Sep 082010

I think it goes without saying that the tragedy that occurred nine years ago when two planes slammed into the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001, transcended the petty political bickering of the time in a moment of community grief.

How soon we forget.

This is not meant to be a sentimental recount of my experiences of that day, or a self-righteous indulgence of my anger over everything that day has since been used to justify. But in light of the controversy of the past month over Park51, and the choice by a few U.S. citizens to respond with actions of intimidation and hate on the anniversary of 9/11 this Saturday, there are some things that I think need to be said.

I remember the images on the television: the billowing smoke rising from those huge structures of glass and steal glistening in the bright morning; the speechless news anchors sitting in stunned silence at their desks, oblivious for once to the cameras trained on them; the slow-moving crowds of people leaving their offices and their cars and walking through the streets, shoulder to shoulder, away from the wreckage. It is perhaps this last image that lingers longest in my mind. While most remember the towers smoldering and falling like some cinematic Hollywood climax, I remember what it looked like to see every gender, age and race of people all pressed together in that surging crowd, all of those faces stripped of the masks of detachment, professionalism and cynicism that we so often wear. They were frightened, and confused, and sorrowful, and their souls were laid bare in their gazing eyes and slack-open mouths. Despite my own grief, I remember this image as one of community and togetherness, an image of heart-breaking beauty. There was beauty in the world, even on that day.

And that beauty rippled outward in unexpected ways, as over the following week spontaneous memorials and makeshift shrines for the dead and the missing began to appear all over the city and the country. On my college campus, a rusty, run-down chain-link fence suddenly became a space transformed by colored ribbons, photographs, drooping flowers and burning candles, all fluttering together as though alive in the slight breeze. People were kinder to each other, and the days were quieter. Professors on campus organized group discussions, while other faculty turned their attention to supporting and promoting counseling sessions for students and teachers alike; we all had our ways of coping with the shock and grief of that morning. For some, such as myself, it was an experience that utterly transformed our lives — it was, for me, the moment that the theoretical pacifism of my childhood became something palpable and real and vital, the only sane and loving response to the violence and tragedy of the world.

How soon we forget. We are, as a culture, not very good at grief. We spend a great deal of time trying to escape sadness and death, and anything that might remind us of those things — old age, solitude, poverty, dark nights, cold winters, the otherness of strangers. I do not need to trace for you the history of war and fear that grew out of the events of 9/11. We already know very well how the puppets of power turned our sorrow to anger, our anger to revenge, and our revenge, finally, into fear and xenophobia. I remember well that it was not fear that I felt on that morning as I watched the towers fall; it was an aching regret and helplessness that drove me to reach out, to run towards danger, to plunge into my local community and connect, to seek out the strangers in my dormitory hall and sit with them in tears and silence, simply so that we could be together.

This should have been the true legacy of 9/11, this sudden re-membering of our communities. We had an opportunity that day to keep our eyes firmly on beauty and hope, and to learn how to grieve together in ways that could transform denial, anger, sorrow and fear into empathy, connection, forgiveness and wholeness. We had a chance, stripped down to the raw and vulnerable at the heart of each of us, to learn to be tender and gentle with our humanity, and with the humanity of others.


Politicians across the political spectrum, both left and right, have tried to tell us that the last nine years of war and partisan patriotism is the best we can do. But they have also worked to keep us in a perpetual state of unhealed and unacknowledged grief that gives rise to a sense of victimization and paranoia. Every exhortation to “remember 9/11″ is couched in terms of imperial imperatives and the proclaimed trade-off between security and liberty. We have turned politics in this country into a kind of sadomasochistic freak-show of bloated anxieties and imaginary demons. If we are not fleeing terrified of “foreigners” into the arms of the Military Industrial Complex, we’re busy rejecting every plea for community reconciliation as a weakness and acquiescence to the Right Wing.

Right now, protestors are preparing to take to the streets this Saturday in a campaign of intimidation and threat. Their protest is an attempt to prevent the building of the Park51 community center not through legitimate legal means (of which there are none), but by making Muslims feel unsafe and unable to practice their religion openly in the streets of Lower Manhattan. (Elsewhere in the U.S., a few fearful Christians far from the site of contention will gather together to burn the holy texts of a religion they do not understand.) These protests are acts of grassroots, citizen-sponsored terrorism. Like all acts of terrorism, they grow from a sense of desperation and helplessness — people are in pain and they are afraid, and because they don’t know why they are in pain or what is making them afraid, they look for a scapegoat, or a cause, that will give them a sense of control and purpose.

