August 20th, 2010
03:55 PM ET

Ramadan road trip, day 3: View from the top

Aman Ali, right, and Wayne Drash atop the Jacksonville minaret

CNN's Wayne Drash filed this report:

Shauib Karim calls me back into the office at the Islamic Center of Jacksonville, Florida. "You've got to see this."

He boots up a computer and opens a file from May 10. On the screen, there's an image of a hunched-over, middle-aged guy carrying a 3-foot pipe bomb and a gas canister.

The man placed the device at the foot of the mosque's minaret. At 9:35 p.m., the firebomb went off, sending shrapnel 100 feet into the air. Video from the minaret shows a bright blast and a swirl of dust.

"Just think if children had been there," Karim says.

No one was wounded in the attack, and no suspect has been arrested in the months since.

Karim walks around to the back to give us a first-hand glimpse of the damage. The area is charred and stands as a reminder of that day.

Yet the attack hasn't diminished the spirits here. About 200 people came this night for prayers and iftar, the traditional evening meal to break the Ramadan fast.

"When the bomb attack happened, a lot of people had some fear and anxiety," says Aman Ali, my traveling companion who's going to 30 mosques in 30 states. "But you still saw the place being filled to capacity night after night for prayers. It really makes me value the freedom of religion that we all have in this country."

Back in the office, Karim giggles. "Do you want to go to the top of the minaret?"

It's seven stories tall. The only way to get to the top is by ladder. Soon, Karim - dressed in sandals and a jalabiya, a traditional long-flowing outfit - is charging up a series of ladders. Aman and I follow right behind.

Drenched in sweat from the 150-foot climb, Aman had the theme song of "Rocky" in his head as he stepped out onto the tiny balcony. "Wow, this is awesome!"

Down below, the mosque's gold dome shone in the night.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Islam • Journeys • Mosque • Muslim • Ramadan

soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. Iqbal khan

    Has any body seen these?


    October 7, 2010 at 9:41 pm |
  2. Iqbal khan


    September 9, 2010 at 7:52 pm |
  3. abdullaah

    Islam means peace for one and all. Islam is the relief of these times and all of humanities problems. Period.
    I have one question for the islamaphobes. Did the media give you a degree in your chosen profession? Or did you have to put a little more effort to achieve that goal? Can you learn anything worthwhile with your heart set against a just and non biased observation of a particular subject of supposed interest? Nothing is achieved through the media except mass sculpting of public opinion. Wake up and use your natural intelligence. We are subject to be judged according to our intellect,what we harbor in our hearts,and mainly our intentions.
    So please be wise. Let's remove the dogma and rhetoric. For peace sake.

    August 30, 2010 at 5:40 am |
  4. Iqbal Khan

    Read the History Past and present cvheck the following link....It is nothing but violence...violence and Unjust violence...
    This FACT and History of our USA

    August 26, 2010 at 10:24 pm |
  5. Iqbal Khan


    August 24, 2010 at 11:01 pm |
  6. Iqbal Khan


    August 24, 2010 at 10:28 pm |
  7. Iqbal Khan


    August 24, 2010 at 10:02 pm |
  8. Iqbal Khan

    Uri Avnery is a journalist, peace activist, former member of the Knesset, and leader of Gush Shalom. He is a regular contributor to Media Monitors Network (MMN).

    Muhammad's Sword
    by Uri Avnery
    (Saturday, September 23, 2006)


    "The story about "spreading the faith by the sword" is an evil legend, one of the myths that grew up in Europe during the great wars against the Muslims – the reconquista of Spain by the Christians, the Crusades and the repulsion of the Turks, who almost conquered Vienna. I suspect that the German Pope, too, honestly believes in these fables. That means that the leader of the Catholic world, who is a Christian theologian in his own right, did not make the effort to study the history of other religions."


    Since the days when Roman Emperors threw Christians to the lions, the relations between the emperors and the heads of the church have undergone many changes.

