As New York City and the rest of the country agonize over plans to build a major Islamic center, including a mosque, two blocks from the site of the World Trade Center, Florida is also plunging directly into the controversy of Islam and the anniversary of the terrorist attack.
Pastor Terry Jones of The Dove Outreach Center in Gainesville garnered probably just as much national attention with his announcement that he would lead his congregation in a “International Burn a Koran Day” [sic] on Saturday, Sept. 11. However, Jones cancelled the burning on Thursday.
Less known is an event planned locally also to register displeasure with Islam and Muslims, scheduled for Saturday morning.
But a Jewish leader says he will open his synagogue to all comers Saturday afternoon – for a reading of the Muslim holy book.
Anti-Islam activists have scheduled a demonstration against the religion in front of the new site of the Islamic Center of South Florida in Pompano Beach. The rally is being organized by local members of the Tea Party and anti-Islamic activists such as Joe Kaufman and The Rev. O’Neal Dozier, who have spoken out against building the facility in the city.
Hasan Sabri, spiritual leader of the center, said he recognizes people’s right to free speech but does not understand why the city would issue a permit for someone to stage what he called a rally of intolerance outside a religious institution, especially at the conclusion of a holiday.
Depending on the sighting of the moon, Saturday could also be the occasion for Eid-ul-Fitr, a Muslim celebration marking the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting.
“I don’t know why people are making this connection between a religious celebration that has been celebrated for generations and 9/11. It doesn’t make any sense to me,” Sabri said.
By allowing permits for demonstrations outside houses of worship, fragmentation of a community is encouraged, he said.
Meanwhile, as Muslims got ready to mark the end of the month of fasting, Jews began observing Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish new year, on Wednesday. Jews entered a 10-day period of self-reflection, atoning for misdeeds done the year before.
Rabbi Barry Silver of Congregation L'Dor Va-Dor in Lake Worth said he will open the doors of his synagogue Saturday afternoon to observe a day of healing — by reading the Qu'ran.
“Shabbat Shuvah is a holy observance when Jews are commanded to seek reconciliation with those from whom they have become estranged. Thus, this is a perfect time to seek reconciliation and harmony with our spiritual cousins, the Muslims, with whom we share so much in common,” he said. “We hope this day will be a time when people of all faiths and no faith at all could come together in peace and harmony.
“There is violence in all three bibles: Jewish, Christian and Muslims. And we should all come together and repudiate all the violence in those bibles and atone for what has been done in the name of religion. These people who are burning bibles are not atoning, they are continuing a history of intolerance which has marred religious life for centuries [and] millennia.”
Rabbi Jeffrey Kurtz-Lendner, spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, said Judaism accepts that most people make mistakes in life and there is now “an opportunity to repair relationships with people we have hurt during the year and how we can repair those relationships in life and become better people.”
Kurtz-Lendner shares time and services with Darul Uloom, a mosque in Pembroke Pines. “We take once a year to remind ourselves to try to be better,” he said.
Sofian Al-Zakkout, director of the Miami-based American Muslim Association of North America, said Muslims joined in condemning the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001, as well as “any terrorist act.”
“We need to live in peace and in order to close the pain we need to forget anything wrong happened to us and be optimistic and look for a brighter future for us and our children. We can’t live in this nightmare forever,” he said.
Al-Zakkout, who serves on community-based committees to aid the poor and build bridges and understanding between people, is discouraging Muslims outraged by any burning of the Qu’ran from retaliating with violence.
Meanwhile, Congressman Alcee L. Hastings, D-Miramar, has condemned the Qu’ran burning plan as “downright racism” coming from “this hate-filled organization” and “disgraceful to American values.”
“The issue here is not our coveted right of free speech; the issue is American values. Hate is hate and this is free speech running amuck. It is irresponsible to hide behind the First Amendment and knowingly put our U.S. military in harm’s way,” Hastings said.
Hastings was apparently referring to comments made by Gen. David Petraeus, who commands the military effort in Afghanistan that burning the Qu’ran would incite rage and make American soldiers targets.
Although Jones had said he was proceeding with burning the Qu’ran because it was “evil” and because he wanted to “send a message to radical Islam that we will not tolerate their behavior,” according to news reports, he cancelled the event on Thursday.
President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Attorney General Eric Holder joined the call for Jones to drop his plan to burn the Qu’ran.
Obama said it was a “stunt” and a “destructive act.” Clinton called it a “disrespectful, disgraceful act” and Holder described it as “idiotic and dangerous.”
State Rep. Dwight M. Bullard, D-Miami, said he was “outraged and embarrassed” at the proposed act of “disrespect and intolerance.”
Bullard called on colleagues in the Florida House of Representatives to “do what you can to see that September 11 continues as a day of remembrance and not an occasion for outbursts of hatred.”
Photo: Sofian Al-Zakkout