In the meantime, counter-protestors are organizing and mobilizing their own mobs in preparation to confront and, presumably, shout down all those who disagree. For these counter-protestors, the cause of individual rights and the freedom to worship and practice openly in this “Land of the Free” takes precedence above all else. Their counter-protest is an attempt to show solidarity with their Muslim friends and fellow citizens, and I have to admit that part of me appreciates and supports them in this aim. Yet I cannot stand with them this time. Despite noble intentions, such a response shows a decided lack of both compassion and creativity. To respond to an act of protest and intimidation with yet another act of protest and intimidation cannot, in my mind, foster the engagement and reconciliation that so desperately needs to take place. There are times when civil disobedience and public demonstrations are acts of political power and affirmations of community strength. But this is not one of those times.


So what is an appropriate response? Though I will not be in New York City this Saturday, my heart will be with a small group of Buddhists who will, as in previous years, be holding a simple interfaith ceremony on the banks of the Hudson River:

The service is both Buddhist and interfaith. At its center is the traditional Obon ceremony for the dead, loosely translated as the Floating Lantern Ceremony. Rice paper lanterns are inscribed with the names of the dead, lit with candles, and floated out to sea.

The Obon ceremony comes originally from a Japanese Buddhist custom, part of a three-day-long festival in late summer honoring the departed spirits of the ancestors. Within this beautiful ceremony are echoes of the Shinto religion native to Japan, as well as the Buddhist appreciation for the mutable, transitory nature of life. Imagining those flimsy paper lanterns drifting delicately out into the vast darkness of the ocean, I am reminded of the Buddha’s final words: “All composite things pass away. Strive for your own liberation with diligence.” (Though others believe his final words were, “Make of yourselves a light.”)

There is also a sorrowful irony in this image of the burning paper lanterns, inscribed with the names of our dead, as I read about the plans of Rev. Terry Jones and his tiny congregation in Florida to burn copies of the Qur’an on Saturday:

Supporters have been mailing copies of the holy text to his Gainesville church of about 50 followers to be incinerated in a bonfire on Saturday to mark the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on New York and Washington.

Much of the debate about this misguided, fear-filled pastor centers, once again, on questions of liberty and security. Is the burning of holy texts a hate crime, or is it protected as an exercise in free speech? Will this act endanger American troops who are fighting abroad — and should we put the safety of our soldiers above the rights and freedoms of our civilians back home? These questions imagine a strict dualism between liberty and security, but it seems to me this is, in the end, a false dualism. It is within our liberty that we discover and cultivate our security: it is through our freedom to reach out and connect authentically and respectfully with others that we ensure the community bonds and strengthening relationships that will keep us safe and sustain us through times of difficulty and uncertainty, pain and grief.

In Gainesville, Florida, a handful of people will gather to set fire to paper inscribed with holy words. In New York City, on the banks of the Hudson river, another group of people will come together to do the same. What great difference lies between these two acts!

Here in Pittsburgh, I will be lighting a candle of my own, and reading the astounding poetry of the Qur’an (in English translation), as well as the poetry of those Sufi mystics who inspired me, when I was still only a teenager looking for answers, with visions of beauty, longing and connection that eventually led me to my Druid path. In this small way, I hope perhaps to begin the process of bridging the great gulf between acts of hatred, and acts of honor. I hope to affirm the sacred connections we share even with those who disagree with us or threaten us. I hope to participate, by doing my small part, in the transformation of our community not by trying to repress or intimidate those who lash out in fear and anger, but by learning how to reach out to them in fellowship and forgiveness.


I will also be sharing some excerpts from the Qur’an publicly on my blog, Meadowsweet & Myrrh, committing the rich depth and insight of these poetic verses to the ephemeral, etherial medium of the internet, a place where these words cannot be touched by fire and yet will burn with light. I invite others to do likewise. Or, if you do not blog, find your own small ways to transform these times of polarization and dissonance into opportunities for contemplation and connection.

  31 Responses to “The Legacy of 9/11: Thoughts on the “Ground Zero Mosque,” Burning the Qur’an, and the Buddhist Floating Lantern Ceremony”

  1. Ali, these words are brilliant. Your insight is inspiring, as always! Especially potent is the juxtaposition of the two “fire” ceremonies, one so full of hate and the other so full of compassion! I, too, have been thinking about my relationship with Islam that seems such a far cry from that of many others in America (and that will be the subject of an upcoming post over on Pantheon (, and I may join you in taking time on my own blog over the next week to highlight insightful passages from Muslim scripture.

    • Johnny, I look forward to your post (as I always do to your writings).

