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| The Mulberry event seeded the change in how Muslims would react to future Quran burning, criticism of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and Islam and also established that this is the standard model of Muslims to be compared.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Mulberry Quran burning incident - a new Muslim behavior and change in perceptions about Muslims

The Mulberry  event seeded the change about how Muslims are perceived, and how they would react to future Quran burning, criticism of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and Islam.


When Pastor Jones announced burning 2998 copies of Qur'an on Wednesday, September 11, 2013, one for each American life lost on September 11, 2001, I said to myself we have to bring a closure to the sacrifice of our men and women in the most honored way and not by burning the Qurans.

We also need to bring a closure to the damage 9/11 has done to the relationship between Muslims and America, though the majority on both sides did not blame each other, the few among both made it difficult by promoting fear, hatred and blame with recurring nagging activities.   


Just like the actions of Pastor Terry Jones and his handful of supporters do not represent 318 Million Americans, the actions of the 19 and their respective cheer leaders do not represent 1.6 Billion Muslims either. We all owe it ourselves to understand this clearly, so none of us lives in anxiety, and continue to live in hate of each other. 

We all have a legitimate concern on how a handful of Muslims react elsewhere in the world to criticism of Prophet Muhammad, Islam and Qur'an, and how Muslims are perceived by fellow humanity in general and Americans in particular.  Hence we deliberated on actions to bring about sustainable solutions, the answer was in moving the Tenth Annual Unity Day USA event to Mulberry, Florida. The Unity Day brings people of different faiths, races and ethnicities to rededicate our pledge to one nation and a commitment to her safety, security and Unity.


Thanks to the print and web media – every Major Newspaper in the world has carried the stories and at least two dozen original pieces have been written about the event. A whole lot of it is listed at www.WorldMuslimCongress.com

The most important endorsements came from Muslims sites - Shia, Sunni and other Muslims groups. Whether it is Saudi Gazette, or Ahle-Bayt (Shia) News in Iran and the Muslim Majority Nations have covered it all.

WHAT DO YOU EXPECT FROM MUSLIMS?

The following are some of the many of the responses we have learned and anticipate when someone criticizes Islam, Prophet Muhammad, or Quran;  
  1. Violence – burning embassies, cars and destruction of property….
  2. Calling Names, cursing or killing the one who said bad things about the three
  3.  Enflame the situation by adding fuel to the fire by talk of avenge or revenge
  4. Passing the buck – blame the other “illiterate Muslims”, fringe elements etc.
  5. Get Defensive
What the world has not seen is a genuine Muslim response!
Our goal was to offer an alternate behavior model as a standard, indeed we can call it a genuine Islamic response based on what the Prophet has said, and the verses from Quran. This behavior can also be called Christian, Jewish, Hindu or plain common sense responsible response.

Saving a life is like saving the whole humanity says the Quran, a book of guidance like all other holy books in building harmony in a given society. It is about building societies that care for other for the ultimate benefit of each member of the society. (more about it at Huffington Post)

The Muslim Community has taken up the responsibility in past several years to donate blood, and last year, the target was to collect 11,000 pints on the 11thanniversary and collected 11,170 Pints.  The Muslims for Life blood drive campaign emphasizes the sanctity of life, a teaching inherent in all religious traditions.  The MuslimCommunity USA has set a goal to collect 12,000 pints of blood, which will help save up to 36,000 lives. 
The model is not new at all, indeed, it was established by Jesus, Muhammad and all the spiritual Masters (peace be upon them)  including non-religious and secular traditions; that of mitigating conflicts and nurturing goodwill for the common good of the society; a cohesive society where no one has to live in apprehension or fear of the other.
Jesus called that Kingdom of heaven and Muhammad called it submission to a coherent system called Islam. A majority of people in all faiths believe in the beauty of their faith; however a few in each group don’t get that or abuse the faith to their advantage in making enemies out of those who differ.

Indeed, Prophet Muhammad taught that "To overcome evil with good is good, and to resist evil by evil is evil." It is also strongly enjoined in the Qur’an in the same verse 41:34, “Good and evil deeds are not equal. Repel evil with what is better; then you will see that one who was once your enemy has become your dearest friend.” (Full Press release at World Muslim Congress).



