The Florida preacher who planned to burn Qurans on the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks says he won’t “ever” burn Islam’s sacred text.
While Pastor Terry Jones didn’t receive the “sign from God” he was looking for – the moving of the proposed Islamic center near New York City’s Ground Zero – he said in an interview Saturday that he and his 50-member congregation in Gainesville “feel that God is telling us to stop.”
"And we also hope that with us making this first gesture – not burning the Quran, to say, 'No, we're not going to do it, not today, not ever, we're not going to go back and do it, it is totally canceled.' – we hope that through that maybe that will open up a door to be able to talk to the imam about the Ground Zero mosque," Jones stated on NBC's "Today Show."
But even if the man behind the Islamic center, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, goes through with building the $100 million, 13-story facility two blocks away from Ground Zero, Jones said he “can absolutely guarantee" there will be no Quran burning at his church, the Dove World Outreach Center.
For the past few months, Jones has heard from numerous Christian leaders, political leaders, and even military leaders regarding his plan to burn around 200 copies of the Quran on the property of his church.
The event, he said, was organized to “stand against the evil of Islam,” which his church regards as a "violent and oppressive religion."
“We only did it because we felt there needed to be an outcry against Islam, because Islam is presenting itself as a religion of peace,” Jones told The Christian Post back in July.
Though Dove World Outreach was certainly not the first group to come up with such a plan, the amount of attention placed on it by the media intensified the issue and sparked demonstrations in various parts of the world including Afghanistan, where protests that began peacefully turned violent for a second day in a row Sunday, leaving two dead and seven injured.
While Jones – like 42 percent of Protestant pastors in America – still believes Islam is a religion that promotes violence, he no longer feels the need to burn Qurans to point that out.
"We feel that whenever we started this out one of our reasons was to show, to expose that there is an element of Islam that is very dangerous and very radical," Jones said Saturday. "I believe that we have definitely accomplished that mission."
However, Jones still hopes to meet with the imam behind the similarly controversial Islamic center in New York though Rauf has made it clear that he will not move the center, as Jones and two-thirds of New Yorkers would like him to do.
On Thursday, Jones was told by another imam – Muhammad Musri, the president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida – that there was a commitment from Rauf’s office for a meeting Saturday to discuss the moving of the Islamic center. That alleged commitment prompted Jones to call of the burning that afternoon, but hours later, after hearing that no such deal had been struck, Jones’ church “suspended” the burning while it looked into the validity of Musri’s claim - which didn't check out.
In a statement, Rauf said he has not spoken to Jones or to Musri and that he had no intention to “barter.”
“We are not going to toy with our religion or any other. Nor are we going to barter. We are here to extend our hands to build peace and harmony," he stated.
Park51, the group behind the proposed Islamic center, also refuted reports on the alleged agreement, saying it was “untrue that Park51 is being moved.”
“The project is moving ahead as planned. What is being reported in the media is false,” it added.
The next day, Friday, Jones’ church called off Saturday’s burning but left open the possibility of a future one.
Jones’ comments on Saturday effectively extinguished that possibility, but some say the damage has already been done.
In Kabul, hundreds of angry Afghans burned American flags and chanted "Death to the Christians" and "Death to America." And in Tehran, angry demonstrators marched through the streets Friday, shouting slogans against the United States and Israel
Jones' plans has also fueled the case for Park51 supporters who say Islamophobia is behind the opposition to the project.
On Friday night, Jones arrived in New York City but told NBC that no meeting with Rauf had been scheduled. Rauf, in a statement Friday afternoon, also confirmed, "We have no such meeting planned [with Jones] at this time."
As for whether a meeting could be scheduled, Rauf said he is "prepared to consider meeting with anyone who is seriously committed to pursuing peace."
But he made this much clear: "Our plans for the community center have not changed.''