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US pastor, imam at odds over Quran-burning deal

 Pakistani lawyers burn a U.S. flag while rallying in reaction to a small American church's plan to burn copies of the Quran in Multan, Pakistan on Th...
 Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center listens to questions from the media, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2010, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phi...
 Imam Muhammad Musri of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, right, speaks to the media as Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center loo...
 Imam Muhammad Musri of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, right, speaks to the media during a joint news conference with Pastor Terry Jones of t...
 Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center speaks to the media, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2010, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin)

Pakistan Quran Burning Reaction

Pakistani lawyers burn a U.S. flag while rallying in reaction to a small American church's plan to burn copies of the Quran in Multan, Pakistan on Th...

Quran Burning

Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center listens to questions from the media, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2010, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phi...

Quran Burning

Imam Muhammad Musri of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, right, speaks to the media as Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center loo...

Quran Burning

Imam Muhammad Musri of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, right, speaks to the media during a joint news conference with Pastor Terry Jones of t...

Quran Burning

Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center speaks to the media, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2010, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin)

An iman and an independent preacher fiercely disagree over they struck a deal to stop a Quran-burning at a tiny church in exchange for moving the location of a mosque planned near the fallen World Trade Center.
That means the pastor might still go ahead with his plan to burn a Muslim holy book on Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The threat has ignited a firestorm of criticism from Muslim nations, President Barack Obama, the Vatican and U.S. commanders in Afghanistan, among others.
Imam Muhammad Musri said he was clear on Thursday when he told the Rev. Terry Jones that he could set up a meeting with planners of the New York City mosque, but insisted he never promised to shift the location. Jones announced after the meeting _ with Musri at his side _ that they had a bargain and that he would call off the Quran-burning.
Later he accused Musri of lying and said the burning was only suspended, not canceled.
"We are just really shocked," Jones said hours after his original announcement. "He clearly, clearly lied to us."
Musri, the president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, countered that Jones wasn't confused or misled and that "after we stepped out in front of the cameras, he stretched my words" about the agreement.
The imam in charge of the New York Islamic center and mosque project also quickly denied any deal was made.
Musri said Jones had instead caved into the firestorm of criticism from around the world and that his announcement might have been a ploy to try to force Muslim leaders' hand on the Islamic center.
Jones said later he expected Musri to keep his word and "the imam in New York to back up one of his own men." Musri said he still plans to go ahead with the meeting Saturday.
Despite Jones' wavering, many in Asia greeted the news not to burn the Quran with relief, though some said the damage already has been done. Muslims consider the book the sacred word of God and insist it be treated with the utmost respect.
Cleric Rusli Hasbi told worshippers attending Friday morning prayers in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, that Jones had already "hurt the heart of the Muslim world."
"If he'd gone through with it, it would have been tantamount to war," the cleric said in the coastal town of Lhokseumawe. "A war that would have rallied Muslims all over the world."
In New York, the Islamic center project leader, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, said he was glad Jones had backed down but that he had not spoken to the pastor or Musri.
"We are not going to toy with our religion or any other. Nor are we going to barter," Rauf said. "We are here to extend our hands to build peace and harmony."
Opponents argue it is insensitive to families and memories of Sept. 11 victims to build a mosque so close to where Islamic extremists flew planes into the World Trade Center and killed nearly 2,800 people. Proponents say the project reflects religious freedom and diversity and that hatred of Muslims is fueling the opposition.
Moving the mosque is not why Jones canceled his threat, Musri said. Instead, he relented under the pressure from political and religious leaders of all faiths worldwide to halt what Obama called a "stunt." Musri said Jones told him the burning "would endanger the troops overseas, Americans traveling abroad and others around the world."
"That was the real motivation for calling it off," Musri said.
Jones had never invoked the mosque controversy as a reason for his planned protest at his Dove World Outreach Center. Instead, he cited his belief that the Quran is evil because it espouses something other than biblical truth and incites radical, violent behavior among Muslims.
Obama urged Jones to listen to "those better angels," saying that besides endangering lives, it would give Islamic terrorists a recruiting tool. Defense Secretary Robert Gates took the extraordinary step of calling Jones personally.
Jones' church, which has about 50 members, is independent of any denomination. It follows the Pentecostal tradition, which teaches that the Holy Spirit can manifest itself in the modern day.
The cancellation also was welcomed by Jones' neighbors in Gainesville, a city of 125,000 anchored by the sprawling University of Florida campus. At least two dozen Christian churches, Jewish temples and Muslim organizations in the city had mobilized events, including Quran readings at services, to counter Jones' protest.
Jones said at the news conference that he prayed about the decision and concluded that if the mosque was moved, it would be a sign from God to call off the Quran burning.
"We are, of course, now against any other group burning Qurans," Jones said. "We would right now ask no one to burn Qurans. We are absolutely strong on that. It is not the time to do it."
Despite Jones' words, in the Gaza Strip, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh told tens of thousands of Muslim faithful that they had come "to respond to this criminal, this liar, this crazy priest who reflects a crazy Western attitude toward Islam and the Muslim nation."
In Afghanistan, where tens of thousands of U.S. troops are stationed, President Hamid Karzai said he heard Jones had perhaps abandoned his Quran-burning plan.
"The holy book is implanted in the hearts and minds of all the Muslims," he said from Kabul. "Humiliation of the holy book represents the humiliation of our people. I hope that this decision will be stopped and should never have been considered. I ask the world for peace and stability and the respect of each other."
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Associated Press Writers Ayi Jufridar in Lhokseumawe, Indonesia; Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City; Anne Flaherty and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington; and AP Legal Affairs Writer Curt Anderson in Miami contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-05-08 03:43 GMT+08:00