September 9th, 2010
10:39 AM ET
Editor's note: CNN All-Platform Journalist John Couwels recently sat down with members of the Muslim community in Gainesville, Florida, for their reaction to Pastor Terry Jones' plan to burn 200 Qurans, and his "Islam is the devil" campaign:
The Muslim community in Gainesville, Florida, has been largely quiet on the hot-button issue of the planned Quran burning on Saturday that has triggered reactions from across the world. They are not staging a massive rally, hesitant to give Pastor Terry Jones any bigger platform than he already has.
Some see Jones' actions as no more than a publicity stunt to sell his book. Dr. Adil Kabeer - pictured above on the right - said Jones is no different from the Taliban, a group that has radicalized Islam in order to use the religion to gain power in Afghanistan.
Jones, pastor of the Dove World Outreach Church, says he will burn 200 Qurans outside his church on Saturday to remember those killed during the September 11, 2001 attacks. It's also an effort to call attention to his belief that Islam is an evil religion, a message he displays on signs across his church's property and has written in a book that he's selling.
"It's a shock that it is happening here in our community," says Muslim physician Rizwana Thanawala, who is married with two children.
"He's no different than the Taliban except it is my backyard," said her husband Dr. Adil Kabeer.
Kabeer, Thanawala, and other members of Gainesville's Muslim community spoke during a recent iftar dinner, the breaking of the fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ends this week.
Members of the Hoda Center mosque said they are not focusing on the pastor who they described as loaded with ignorance. Dr. Rizwana Mansoor says the burning of the Quran is nothing more than a stunt to promote his book.
"He is just seeking his 15 minutes of fame," Mansoor said, pointing out that his actions are not in line with his Christian beliefs.
Ismail Ibn Ali, president of the University of Florida's student organization Muslims on Campus, pointed out that burning Qurans is actually the proper way to dispose of a tattered holy book.
"The physical burning of the Quran is not the issue but it's the hatred behind it," he said.
Leaders across the world, including President Obama and the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, have expressed fear that Jones' actions could arouse radical Islamists.
Following the dinner at the Hoda Center, I was invited to the home of Thanawala and Kabeer, along with two other families and their children to continue the conversation.
The kids laughed while eating frosted cookies and we talked about the latest movies and the Harry Potter attraction at Universal Studios.
Then the conversation turned more serious. The parents say their children have been on edge since Jones started his "Islam is of the devil" campaign and the planned Quran burning.
"I think our kids have been a little anxious about it," said Kabeer, talking about the couple's twin boys.
For Umana Ashfaq, the anxiety started when kids at her daughter's school wore the pastor's "Islam is of the devil" t-shirts. Her oldest daughter Rijaab Mansoor, 16, said she was approached by two older women, both members of Jones church who were preaching in the park. They asked her if she was Muslim, and she said "yes." One of the women - who was wearing Jones' t-shirt - explained that they believe Islam is of the devil because Muslims don't believe Jesus is the son of God.
"It was upsetting, she was crying when I went to pick her up," Ashfaq said. The incident caused her daughter to have nightmares.
The other children at the table said their friends joke around calling them "terrorists."
"Our children should never have to be subjected to this unreasonable behavior from anyone either in jest or otherwise," said Thanawala.
Her 13-year-old son Aman Kabeer said that much of it dates back to the 9/11 attacks.
"The thought process is they were Muslims [the 9/11 attackers], we are Muslims, therefore we are terrorists," the teen said.
"We didn't move to America to be terrorists," Kabeer replied to his son. He said God has been good to his family and America has given them a better life.
In an effort to show support for Gainesville's Muslim community, over 300 people from all faiths took part in a recent interfaith prayer service at the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.
"We stand together as a community to demonstrate that one small group of people bent on promoting hatred and misunderstanding does not represent Gainesville or the people of this nation," the Rev. Louanne Loch said at the service.
That service, and others like it, is evidence that some good has come from Jones' anti-Islam stance, according to Kabeer .
"The various interfaith gatherings has helped us find our roots in the Gainesville community," he said. "We should thank him for allowing us to connect with Christians, Hindus, Jews, Buddhist, atheist and all people."
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.