    Constantine the Great, who became Emperor in the year 306 – exactly 1700 years ago – encouraged the practice of Christianity in the empire, which included Palestine. Centuries later, the church split into an Eastern (Orthodox) and a Western (Catholic) part. In the West, the Bishop of Rome, who acquired the title of Pope, demanded that the Emperor accept his superiority.

    The struggle between the Emperors and the Popes played a central role in European history and divided the peoples. It knew ups and downs. Some Emperors dismissed or expelled a Pope, some Popes dismissed or excommunicated an Emperor. One of the Emperors, Henry IV, "walked to Canossa", standing for three days barefoot in the snow in front of the Pope's castle, until the Pope deigned to annul his excommunication.

    But there were times when Emperors and Popes lived in peace with each other. We are witnessing such a period today. Between the present Pope, Benedict XVI, and the present Emperor, George Bush II, there exists a wonderful harmony. Last week's speech by the Pope, which aroused a world-wide storm, went well with Bush's crusade against "Islamofascism", in the context of the "Clash of Civilizations".

    In his lecture at a German university, the 265th Pope described what he sees as a huge difference between Christianity and Islam: while Christianity is based on reason, Islam denies it. While Christians see the logic of God's actions, Muslims deny that there is any such logic in the actions of Allah.

    As a Jewish atheist, I do not intend to enter the fray of this debate. It is much beyond my humble abilities to understand the logic of the Pope. But I cannot overlook one passage, which concerns me too, as an Israeli living near the fault-line of this "war of civilizations".

    In order to prove the lack of reason in Islam, the Pope asserts that the prophet Muhammad ordered his followers to spread their religion by the sword. According to the Pope, that is unreasonable, because faith is born of the soul, not of the body. How can the sword influence the soul?

    To support his case, the Pope quoted – of all people – a Byzantine Emperor, who belonged, of course, to the competing Eastern Church. At the end of the 14th century, the Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus told of a debate he had – or so he said (its occurrence is in doubt) – with an unnamed Persian Muslim scholar. In the heat of the argument, the Emperor (according to himself) flung the following words at his adversary:

    "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached".

    These words give rise to three questions: (a) Why did the Emperor say them? (b) Are they true? (c) Why did the present Pope quote them?

    When Manuel II wrote his treatise, he was the head of a dying empire. He assumed power in 1391, when only a few provinces of the once illustrious empire remained. These, too, were already under Turkish threat.

    At that point in time, the Ottoman Turks had reached the banks of the Danube. They had conquered Bulgaria and the north of Greece, and had twice defeated relieving armies sent by Europe to save the Eastern Empire. On May 29, 1453, only a few years after Manuel's death, his capital, Constantinople (the present Istanbul) fell to the Turks, putting an end to the Empire that had lasted for more than a thousand years.

    During his reign, Manuel made the rounds of the capitals of Europe in an attempt to drum up support. He promised to reunite the church. There is no doubt that he wrote his religious treatise in order to incite the Christian countries against the Turks and convince them to start a new crusade. The aim was practical, theology was serving politics.

    In this sense, the quote serves exactly the requirements of the present Emperor, George Bush II. He, too, wants to unite the Christian world against the mainly Muslim "Axis of Evil". Moreover, the Turks are again knocking on the doors of Europe, this time peacefully. It is well known that the Pope supports the forces that object to the entry of Turkey into the European Union.

    Is there any truth in Manuel's argument?

    The pope himself threw in a word of caution. As a serious and renowned theologian, he could not afford to falsify written texts. Therefore, he admitted that the Qur'an specifically forbade the spreading of the faith by force. He quoted the second Sura, verse 256 (strangely fallible, for a pope, he meant verse 257) which says: "There must be no coercion in matters of faith".

    How can one ignore such an unequivocal statement? The Pope simply argues that this commandment was laid down by the prophet when he was at the beginning of his career, still weak and powerless, but that later on he ordered the use of the sword in the service of the faith. Such an order does not exist in the Qur'an. True, Muhammad called for the use of the sword in his war against opposing tribes – Christian, Jewish and others – in Arabia, when he was building his state. But that was a political act, not a religious one; basically a fight for territory, not for the spreading of the faith.

