There are a lot of ways to look at what happened with Terry Jones, the
pastor from Florida who wanted to burn the Qur’an on Saturday but later
thought better of it. We can accuse the media, as Jason Linkins does.
We can blame a frightening wave of anti-Islamic rhetoric and action,
enflamed by people whose political interests it serves. We can examine
the dynamics of a small church and a big world. But there's another
In the spotlight of the controversy was Muhammad
Musri, director of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, who went to
meet with Terry Jones last Wednesday. Few details of their conversation
were offered to the media, but those details were telling. Jones’s
meeting with Musri marked a turning point in Jones’s rhetoric and
accomplished what long-distance denunciations by world leaders could
When Musri waded into a difficult and tense situation, he used exceptional skills at interfaith dialogue:
took a risk. Musri had little to gain from wading into the controversy.
It would have been safer to sit on the sidelines and wait for the drama
to play out. He risked failing, looking like a fool and making everyone
He entered the conversation with a premise that
few of us would have offered. “I believe that Terry Jones is a good
person at heart,” he told CNN. He spoke, as a Quaker might say, to “that of God” in Jones. Jones cited the imam’s expression of respect as crucial to their conversation.
sought common ground, agreeing with Jones about the need to stand
against terrorism and suggesting room for dialogue on the issue of the
mosque in New York. While this was tricky, it provided space for more
He used an empathetic understanding of Jones’s
religion to move the conversation forward. “He [Jones] will pray about
it,” Musri told reporters. “I told him that Christ in the Bible has offered a different solution, a different way.”
did pray about it, and remarkably, he heard God telling him to stop.
Musri has since been accused of “religious blackmail.” Bloggers
immediately began to try to dismantle his reputation. But Musri
succeeded in having a conversation and made a careful, but dramatic,
step toward peacemaking.
See also the Christian Science Monitor’s profile of Musri, along with AOL's post on Musri's other moments in the spotlight.