The folks in the Town of Mulberry and Polk County, Florida were ready for a new model to work in dealing with the situation, and they did, and have set an example to the world. Should this happen elsewhere in the United States, the folks can look up to the Mulberry example of giving hope and strengthening what is good.

Indeed Mulberry Mayor Hatch said, "One man or a handful of men and women do not represent the values of half a million folks of Polk County". Mayor Fields of Lakeland shared that humanity has a history of abusing the holy books for individual gains and we cannot accept that. Sgt. Regina Moran, representing Polk County Sheriff's office called for mutual respect and acceptance of the other. Butch Rahman, a resident of Polk County emphasized, "Terry Jones begged every property owner in Polk County to allow him to burn the Quran on their property—and not one person accepted. No one is buying his idea and he is isolated on an island of hate. He does not represent us.” and added,  "I am proud of Polk County's response in rejecting hate and promoting a positive message of American diversity."  

In the words of Suzanne carter,  “As a Christian, the bible teaches us to love our neighbors— it doesn’t say what our neighbor has to look like or believe in—it just says neighbor.”  Lynn Broom of Not in Mulberry Organization adds, "You can't fight hate with hate" and the Curtis Rahman, a high schooler was clear ," "Al-Qaida is dangerous, not Islam or Muslims". Similar sentiments were expressed by ordinary folks (2 videos).

Imagine the reservation and apprehension when a Muslim steps into their town – I am sure they expected one of the five behaviors from this Muslim, but thanks to the Model of the Prophet – "Amin", that I follow to the best of my ability, they saw me, with identical goals as they had, and that was to add goodness.

Amin was a title accorded to the Prophet by fellow residents of Mecca who were Jewish, Christians, Pagan and others. To be Amin is to be truthful, to be worthy of trust, to be just and to be a source of safety and security to others.  The folks in Mulberry reciprocated with equal kindness.

For a public good to succeed, it has to be un-selfish, and no one has anything to gain from it but the community at large. Our volunteer team in Mulberry (listed on the site) followed the same model. None of us wanted anything out of it except the common good. 

We hoped this would be  a life changing event, most people fell in in love with the idea that all of us Americans will come together as Americans and nothing but Americans. While we have our sub-identity, we look to each other as Americans and rededicate ourselves to our pledge; one nation with liberty and justice for all. 
Mulberry is a part of history in creating a model behavior in dealing with conflicts and building a cohesive America, where no American has to live in apprehension or fear of the other

I want to emphasize a note about service.  My good friend said a prayer for me that I have earned a prime spot in paradise, but I was quick to say, I do not way any such place. – We should not be driven by wages for the service we render, if we get paid, then it would not be service any more. We should rather do our share of work for creating a better world, as the Bhagvad Gita says, do your dharma and not be driven by the fruit.
Thanks to my key partners in the event - Butch Rahman, Suzanne Carter, Lynn Broom, Linda Jezard and others including the Mayors, police, Fire chiefs, Sheriff’s office and the media friends for placing their trust in me and believing that we will do the right thing – and not leave a mess behind for them to deal with later.
Suzanne traveled with me to the site where Jones was going to burn Quran, we had a good conversation, and I appreciate the trust she placed in me. Butch asked me, a stranger to stay in his home with his family, and I am glad I did. I am sure Prophet Muhammad would be smiling at me, but at least I feel good for following in his footsteps – to be the Amin.

Afterall, the Qurans were not burned.

Pastor Jones and his fellow Pastor were arrested, and their truck and the trailer with kerosene doused Qurans were confiscated an hour before the scheduled burning at 5:00 PM on September 11, 2013. They were charged for carrying open arms, a 45 caliber Smith and Wesson, and not having the license tag for the trailer, a road hazard with Kerosene doused books on an open road. Both the men were released after paying a bail of $1250 each. Full story at the Mulberry Ledger: http://www.theledger.com/article/20130911/NEWS/130919800/0/search


The Pastor has said to repeat the event, and on our part, we will repeat our unity and prayers, and pray for the well being of the Pastor. May God forgive him and have him join us in creating a safer America for every American. I will continue to pursue to have a dialogue with the pastor and answer what exactly about Quran that bothers him. If it happens, it will be in a public forum.

