From the Back Pew: Study before you burn

When I first heard about the Rev. Terry Jones' planned Koran-burning, I half-hoped he'd do it.

I wanted to be witness to the wrath he'd incur upon himself for doing such a thing.

You know you're ruffling some feathers when even the highest levels of government plead with you not to go through with something, although the First Amendment does give Jones the freedom to burn anything from Korans to effigies of Mohammad himself.

In the end, Jones either did not have the guts to go through with his plan or he realized that the logic of his plan was flawed — the pastor admitted, when pressed by reporters, that he had not actually read the Koran.

The way I see it, Muslims today are at a crossroads. Each day the news is filled with the latest controversy surrounding the building of a mosque somewhere, or the latest attack on a Muslim or the latest protest or the banning of head scarves and burqas somewhere.

As a watcher of the faith, I wasn't surprised when Muslims and Islam in general were eyed with scrutiny shortly after the 9/11 attacks. It was to be expected. People didn't understand that a small group of Muslims, whose interpretation of the Koran left much to be desired, was responsible for the attacks, not the rest of the world's Muslims, who were quick to condemn the attacks.

In what is called a "perversion of text," the Koran, Bible and other holy books can have many interpretations. There is no one way to interpret their texts.

Yes, the Koran is filled with words such as "war," "fight" and references to jihad — that is, fighting in the name of Allah. A verse reads, "To those against whom war is made, permission is given [to fight] because they are wronged.…" The verse goes on to say that God will be at your side in your campaign to wage war against those who have attacked you. But if you look closer, it also goes on to say, in Chapter 3, Verse 172: "Of those who answered the call of Allah and the messenger, even after being wounded, those who do right and refrain from wrong have a great reward" and "Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loves not transgressors" (Chapter 2, Verse 190).

Easier said than done, however, when you are someone with deep-rooted anger toward a country you believe should be erased from the face of the earth.

People like Jones commit their own form of terrorism when they fail to do their research. I would expect more from a man of faith. I would expect that Jones would dig deeper into the roots of Islam, talk with Muslims, and get a sense for what the Koran is, rather than assume it is all evil simply because a small group of people choose to use it as a roadmap for the destruction of their enemies.

Perhaps one day, Jones will do just that and be a catalyst for change — one that Muslims certainly need right now.


This week, I would like to welcome the Rev. Betty Stapleford to the In Theory writers' board. Stapleford takes over from the Rev. Stefanie Etzbach-Dale as minister of Unitarian Universalist Church of the Verdugo Hills in La Crescenta. Etzbach-Dale is now minister of Unitarian Universalist Church of Santa Clarita Valley.

Stapleford this week tackles the question of Jones' planned Koran burning: "What would happen if we really believed that we don't have to think alike to love alike? Perhaps we could get to know more about each other instead of assuming that we know without investigation."

MICHAEL J. ARVIZU can be reached at (818) 637-3263 or via e-mail

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