      I hope you and others do decide to share some passages from the Qur’an and other Muslim texts in the public space of the “blogosphere” (and in other ways, too). The outrage many of us feel at the idea of burning a holy text is certainly commendable, but it is also often, I think, abstract. I wonder how many people who would condemn this pastor have themselves ever read the Qur’an. I think sharing and exploring its poetry is a very appropriate way to show support and appreciation for the rich heritage that Islam has given to the world over the centuries; and maybe it will also help to encourage a little more knowledge, understanding and dialogue as well. (Or maybe my hopes are too high…. but of course that’s never stopped me before.)

  2. This is a wonderful post, sensitive to the nuances and complexities of all the issues involved, compassionate to all the people who are torn in so many directions, and reminding us that in the end there is a bigger context within which the confusions and ignorance and anger of the moment is finally absorbed, like those little lanterns set to float out into the vast ocean.

    Thank you and many blessings.


  3. Ali, I wish you could know how important your words are to me today. From time to time I’ve heard people tell me how important it has been to them that I’ve been able to find words for a thing they have felt; I’m feeling that for your words today.

    “This should have been the true legacy of 9/11, this sudden re-membering of our communities. We had an opportunity that day to keep our eyes firmly on beauty and hope, and to learn how to grieve together in ways that could transform denial, anger, sorrow and fear into empathy, connection, forgiveness and wholeness.”

    Oh, my dear gods and goddesses, yes, yes, YES. It seems to me an almost obscene betrayal of the grace and compassion and love I also sensed flowing among us in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, to turn 9/11 into a celebration of bigotry. I felt just what you write here, both at the time, and every day since then as I’ve turned my eyes and my memories back to that day.

    Sometimes I wonder how much of our collective anger is simply an inability to sit with our grief, and take what comfort there is to give in loving one another.

    Thanks for shaping words on this.

    • “Sometimes I wonder how much of our collective anger is simply an inability to sit with our grief, and take what comfort there is to give in loving one another.”

      Yes. The same wonderment has occurred to me many times, and you put it perfectly here. To be present to grief, to love even our pain as a symbol and sign and expression of our connection to one another….

      The Pagan soul knows how to embrace darkness, the seasons of autumn and winter, the energies of the earth and its telluric currents…. Perhaps we can also learn to be students of grief and sorrow, to sit with these passions and cultivate from them that compassion the world so needs.

  4. Thank you so much for this. I’ve been trying to shut out the hatred swirling around 9/11 but it’s difficult, and every time I think of what happened that day and the hatred it continues to spawn, it makes me want to cry out of pure grief and sorrow. I’m glad you shared the Buddhist ceremony–how beautiful and poignant. So I’ve decided to attend a simple ceremony here in my town, where a few of us are going to meet and meditate using the sound made by crystal bowls. It may not sound like much but, like you, I’m done with the confrontations and shouting. Maybe the haunting sounds of those bowls will help me release the sorrow I feel and carry it upward, both as an offering and as a plea for peace–and soon.

  5. Honestly, this article makes me want to laugh. But it is not a joyful laughter.

    It is the laughter of a weeping person.

    When did people protesting a religious ideology become Hate and Terrorism? When did the families of those who died in those towers, become the hatemongers when they pleaded, not on legal grounds, but emotional ones, that the builders of the mosque build elsewhere? When did a man saying to Radical Islamic Terrorists that “If You burn Our Buildings and Kill our People, We will Burn your Book,” become something that had to be opposed at all costs, while an Imam preaching that women are second class citizens and that homosexuals need to be killed became a person worthy of support?

    Ali, you speak of community and coming together. Yet in your article I see as much divisiveness as in any of the divisive people you are speaking against. Not all those who are opposing the Mosque or Islam are Christians. Many are secular, or Pagan, or any number of other things. Yet you call them hatemongers and terrorists. Why? Because the media calls them this? Because they disagree with you? Have you looked into the matter, reviewed the facts they use to justify their view point, and judged impartially before casting your judgment? Are you jumping on a bandwagon of “Religious Tolerance” out of fear? I think you are doing the same thing you wish to be stopped.

    These holy words that are going to be burned in Florida, do you know what they say? What they advocate? Were they spoken by anyone else, printed today, they would be called words of hate. Permit me to leave you with the Holy Words of the Koran, and you tell me if these need to be respected and followed. Because if you think they are, then Maybe you should follow them and convert to Islam, rather than embrace the freedom, tolerance, and equality of Paganism.


    But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practice regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.

    • I haven’t commented on P+p before, but I’ve been following closely for some time. I’m somewhat familiar with your comments – some I agree with and some I don’t, which is delightfully par for the course on this blog, and one of the reasons I come back.

