April 1st, 2011
04:50 PM ET
Two weeks ago, controversial pastor Terry Jones presided over what he called a trial of the Quran.
The holy book of Islam was "found guilty" by members of Jones' tiny church in Florida and burned, according to a release posted on the church's website.
On Friday, 12 people, including eight workers for the United Nations, were killed in the Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif, when people protesting the burning of that Quran attacked a U.N. office.
Jones likely knew that burning the Quran would prompt protests when Muslims learned of the actions of his church, the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville. He canceled plans to burn a Quran last year, on the ninth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks after being lobbied by President Obama, Gen. David Petraeus and others. Petraeus said American service members in Afghanistan would be increasingly in danger if Jones proceeded with his plan.
On March 20, the parishioners at Dove burned a single copy of the Quran, thus "attacking the foundations of Islam itself," says one Muslim scholar.
"Symbolically and literally this is the most sacred reminder of God on Earth for a Muslim," said Akbar Ahmed, the chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington. " More than a mosque ... more than any other symbol it is the Quran that symbolizes the word of God for a Muslim."
But he decried the violent reaction to the burning. He said that Muslims need to understand that we are living in a world that includes atheists and people of faith who have different ideas of how to treat any holy book.
"Therefore Muslims need to respond to acts like (Quran burning) by trying to explain why they are so sensitive, by trying to reach out and trying to explain what Islam is, and not to react in anger and promote any hint of violence."
Omid Safi agrees.
"Above any scripture, what is sacred and holy is the human being," said Safi, a religion professor at the University of North Carolina and the author of "Memories of Muhammad". "The death of a person because of protesting (the desecration of) religious symbols is to misunderstand the ultimate sanctity of life."
Safi pointed out that people in these discussions compare one holy book to another, but the Quran is more analogous to Christ, so it would be like someone burning Jesus.
The reason for that is that Christ was the very being of the word of God, which has come to live among us and the Quran in the same way embodies the word of Allah, he said.
That is why Muslims hold the Quran in such high esteem. In their homes the book is often wrapped in satin and put it in a place of respect, usually high above all other books.
Some of those who don't live in the United States, where burning a holy book is considered free speech, have a hard time understanding that concept.
"It is the right of the pastor to do this, but to Muslims it is violating their religious identity and their faith," said Ahmed who is also the author of "Journey into America." "It's important to point out that in many Muslim countries it's in the constitution that you cannot blaspheme against the Prophet or desecrate the Quran."
Safi called Jones' actions hate speech intended to divide humanity.
"I'd rather focus my faith and work to bring it together," he said.
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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.