To quote from Jeffrey Weiss'  article he wrote in Religion News Service, and copied by virtually every major News paper in America including the Washington Post, Huffington Post and others. It was a challenge to Pastor Jones. 

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“If you find five faults in Quran in a public discussion, I will abandon my faith and join your ministry. … On the other hand, if you cannot find faults, I am going to be easy on you, I will not ask you to become a Muslim, but ask you join me to do the work of Christ and Muhammad in building a cohesive America, where no American has to live in fear of the other. Jesus called that the Kingdom of Heaven.
“You and I owe it to America to demystify the myths and allay mutual fears. I am putting myself out for the common good of America and I hope you take up the challenge and join me in contributing to the greatness of America.”
Now, the pastor is as likely to agree to this debate as he is to ride a unicorn. So why even bother?
“You are right. He will not take it,” Ghouse said. “But that also gives fellow Americans the hope that it is not the Quran, it is the bad practices of a few Muslims that taints the religion.”
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This is what it takes to create a good society, where we all can enjoy living in it, and that is what the role of a Muslim ought to be. If you feel your dollars produce direct results, we invite you to donate $100 and over: http://americatogetherfoundation.com/donate/  and your support will be listed at www.UnityDayUSA.com and www.WorldMuslimCongress.com  

I am grateful to all the sponsors and those who have pledged and may donate, but particularly the support from the magnificent seven for this event.
Mirza A Beg, my moral support and silent partner in the press releases and possible reports. Dr. Basheer Ahmed, Dr. Nauman Anwar and Farooq Hemani have always supported the work we do; I don’t have to ask them, they volunteer to fund the work. Then this time around – Butch Rahman turned in $100 on the 1st day I met him towards the cost of the work, Suzanne Carter for joining in with her superb team of volunteers. Moazam Syed was the first one to donate – this is all encouragement. All their contributions are listed on the site for transparency and accountability purpose, and more importantly their support has produced direct results.

God willing, we will put a book together with the full story, of all the little and big things, good things, and bad things that have happened in the process. The book will include feedback from the involved and the ordinary. 
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FEEDBACK REPRESENTATIVE OF MULBERRY SENTIMENT