      But I want to take issues with your use of scripture. What you are doing is called proof texting – pulling a quotation out to make your point without larger contextual sense. It’s a dangerous game and anyone can play it. Supporting Islam and Muslims is not a blanket endorsement of terrorist groups and fundamentalist Muslims, no more than supporting Heathens and Heathenry is supporting racists and those that use Heathenry to push forward a racist agenda. ALL religions have problematic parts – the Abrahamic religions, with their reliance on divine scripture perhaps more so, but problematic aspects of a tradition do not invalidate it or the majority of believers who stick with the positive parts of their faith.

      The church that is going ahead with the Koran burning is indeed acting out of hatred. As some one pursuing her degree in theology I find the general religious literacy of the US to be abysmal. Most people don’t know anything about Islam other than the deeply problematic parts showcased by the extremist terrorists. There is an entire history of Muslims struggling with their faith and scripture to make sense of the greater tradition. Are you aware that there are even feminist Muslims?

      Yes, the words of the Koran need to be defended just as the words of the Bible do, just as the practices of pagans do. My support of Muslims doesn’t make me a Muslim, or even want to become one – it’s not my story. By all means go ahead and question the wisdom of the NYC interfaith center, by all means call out the problematic parts of any religion, by all means call out the liberals who use blanket statements against the conservatives who use blanket statements against the liberals, but do not paint an entire religion as unworthy of the rights of free speech and practice because there are some nasty parts that some people privilege above others.

      • If I may. In the instances of Racist Heathens, what is happening is that Racist are taking the ethnic focus of the Heathen ways and elevating them to a “racial superiority” that doesn’t exist in Heathen teachings. No where in any teachings, commentaries, or the like of what are Heathen Holy scripts, can one find the gods or even our ancestors proclaiming racist attitudes. Nor does one find attitudes of bigotry or misogyny.

        But in the case of the Bible and Koran, there are examples of all those things directly in the Holy Scriptures. Indeed, this has been a historical issue learned people (at least those in/of Europe) have had with all of the Abraham holy books. The fact is that “Radical Islamic Terrorists” are simply practicing the same form of Islam that existed before the so called Imperial Age. Their tactics have changed, yes, but Islam is as much religion of violence as it ever was. I have heard of the feminist Muslims, though much of what I’ve heard of them seems to be that as much as they fight for womens’ liberation in the Islamic world, they defend many of the customs we see as oppression. And as much as we cannot paint all of Islam as violent with the Radical brush, neither can we paint as liberal and free because of a few Muslim feminists.

        The simple thing is that if we want to understand the true nature of Islam, we need merely look at the nations where it is practiced. While there are many that would argue that “Evil” Western Imperialism has stunted the growth of the Arab world (which it has, but does nothing to change the good that has also come from “Imperialism) that age has passed more than two generations. The Arab nations, at least a good number of them, have resources like oil which they have grown rich from. But look at the capitals of Islamic power, Iran and Saudi Arabia. While Saudi Arabia is more “Westernized” in many ways, it’s Moral Police are as strict and terrifying as those in Iran.

        It is true, from a certain point of view, that the Church in Florida is burning Korans out of hate, but it is a hate of Radical Islam. It is a Hate of Terrorists. Is this not a worthy hatred, irregardless that it comes from a Christian?

        You say we must defend the holy books of the Bible and the Koran. I ask you why? They are not our holy books. Indeed, if they are holy books at all, they are books that teach oppression and hatred, and have caused the deaths of Pagans and Heathens the world over. If we should defend anything, it is ourselves and our teachings. It would be best if the Bible and Koran were lost once more to mankind.

        • They are not our holy books, but if I want the freedom and right to worship as I please, then I must protect and support the rights of other believers. That does not mean supporting terrorism or practices such as slavery, etc, but it does mean letting Christians and Muslims wrestle with their own traditions. The church burning the Korans may be against extremist Islam but their actions insult all Muslims and seeing as how the pastor of that church has written a book titled ‘Islam is from the Devil’ I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the church is against ALL Muslims and using fundamentalist Islam as their excuse to act out of hatred.

          When we denigrate and dishonor others and their traditions no one wins. Actions that do that are themselves dishonorable. Outrage is healthy, but hatred is not. Hatred comes from fear and hurt and those emotions must be grieved and healed before the strength of discussion and right action can prevail.

          Also, you mention the good that can come from Imperialism, along with the bad. Every coin has two sides. Just as Christianity and its scripture have caused some awful things, so too have they done many good things and brought much beauty to the world.

          • Niki wrote:
            They are not our holy books, but if I want the freedom and right to worship as I please, then I must protect and support the rights of other believers.

