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Local Muslims say Quran will live on

By Michael Davis

Deadly violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan based on a now-retracted report of desecration of the Muslim holy book is symptomatic of Islamic sentiment toward United States foreign policy, but not its people, a local Muslim leader says.

Riots earlier this month in several Muslim countries were sparked by an account of alleged desecration of the Quran, the Muslim holy book, at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Newsweek reported in its May 9 issue that U.S. interrogators in Cuba had flushed a copy down a toilet in order to rattle prisoners. But the magazine retracted the item earlier this week in the wake of the violence and criticism from the Pentagon.

"The issue has never been the Quran," said Shahir Raslan, president of the Al-Ihsan mosque in Riverdale. "It's the policy – the attitude," he said.

Raslan, 40, who came to the United States from Syria in 1983, said many in the Islamic community don't align Americans with American policy, and especially alleged abuses of Muslim prisoners at Gitmo in Guantanamo Bay.

"I believe Newsweek is 100 percent correct and they did not lie because the attitude is there and the attitude led to the incident," he said.

This week, Newsweek retracted the item, saying the source for the account was not sure of its origin. Pentagon officials were quick to criticize the report and said they have found nothing to substantiate it.

Still, Raslan said while he holds the Quran, highly revered in the Muslim world, even above his own mother, it can be replaced and recreated because millions of Muslims have committed all or portions of it to memory.

"But how can you replace the 100,000 Muslims who have died?" he said.

The reaction to the report was more subdued in other parts of the world, leading to some anti-American protests but not on the level of the violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan that killed 15.

Stockbridge resident Mohammed Ali, 53, believes leaders in Pakistan and Afghanistan leveraged the item for political gain and incited the violence.

"The leaders of those countries are playing a game," said Ali, who is originally from India.

He said members of his mosque in Fayetteville hardly discussed the recent events.

Thursday, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross told reporters that Red Cross delegates informed U.S. authorities about allegations of disrespect to the Quran by U.S. interrogators in Cuba – but did not witness it – and after a set of guidelines for handling the holy book were handed down, the reports stopped.

"We believe that since, U.S. authorities have taken the corrective measures that we required in our interventions," said Simon Schorno, an ICRC spokesman.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.