not even think of it,” Mr Karzai said.

“By burning the Quran they cannot harm it, the Quran is in the hearts and minds of one-and-a-half billion people. So insulting the Quran is an insult to nations.”

* With agencies

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