            Precisely. And it is especially true of those we specifically disagree with. As Voltaire said, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

      • Niki writes well on the subject. “Proof-texting” is a pain in the butt in all of the religions I’ve seen go at each other, even “Buddhists” against us Buddhists. (I’m a Buddhist w/ Pagan/Wiccan tendencies. Mostly for divination.) I’ve studied Islam in significant detail, even walking more than a few miles in the abaaya and niqab. To chunk out pieces of a writing to go batty over shows a lack of educated opinion. To use the behaviors of a few spooky nutjobs who use religious texts as a free check to harm others in various ways is also foolish.

        The right-wing Christian “forces” are making this country ugly because they have the loudest “voice” and $$$ to “infect” the Pentagon, the Military, besides their noise at the highest levels of government. Give ‘em an inch and they’d be like France right now with their anti-Niqab/Burkha laws going into effect soon. (Notice the difference between a niqab and a burkha which the media screws up in their “informing the public”.)

        These laws reek of Iran under the Shah and his unruly, hateful, dangerous SAVAK. Granted the backlash was as dangerous as the reason for it, still it begs reminding people of “repeated history”.

        I don’t see France forcing other dress codes on those who desire to run around in whatever they like. Flimsy dress is as noticeable as a niqab. Once cares to do as she pleases to perhaps flaunt her physique (or for other reasons like fashion), the other cares to save it for her husband.

        Putting a Masjid or community center too close to “ground zero’? Maybe stirring the poo pot, but then it’s “good” in the sense that it forces us to reflect on what America’s about: FREEDOM… allegedly, but we don’t see that for the LGBT community either.

        The Buddhist in me begs other Buddhists to step in and perhaps give some information on impermanence, how things arise due to causes and conditions, are changing and impermanent. Doing so might beg others to reflect that they’re not the center of the universe and their opinion is not the only one, but rather, that we’re all inter-dependent. His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh work hard to teach, but it must also come from the voices of the practioners.

        May the compassionate and educated step forward to calmly beg for patience and learning to understand. Teach where you can, question the answers.

        Ohm gate gate, paragate, parasomgate bodhi svaha.


    • Norse Alchemist,

      Yes, I have made myself familiar with the situation, and I do have compassion for those people who are still hurting and fearful because of the events of 9/11. On the other hand, to act on that hurt and fear to make an “emotional plea” that supports attacks against Muslims, the desecration of sacred space, and uses threats of further retaliation and decommissioned missiles to intimidate other citizens is, by definition, a kind of terrorism. As I said, I can appreciate the suffering and desperation that can give rise to terrorism (even when that terrorism is directed against us by Islamic extremists) — but that never makes it all right or justified. I can understand a person’s pain without supporting the way they choose to act on that pain.

      Also, yes, I have read the Qur’an. All of it (in English translation, sadly, but still). Have you? Do you know its history, how it was written, how it is organized, the culture it grew out of? The Qur’an (the word meaning “recitation”) was written in chapters, or suras, which are organized not in chronological order, but by length, from longest to shortest. Some of the very first suras written were also the shortest, and so appear at the end of the Qur’an. These first suras were based on the oral tradition of desert poetry of the Bedouin culture of the time. They are considered holy text because they were believed to be the direct word of Allah, so beautiful and almost unbelievable in composition were they (even in English, they are stunning). There are words in the Qur’an never used in the Arabic language before, that were invented in order to give depth and subtlety to the poetry of the text (including the word that we so blithely translate into English as “hell” but which is a much more complex and ambiguous term than that). The Qur’an refers to Allah using a mixture of gender forms in the Arabic which cannot even be reproduced or evoked in English, in order to break down gender categories and evoke a sense of Allah not as male, not as neuter, but as both male and female at once. This was a revolution in the Bedouin culture, and for centuries Islam embodied far more equality for women than did either Judaism or Christianity. (Speaking of which, Muhammad himself had many friends who were Jewish and Christian, and some scholars believe it was their inspiration and influence that inspired him to bring a message of community cohesion and peace to the warring tribes of the Bedouin.)

      Of course, as time went on, the suras became longer and their content began to reflect the changing political situation of the times. Note that the sura you quote appears very early in the text, indicating that it was one of the longest and therefore last to be written. As Niki points out, every holy text has its condemnations and other intolerant passages, and the Qur’an is no different. This is precisely why it is so important to understand the context of those passages, and the culture that gave rise to them, so that we can appreciate their context and rise above them when necessary. Burning books, for whatever reason, is the last resort of the willfully ignorant. Burning the Qur’an turns it from a text to learn from and contextualize, into an idol or icon to either worship or destroy, either way in ignorance and superstition. The pastor in Florida may be acting out of pain or rage, but his act is also an act of basic superstition that will only ensure further strife and miscommunication. As I said above, I can understand his pain without condoning his actions.

