Miami's Peaceful Response to Quran Burning

Candlelight vigil planned for same day as Gainesville pastor's bonfire

By Amara Sohn and Brian Hamacher
|  Wednesday, Sep 8, 2010  |  Updated 10:56 AM EDT
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A peaceful gathering will be held at Bayfront Park as a Gainesville pastor continues with his plans to burn copies of the Quran on September 11.

A peaceful gathering will be held at Bayfront Park as a Gainesville pastor continues with his plans to burn copies of the Quran on September 11.

As Gainesville Pastor Terry Jones continues his vow to hold a "Burn a Quran Day" on September 11, a South Florida interfaith group and some Miami Muslims will be holding a peaceful gathering in honor of the 9/11 victims.

"We feel the more important thing to do during these critical times is to unite people rather than divide them," said Muhammed Malik, one of the organizers of the gathering, which will take place at the Torch of Friendship in downtown Miami.

Malik's candlelight vigil will stand in stark contrast to the plans of Rev. Jones, who'll be leading his followers at the Dove Outreach Center in burning copies of the Muslim holy book as a fiery protest on the 9th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Jones' 50-member Dove Outreach Center has been inflaming people around the world with its book burning plan, leading demonstrators in Afghanistan to to burn American flags and drawing criticism from government officials in the U.S.

Earlier this week, the top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, expressed concerns that images of a burning Quran will endanger U.S. troops.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called the planned burning idiotic and dangerous. And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton added her disapproval at a Tuesday dinner in observance of Iftar, the breaking of the daily fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

"I am heartened by the clear, unequivocal condemnation of this disrespectful, disgraceful act that has come from American religious leaders of all faiths," Clinton said.

Jones has said he's standing up to the religion and exercising his freedom of speech.

"How much do we back down? How many times do we back down?" Jones said. "Instead of us backing down, maybe it's time to stand up. Maybe it's time to send a message to radical Islam that we will not tolerate their behavior."

Meanwhile Malik, a 28-year-old law student who works for the ACLU, agrees Jones and his followers are exercising their freedom of speech, no matter how misguided it may be.

"The fact is that Muslims died on 9/11, all sorts of people died on 9/11, and I think that it's a tragic mistake to hold that event," he said. "Whether it's responsible speech, whether it's something that they should do, that's a separate question."

Jones said he's received about 100 death threats and now wears a hand gun on his hip for protection. Though he didn't get the proper fire permits to hold the Quran bonfire, Jones' burning may be protected by free speech anyway.

The interfaith rally at Bayfront Park will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. and is open to the public. Leaders from the Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities are expected to attend.

"Really the point is that we're all here as Americans and that we're celebrating freedom and diversity and all the great things about this country," Malik said.

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