This week, en route to a library function in a small New Hampshire town, I stopped by a shop I frequent that sells used books.
As I entered, I saw in a display case a beautiful large-format hardcover edition of the Qur’an as translated by Muhammad Asad and illustrated with calligraphy by famous Egyptian artist Ahmed Moustafa.
A beautiful copy.
I asked about the book. My friend said it had come in the previous day and as he was looking at it a customer asked about it and asked if he could buy it.
He wanted to buy it, my friend told me, “so he could use it for toilet paper.”
He refused the sale and put the Qur’an into the case for safe-keeping, knowing I’d be in someday and he wanted me to have it.
As moved as I was by his thoughtfulness, and as grateful as I am that he saved Asad’s translation of God’s Word from being despoiled, I was made profoundly sad by the idea that someone who lives among us as a neighbor could be so filled with fear and ignorance.
I shouldn’t have been surprised.
Almost weekly, upon publication of one of my columns, I’m visited by clusters of trolls who offer opinions on my efforts.
They generally fall into two types: those who write comments beneath my columns and those who avail themselves of my publicly available email to personally send me hate mail and links to hate-sites.
This week a friend of mine sent me a comment he came across as he read through commentary beneath a recent column of mine.
The comment he highlighted read:
“This ‘Muslim’ might be well advised to keep a low profile . . . why are you even here in NH? It might be time to have a sketch Mohammed day here in NH?”
Hmmm, I thought, this sounds a bit threatening – should I send it on to the attention of the editor?
Before deciding I went online – I generally don’t read comments – and read many of those that had by then appeared.
Cool – 70 plus!
Cool, I thought, until I read them and was repulsed not by the racism and bitterness they reflected but by the ignorance underlying their words, ignorance that reflected concepts at odds with America’s great aspirational values.
With the exception of the occasional commenter who actually had read my column and wrote to address my message – whether they agreed with it or not – the public display of unmoderated invective by a handful of people is an embarrassing reflection on the current state of education and tolerance in many of our communities.
Let me say, though, that as a fervent supporter of ACLU-NH I defend the rights even of trolls to express themselves in remarkably uncreative ways. Indeed, I encourage them to donate to ACLU-NH to assure that their right to spew such invective – unconstrained by civility or facts – can be protected and continue unabated.
I even defend their right to call me “an unrepentant bigot.”
I defend it especially because each time they express themselves in such tasteless and uncivil language, they repeatedly validate for me the importance and rightness of all that I’m doing to counter racism and bigotry – especially to counter the marginalization and delegitimization of many American minorities and communities of color.
As many readers know, I’ve been engaged for more than a year in a project I call “Ask a Muslim Anything.” In schools, churches, retirement communities, libraries and other venues, I enter into dialogue with neighbors and strangers that for the most part have been civil, intense and productive.
This week, as I spoke to a gathering in a small new Hampshire town, I gifted them with my “rescue” copy of the Qur’an. It was a wonderful gathering, filled to overflow by neighbors who genuinely wanted to know about Shari’ah, about hijab, jihad, terrorism and terrorists, about Jesus and Mary in the Quran and about the Prophet Muhammad and polygamy in Islam.
The community was not shy and we were all respectful of each other. As we told each other stories, as we entered into each other’s lives and fears I was reminded, as we read from Asad’s translation, that “among (God’s) wonders is this: He creates for you mates out of your own kind, so that you might incline towards them, and He engenders love and tenderness between you: in this, behold, there are messages indeed for people who think! And among his wonders is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the diversity of your tongues and colors: for in this, behold, there are messages indeed for all who are possessed of (innate) knowledge!”
Between us all there are messages for people who think. For those think and who incline toward Truth.