      • I did know some of the background of the Koran. Thank you for sharing more. Did you know that under Islamic study, Those Suras that are written later overwrite those written before? This means that the one I quoted is used to overwrite more peaceful passages that called for living in harmony.It is one of the last “revelations” and one of the most important. This may be, as you say, due to changing political events, but after the death of Mohamed, this became locked into place and unchangeable. It is, sadly, what has become the reality.

        You do have a point about the burning turning the Koran from a book of learning to an Idol, as well as this action being brought about from fear. It is a sad thing that this Pastor feels the only way he can be heard is to pull such a drastic action. Yet, for good or ill, this is the nature of our world.

        Yet for all the condemnations heaped upon this Pastor, I am not seeing equal condemnations being heaped on those Muslims who are currently doing much the same as this man. If this act is so horrible, where are the protests against the flag burning and burning in effigy? Are they any wiser, better, or more tolerant?

        • Norse Alchemist wrote:
          Yet for all the condemnations heaped upon this Pastor, I am not seeing equal condemnations being heaped on those Muslims who are currently doing much the same as this man. If this act is so horrible, where are the protests against the flag burning and burning in effigy? Are they any wiser, better, or more tolerant?

          No, of course not – but the point is: Be better than that. Don’t stoop to that level, because the whole point is to drag one down.

          • “Yet for all the condemnations heaped upon this Pastor, I am not seeing equal condemnations being heaped on those Muslims who are currently doing much the same as this man.”

            That’s because what this pastor is doing is likely to trigger violence way out of proportion to him or his followers. He wouldn’t have the Commander-in-Chief, General Petraeus, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck et al on his case if that were not the probable outcome.

        • “I did know some of the background of the Koran. Thank you for sharing more. Did you know that under Islamic study, Those Suras that are written later overwrite those written before? This means that the one I quoted is used to overwrite more peaceful passages that called for living in harmony.It is one of the last “revelations” and one of the most important. This may be, as you say, due to changing political events, but after the death of Mohamed, this became locked into place and unchangeable.”

          I have not heard of this approach to the study of the Qur’an, honestly, and so I hope you don’t mind when I admit that I find myself skeptical that it is as black-and-white as you suggest. I suspect instead that this is an overly-simplistic characterization of how the study and use of the Qur’an actually works within Islam.

          I do know that, within Islam, the Qur’an is considered a holy and complicated text worthy of a great deal of study and contemplation. For instance, it is memorized, recited and studied in its original Arabic precisely out of an acknowledgement that sometimes nuances in a text can be lost or misinterpreted in translation. Not to mention the many other sacred and traditional Islamic texts which (like the Rabbinic commentaries of the Talmud and Midrash in Judaism) contribute to the complexity of interpretation. If this “all later suras overrule all earlier suras” approach to the Qur’an is true at all, I suspect that it is only a literal, simplistic approach in the hands of the same kind of extremists and fundamentalists who, within Christianity for instance, would try to claim that the stories of Genesis are meant to represent literal, scientific fact and that it is probably not characteristic of the vast majority of Muslims.

          In short, I doubt very much that this is actually the approach of most Muslims to the text of the Qur’an, and I have never seen any evidence that this is the case.

          • The approach of most Muslims, perhaps not. But it is the approach of the Shariah Law code, from what I’ve read in impartial sources.

          • It is the Doctrine of Abrogation.

            When there is a conflict, later writings supersede that of earlier writings. So, the thought is that Medina verses supersede the Mecca verses.

            This is at the heart and soul of the inner conflict of Islam today and anyone studying Islam and the Koran should be familiar with this doctrine and the reasons for and against it. The Doctrine of Abrogation is not some fringe view held by a small minority.

            • O, that’s right! I’d forgotten about this – it always seems to be the one thing conservatives actually know about Qur’anic studies, and since it’s never as simple as they claim, I always forget to connect it back to this particular aspect of Islamic law.

              “That there are cases of abrogation in the Qur’an is undisputed, but the authorities differ widely in identifying the abrogated verses, some limiting their number to as few as 5, others pointing to as many as 225. The doctrine has been developed in the course of interpreting the Qur’an. The task has not been free from difficulties, as it has required the establishment of two conditions in each case: i.e., that the abrogating verse is posterior to the abrogated verse, which raises the moot problem of the chronology of the Suras of the Qur’an, and that there is no possibility of reconciling the contents of the two verses concerned.”