    Jesus said: "You will recognize them by their fruits." The treatment of other religions by Islam must be judged by a simple test: How did the Muslim rulers behave for more than a thousand years, when they had the power to "spread the faith by the sword"?

    Well, they just did not.

    For many centuries, the Muslims ruled Greece. Did the Greeks become Muslims? Did anyone even try to Islamize them? On the contrary, Christian Greeks held the highest positions in the Ottoman administration. The Bulgarians, Serbs, Romanians, Hungarians and other European nations lived at one time or another under Ottoman rule and clung to their Christian faith. Nobody compelled them to become Muslims and all of them remained devoutly Christian.

    True, the Albanians did convert to Islam, and so did the Bosniaks. But nobody argues that they did this under duress. They adopted Islam in order to become favorites of the government and enjoy the fruits.

    In 1099, the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem and massacred its Muslim and Jewish inhabitants indiscriminately, in the name of the gentle Jesus. At that time, 400 years into the occupation of Palestine by the Muslims, Christians were still the majority in the country. Throughout this long period, no effort was made to impose Islam on them. Only after the expulsion of the Crusaders from the country, did the majority of the inhabitants start to adopt the Arabic language and the Muslim faith – and they were the forefathers of most of today's Palestinians.

    There is no evidence whatsoever of any attempt to impose Islam on the Jews. As is well known, under Muslim rule the Jews of Spain enjoyed a bloom the like of which the Jews did not enjoy anywhere else until almost our time. Poets like Yehuda Halevy wrote in Arabic, as did the great Maimonides. In Muslim Spain, Jews were ministers, poets, scientists. In Muslim Toledo, Christian, Jewish and Muslim scholars worked together and translated the ancient Greek philosophical and scientific texts. That was, indeed, the Golden Age. How would this have been possible, had the Prophet decreed the "spreading of the faith by the sword"?

    What happened afterwards is even more telling. When the Catholics re-conquered Spain from the Muslims, they instituted a reign of religious terror. The Jews and the Muslims were presented with a cruel choice: to become Christians, to be massacred or to leave. And where did the hundreds of thousand of Jews, who refused to abandon their faith, escape? Almost all of them were received with open arms in the Muslim countries. The Sephardi ("Spanish") Jews settled all over the Muslim world, from Morocco in the west to Iraq in the east, from Bulgaria (then part of the Ottoman Empire) in the north to Sudan in the south. Nowhere were they persecuted. They knew nothing like the tortures of the Inquisition, the flames of the auto-da-fe, the pogroms, the terrible mass-expulsions that took place in almost all Christian countries, up to the Holocaust.

    Why? Because Islam expressly prohibited any persecution of the "peoples of the book". In Islamic society, a special place was reserved for Jews and Christians. They did not enjoy completely equal rights, but almost. They had to pay a special poll-tax, but were exempted from military service – a trade-off that was quite welcome to many Jews. It has been said that Muslim rulers frowned upon any attempt to convert Jews to Islam even by gentle persuasion – because it entailed the loss of taxes.

    Every honest Jew who knows the history of his people cannot but feel a deep sense of gratitude to Islam, which has protected the Jews for fifty generations, while the Christian world persecuted the Jews and tried many times "by the sword" to get them to abandon their faith.

    The story about "spreading the faith by the sword" is an evil legend, one of the myths that grew up in Europe during the great wars against the Muslims – the reconquista of Spain by the Christians, the Crusades and the repulsion of the Turks, who almost conquered Vienna. I suspect that the German Pope, too, honestly believes in these fables. That means that the leader of the Catholic world, who is a Christian theologian in his own right, did not make the effort to study the history of other religions.

    Why did he utter these words in public? And why now?