Terry Jones a Bad Apple in the Christian Faith Who Brought Hate to Mulberry

Published: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 at 12:01 a.m.
Well, it's all over in Mulberry — or is it?
The Christian Quran book burner went to jail and the World Muslim Congress that has held it Unity Day event for the past nine years has returned to Dallas. The book burner came to Mulberry in hate and the Muslims came to Mulberry in peace to counter the hate.
The book burner is going to find out he can't break the law in Mulberry and get off without a stiff penalty. The World Muslim Congress from Dallas are gone but not forgotten, and they are welcome to return. They came in peace with a record of doing the Unity Day Celebration for the past eight years.
The group included local residents of differing faiths, and they showed respect and to love our neighbors with understanding to achieve worldwide balance. This reasoning is part of my Christian faith. I wish I had been there and I wish the Muslin Unity Day Celebration would have had more support from the churches.
We are not going to have world peace until we can come together without regard to race or religious beliefs. Being divisive and not willing to understand the other side is not the Christian way. It does not mean Christianity has to accept the Muslim or any other way. It means love your neighbor and do unto others as … you know the rest and what is right.
The Muslims summed it up best when they prayed for the fallen heroes who died on 9/11 from a "few bad apples in the Muslim faith." I can understand that logic by adding we have a "lot of bad apples in the Christian faith," and one of them brought hate to Mulberry.
DON OVERSTREET Mulberry
______________________________ HERE ARE SOME TAKE AWAY POINTS:
  1. The Mayors, police, fire chief, religious leadership and volunteers along with representatives of many different religious traditions joined (video clip) in echoing the sentiment of respecting Quran without compromising on the free speech guaranteed in our constitution.
  2. Indeed Mayor Hatch said, "One man or a handful of men and women do not represent the values of half a million folks of Polk County" or 318 million Americans. Mayor Fields shared that humanity has a history of abusing the holy books for individual gains, in the words of Butch Rahman - not a single property owner offered their place to the pastor to burn the Qurans – no one in the county was buying his idea.  In the words of Suzanne carter, her bible does not teach her to hate the neighbors. Similar sentiments were expressed by ordinary folks (2 videos).
  3. The above is a reassuring feedback; ignoring Jones would have deprived fellow Americans and the Muslims around the world with that kind of hope giving information.
  4. The media sincerely presented the event as it was – in the positive light without putting a dimmer on it. Our original Press release was augmented by front page news in Times of India and an effective endorsement op-ed by Saudi gazette and carried by over 50 news outlets. The final touch came from Jeff Weiss of Religion News, which was picked up by every major newspaper in the World. At home in Mulberry, the ledger reported factual information of everything that was happening with Pastor Jones or the Unity Day USA event. I Googled it, the report was published in every major language of the world.
  5. An alternate behavior model is established in dealing with conflicts, instead of the routine condemnations. This model was indeed set by Jesus and Prophet Muhammad, and we merely followed it.
  6. Fellow Americans witnessed a major paradigm change; that Muslims do speak out and offer choices besides condemning or doing nothing.
  7. That Muslims are partners in nation building and building a cohesive America.
  8. The program reiterated that Muslims pray for the wellbeing of all humanity, and not just MUSLIMS. It's not a new idea, but practiced by a majority of Muslims quietly. We want to reiterate the Quranic verses.....Full article at Huffpost and our first press release.
  9. We were clear- we honor fellow citizens thru prayers and respecting Quran.
  10. As a part of the published program, we broke for prayers, thanks to Sunni, Shia, WD Muhammad, Ahmadiyya Muslims and other Muslims for joining us in the optional special prayers. I was blessed to have led the 2 Rakat Nafl, Alhamdulillah we all prayed together. 
  11. I'm sure Prophet Muhammad would be pleased with our work. I followed his example of becoming the Amin.  The city loved the message, now; they actually know what MUSLIMS are about. There is an alternate positive example.
  12. A new found respect for Muslims, and Muslims were seen as doing the right thing, just, truthful and trustworthy. We are glad we responded positively instead of complaining. 
This is a new paradigm in bringing a change, a critical milestone for Muslims in the United States.
I request you, the members at World Muslim Congress and the Foundation for Pluralism to add your succinct but pragmatic comment in 50 words or less for possible inclusion in the book.  A sponsor for the book is welcome by individuals or an organization. The book would be a compilation of many articles, your comments and reports in the media.   

This book will be a must read for any one before building a Mosque in Murfreesboro, a Ground Zero Mosque or planning a major event. The proceeds will go towards nurturing the pluralistic values of Islam and building cohesive societies to live and let live.
I will be happy to give a talk on the subject of how to become a productive citizen of America and earn the respect as a fully participating and contributing member of the society at large.  
God willing we will do things with boldness and clarity.
A full report will be prepared and mailed to the ones who want to read.
Just Google “Quran Burning”,  “Mike Ghouse” or “Pastor Terry Jones” for that time period,  – you will be amazed with the print and web media coverage. Every Major Newspaper in the world has covered it in positive terms, a healthy change.


The most important endorsements came from Muslims sites - Shia, Sunni and others. The key contributing articles are on the panel at World Muslim Congress and Unity Day USA.
The most important endorsements came from Muslims Newspapers and websites - Shia, Sunni and others. Whether it is Saudi Gazette, or Ahle-Bayt (Shia) News in Iran and the Muslim Majority Nations have covered it all. There is leadership vaccum out there, when the right thing is said, they grab it and it is encouraging.

Thank you.


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Mike Ghouse is a speaker, thinker and a writer on pluralism
, politics, peace, Islam, Israel, India, interfaith, and cohesion at work place. He is committed to building a Cohesive America and offers pluralistic solutions on issues of the day at www.TheGhousediary.com. He believes in Standing up for others and has done that throughout his life as an activist. Mike has a presence on national and local TV, Radio and Print Media. He is a frequent guest on Sean Hannity show on Fox TV, and a commentator on national radio networks, he contributes weekly to the Texas Faith Column at Dallas Morning News; fortnightly at Huffington post; and several other periodicals across the world. His personal site www.MikeGhouse.net indexes all his work through many links.
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