              (from The Doctrine of Abrogation)

              From what I remember, it’s similar to the concept in Christianity that Jesus’ “Law of Love” “overwrites” and makes obsolete the various laws of the Old Testament – though of course, as within Christianity, there is a great deal of difference between strict theological doctrine and the actual interpretation and practice of that doctrine in reality. Anyway, it seems safe to say that Norse Alchemist’s original characterization of the law as a simplistic black-and-white approach to which all Muslims subscribe is an inaccurate one. From what I remember, the criteria for abrogation have grown increasingly strict over time as the theological approach to the holy texts of Islam has grown more subtle, and that, as I said previously, it tends to be the more “fundamentalist” Muslims who find a greater rather than fewer number of cases for it.

              Thanks for the clarification, Cara. (For some of my own: I never said it was a “fringe view” – I said that Norse Alchemist’s interpretation of it as “all violent verses overwrite all peaceful verses” to be unlikely. As far as I can see, I was correct in that view. I could have done without the snippy emphasis of your comment, honestly. But like I said, thanks for the reminder.)

              • Snippy? I’m not sure why you seem to read my comments in a negative light when they are not intended that way. I have nothing but respect for you and have commented respectfully to your posts. And…well…your responses back aren’t always the most respectful towards me. So I’ll bow out.

                • I wish you would comment more on this, Cara.

                  I live in Minneapolis and I know Cara through business. I’ve been reading this blog to learn more about her religion and I’ve been seeing a different side of her.

                  A few years ago we shared a taxi and I was surprised when the driver started reading her the riot act in Arabic. Cara didn’t understand, they switched to English, and he was mad that she was uncovered. We asked her about this later and she explained that some Arabs expect her to be and act like a proper Muslim girl since she is part Arab.

                  We talked about her family, her experiences, and Islam. It was interesting. She has family here, over in the Middle East, and they are a mix of religions and they keep in contact and visit. She has an inside view without being emotionally tied to Islam or Orthodox Christianity. Since her family lives in Lebanon, which is basically an occupied territory with a sizable Jewish and Christian minority, they have different conversations about the middle East than I was used to hearing.

                  So she doesn’t have a typical white conservative view of Islam just from things she’s read.

                  Oh, and Cara – I’m still voting for Dayton!

    • Burning a faith in effigy may include the terrorists by implication, but it is simply impractical to go to war with an entire faith, no matter what role it played in the terrorist attacks. What are we going to do? Destroy one of the largest religions of the world? Destroy the people? Force conversions? Or convince them by saying “Hey, we think everything you’ve grown up considering good is shit, no exception!”

      Really, burning a Koran is just wishing they’d just plain old go away while pushing buttons with an attention-grab. It would be much more meaningful if Muslims burned their own holy book in protest of their own faith, but that wouldn’t mean something completely different from a passive aggressive attack by people who desperately need to feel like heroes without actually doing anything substantial.

      The United States can barely handle being in two countries, one of which has historically been a no-win situation. We’re barely able to handle local people and sects, local communities, civil wars, etc. We’re trying to be nice because, we’re stretched out as we are, and what are we going to do? Force conversion? Kill the faithful? Outlaw the faith ingrained in the local culture for centuries? It’s not ethical, nor is it practical. Other civilizations have done it, but do we really want to do that, too?

      I believe most of us, Pagans included, don’t really want to do what our gods tell us. We reason, we make excuses, we say “Yeah, I know I’m supposed to brutally murder so-and-so, but it’s so unpleasant, you know? I’m sure God will look over it.” We coax and manipulate peace and love out of violent-minded gods. We often don’t have a choice, lest we go insane or fall into despair when we’re supposed to feel hope. Even when a possible change of faith presents itself, it may be too late for us, mentally, to even consider such a thing without giving up faith (and family, and community) altogether.

      It takes a certain degree of fervor and convincing to really get people into it. The heart has a short attention span. To sustain a violent religious fervor among a large amount of people for a long time takes real anger, real alienation, extreme poverty, and outrage. It needs enemies (remember, they’re still killing each other, and not just non-Muslims) who wear the Bad Guy hat. It needs culture and ideas of virtue and honor that are hard to argue with.

      If Islam was THE enemy, the United States would be done for already. We can barely handle the ham-handed counter attacks we’ve been doing, and lashing out against a huge portion of the world is somehow a good idea? If we’re smart, we just might be able to handle the terrorist groups, and maybe the reasons why people are moved to obey a god for once, and possibly even self-destroying cultural elements (just look around the world! Culture fluctuates wildly, but faith often remains, though changed). Even that would be just a little bit at a time, and would take a certain amount of focus and dedication that I don’t think anyone who burns a Koran as an attack against terrorism could fathom.