    There is no escape from viewing them against the background of the new Crusade of Bush and his evangelist supporters, with his slogans of "Islamofascism" and the "Global War on Terrorism" – when "terrorism" has become a synonym for Muslims. For Bush's handlers, this is a cynical attempt to justify the domination of the world's oil resources. Not for the first time in history, a religious robe is spread to cover the nakedness of economic interests; not for the first time, a robbers' expedition becomes a Crusade.

    The speech of the Pope blends into this effort. Who can foretell the dire consequences?


    by courtesy & © 2006 Uri Avnery

    August 23, 2010 at 9:56 pm |
  9. NEON whip

    cliched and horribly written

    August 22, 2010 at 10:38 am |
  10. Keith

    The commet in your article "just think if children were there". What a hypocrital joke! Children WERE there when a Palestinian threw a grenade into an Jewish kindergarten. Maybe Aman and Wayne can get the local imam to publicly voice his support of judge walker's decision in CA on Prop 8. Surely Aman can confess his support of this ruling to openly to the imam. Certainly CAIR should come forth with a statement in support. After all, the "religion of peace" is very tolerant of diversity, aren't they?????

    August 21, 2010 at 8:51 am |
  11. Keith

    When does Aman Ali tell Wayne Drash that unless he converts to islam he will be killed? During the trip? At the end? Or does he wait until Sharia Law is the law of the land in the United States? "Sorry, Wayne. I like you and all and I really appreciate you being a USEFUL IDIOT this whole time, but now I must ask you to submit to Allah".

    August 21, 2010 at 8:16 am |
  12. Barney

    Do we get pictures from the top?

    August 21, 2010 at 12:54 am |
    • MacTubb


      More than just the one? You know, at the top of the page?

      August 21, 2010 at 3:13 am |
  13. Reality

    Osama, Osama, Osama,

    Still avoiding the problems of Islam. Once again why one would not want to be a Muslim:

    Mohammed was an illiterate, womanizing, lust and greed-driven, warmongering, hallucinating Arab, who also had embellishing/hallucinating/plagiarizing scribal biographers who not only added "angels" and flying chariots to the koran but also a militaristic agenda to support the plundering and looting of the lands of non-believers.

    This agenda continues as shown by the massacre in Mumbai, the assassinations of Bhutto and Theo Van Gogh, the conduct of the seven Muslim doctors in the UK, the 9/11 terrorists, the 24/7 Sunni suicide/roadside/market/mosque bombers, the 24/7 Shiite suicide/roadside/market/mosque bombers, the Islamic bombers of the trains in the UK and Spain, the Bali crazies, the Kenya crazies, the Pakistani “koranics”, the Palestine suicide bombers/rocketeers, the Lebanese nutcases, the Taliban nut jobs, and the Filipino “koranics”.

    And who funds this muck and stench of terror? The warmongering, Islamic, Shiite terror and torture theocracy of Iran aka the Third Axis of Evil and also the Sunni "Wannabees" of Saudi Arabia.

    Current crises:

    The Sunni-Shiite blood feud and the warmongering, womanizing (11 wives), hallucinating founder.

    August 20, 2010 at 4:37 pm |
    • NEON whip

      @ Reality

      i just like the part where the whole lineage is poisoned.

      August 22, 2010 at 10:40 am |
  14. (B)iraq Hussein Osama

    be careful christian bethren. do not end up converting to islam hanging around with these moslems. BE VERY CAREFUL. Do not discuss religion on the road trip. listen to loud suggestive christian music to drown out discussion of religion. these moslems are dangerous, most christians end up converting to islam spending so much time among moslems. WATCH OUT.

    August 20, 2010 at 4:20 pm |
    • Iqbal Khan

      Islam and or Muslims are not to be afraid off it is the Fear of the unknown that is the weakness of us humans is kept us in our shells until and unless we have an open heart and open mind we will never be able to find the Truth, The Truth that will give us Peace and make us love each other in solving the problems of this short temporary life, As a matter of fact all the Prophets brought in one and same message check the following link.


      August 22, 2010 at 4:17 pm |
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.