“Read and your Lord is Most Honorable, Who taught with the pen, Taught man what he knew not.”
These are among the Quranic verses read by CAIR-Chicago Outreach Coordinator Gerald Hankerson at the American Library Association (ALA) Banned Books Week Read-Out in Washington Square on September 25. The most recent list of most frequently banned readings for 2010 was topped by the Qur’an, the holy text of Islam.
According to their Web site, the ALA has compiled reports of banned books nationwide since 1990, each year publishing an annual report of the most high-profile literary bans. Among some of the most frequently banned or challenged books were Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple.
Until now, the Qur’an has never joined these in the top ten list of frequently challenged books.
Hankerson said a general lack of knowledge about Islam and its holy texts have made it easier for certain groups to take verses in its holy texts out of context and claim that the seeds of modern terrorism or extremism were planted at the core of Islamic culture.
“Many people have questions about Islam, but recent events have subjected the Qur’an to much scrutiny,” Hankerson said. “The Park51 controversy in New York, Eid-al-Fitr coinciding with September 11 and the global exposure of Florida pastor Jerry Jones’ plans to burn the Qur’an that day, have all contributed to this development.”
The worst form of banning, event speakers noted, is the physical destruction of a book. Hankerson admitted the question of defending freedom of expression was difficult in cases of inflammatory works.
“It is important to remember that when certain speech or expression incites violence, we also have the freedom to protest peacefully,” he said.
Though Jones had reportedly received sympathetic messages and pledges from across the U.S. to partake in his Qur’an-burning, there was a silver lining to the debacle, Hankerson said.
“The Qur’an is definitely on the radar more than ever before, but not always in a negative sense. There has been a hike in Qur’an sales recently and more discourse about it as more people want to see for themselves what it really is all about.”