  6. Ali,

    Thank you for this post. It is so wonderful to really get to the heart of what we should remember during a time of grief. Your mention of the Obon ceremony is something I will incorporate into my reflections Saturday.

    • “Your mention of the Obon ceremony is something I will incorporate into my reflections Saturday.”

      Wonderful, Karen, glad to hear it. As a Pagan and sometimes-magic-practitioner myself, I honestly do believe that these small acts of personal compassion and contemplation really do have power and really can effect change in the world. I am glad that the story of these Buddhists and their interfaith community is spreading a little further and providing inspiration for others.

      I encourage you to also check out Jason’s recent post on the Wild Hunt, particularly his coverage of T. Thorn Coyle and her proposal to donate aid to Pakistan. All magic and prayer needs to be supported and affirmed through concrete, practical actions as well.

  7. I am a Druid priestess and when I heard about the ignorance of the “christains” in florida, I went out and bought a copy of the Qur’an. had one years ago in college(philosophy of religion course), not sure when it walked off. it will sit with my bible, torah, and all the rest of my sacred lit books, after I read it again.
    giving in to the hate and fear mongers is destroying our wonderful country. thoughtful, intelligent folks need to gently remind all around them that fear and hate will never make things better. an eye for an eye till the whole world is blind…… yeah, that will work.

  8. I am happy to read of the lantern ceremony. Strong peaceful response feels far better to me than meeting hate with hate.

    My group, Solar Cross, will be sending donations to Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on Saturday, to help get direct aid to Pakistan. I hope others will consider doing this as well. My friend Morpheus even figured out that those sending donations can do so in Terry Jones’ name.

  9. I have to dispute your characterization of demonstrations as “intimidation.” The whole point of a non-violent demonstration is to peacefully *demonstrate* the number of people willing to turn out in support of a given point of view. Of course, if the demonstrators choose to carry racist, creedist or otherwise intimidating signs, or utter chants and songs of that nature, then they are indeed as you describe them. But that is a characteristic of those demonstrators, not of demonstration in the abstract.

    Your description of the lantern ceremony is wonderful. Alas, videos of them will not go viral on the Internet, and videos of the Dove World Outreach Center will.

    • I was not speaking about demonstrations in the abstract, but about the specifics of these demonstrations. As I wrote, “There are times when civil disobedience and public demonstrations are acts of political power and affirmations of community strength. But this is not one of those times.”

      I do not think that, in this particular instance, counter-protestors will be able to distinguish themselves enough from the anti-Park51 protestors in any way that makes a significant impact on the perception of these protests in the public eye. (And that is one of the main purposes of demonstration and protest: to make a symbolic statement that will influence public perception.) Already there are people, some of whom are family members of those who died on 9/11, asking both protests to be called off, to avoid turning this situation into one of political partisanship and polarization. I do not think that counter-protestors can prevent this situation from becoming polarized and partisan by showing up to protest; their presence there, in my opinion, will only help reinforce the perception of this issue as divisive and polarizing, while failing to accomplish any real solidarity in support of Muslims. Let them instead attend a service at their local mosque or seek out Muslim friends and neighbors and spend the day in real community and conversation with them. This, I think, would be far more effective than simply adding to the amount of shouting and sign-waving. (At the same time, I acknowledge that each person must do what their conscience bids them to do; though I have my opinions about its ultimate efficacy, I also understand those who feel absolutely committed to joining the counter-protest.)

      On the other hand, not everything we do should depend on whether or not we think it will “go viral.” Sometimes it is important to show up and be present to small acts of beauty and compassion even if no one else is paying attention. This is how I understand the Buddhist ceremony (though my understanding is that they also draw a sizable crowd each year – for they have been holding this ceremony for a number of years now). I do not think that because an act may not be popular or worthy of media coverage, that it is somehow less important or less meaningful. I would love to live in a world where every day is filled with small acts of kindness and nobody bothers to watch the nightly news. As they say, “The revolution will not be televised.” ;)

  10. [...] community). Starhawk thinks we should turn off our TVs and go out to meet our neighbors, while Alison Shaffer wants nothing to do with the protests or counter-protests, and instead wants to honor the Buddhists commemorating the dead on the Hudson River, while [...]

  11. Committing acts of deliberate blasphemy/desecration utilizing the symbols of large, powerful, aggressive religions, like Christianity and Islam, has been viewed by many people as a legitimate form of expression — even as art.

    And for those who see Islam, in particular, as inherently oppressive, burning a Koran can be viewed as an act of defiance against a cruel and totalitarian ideology.