American Forces Press Service
STERLING, Va. – “Don’t respond to a wrong with a wrong,” was the message from Imam Mohamed Magid, executive director of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society during prayers here today.
Magid delivered the jumaa – a sermon – specifically about the Quran burning incident at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. The imam spoke to about 1,000 members of the suburban Washington mosque, stressing the need to respond to the Quran burning in “a peaceful and nonviolent manner.” As many as 20 Afghans may have been killed in riots near Bagram sparked by the incident.
Peter Lavoy, acting assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, also attended the service and apologized for the incident. The imam and the assistant secretary both stressed that the incident was inadvertent and without malice. Both noted that President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, have apologized for the improper handling of the Muslim holy books.
Earlier today, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said Panetta is concerned about the violence the incident has spawned. “He’s hopeful that the strong response by ISAF, General Allen and others, as well as political officials to include the president of the United States, will assure the Afghan people and Muslims around the world that this is not how the United States military treats important religious texts.”
Magid explained that Muslims see the Quran as the word of God from beginning to end. “The Book of Allah must be respected in all its forms,” he said, likening Muslims’ regard of the Quran to that of Jews toward the Torah and Christians toward the Bible.
The Defense Department and NATO commanders in Afghanistan are fully investigating the incident and will learn from it, Lavoy said.
“I come here to apologize on behalf of the Department of Defense for the incident that took place in Afghanistan this week, when American military personnel unknowingly and improperly disposed of Islamic religious materials, including the holy Quran,” he said.
The International Security Assistance Force has a long tradition of handling sacred texts with respect and full consideration of religious customs and rules, Lavoy said.
“In this case, our military neglected out of ignorance long-established, correct procedures for handling religious materials,” he said. “Even as we were fighting to help the Afghan people secure and govern their own country, we as a military did not meet our obligations to the Muslim community.”
Lavoy thanked the Afghan workers at Bagram who discovered the incident, and he detailed subsequent actions. The military personnel immediately stopped their actions and placed the religious materials in the hands of proper religious leaders, he said. Allen privately apologized to Afghan President Hamid Karzai and publicly apologized to the Afghan people.
“I know that apologies are never enough and do not erase this incident,” Lavoy said. “We cannot undo the past. We can only forthrightly acknowledge this incident, seek to rebuild trust, improve our mutual understandings at all levels, and from them, do better in the future.”
Allen directed that all 140,000 ISAF personnel will receive immediate training in the proper ways to handle religious materials. He also promised a thorough, but quick, investigation. Lavoy said those responsible will be held accountable.
The Dulles area mosque is one of the largest in America, serving more than 6,000 families in Washington and Virginia. The mosque has a Boy Scout troop and a Girl Scout unit. The parking lot is full of soccer-mom vans with “My son is an honor student at ….” bumper stickers, and even a few trucks with faded “Go Redskins” stickers. One car had two Blue Star stickers, indicating that two members of the family are serving in the military.
“We are a bridge between America and Islam,” said Rizwan Jaka, an official with the mosque. “We can communicate with both, and we need to do this. Now, we need to speak to our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan and ask them to respect the teachings of the Quran and respect human lives.”