US pastor, imam at odds over Koran-burning deal

Rev. Terry Jones claims that NY imam agreed to move site of Ground Zero mosque to prevent Koran burning, Muslims clerics deny quid pro quo.

Koran Burning 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Koran Burning 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
GAINESVILLE, Florida  — An imam and an independent preacher fiercely disagree as to whether or not they struck a deal to stop a Koran-burning at a tiny church in exchange for moving the location of a mosque planned near the fallen World Trade Center.
That means the pastor might still go ahead with his plan to burn a Muslim holy book on Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The threat has ignited a firestorm of criticism from Muslim nations, President Barack Obama, the Vatican and US commanders in Afghanistan, among others.RELATED:Iranian FM: Israel behind planned Koran burning'Muslims to burn US flags in protest of burning of holy book
Imam Muhammad Musri said he was clear on Thursday when he told the Rev. Terry Jones that he could set up a meeting with planners of the New York City mosque, but insisted he never promised to shift the location. Jones announced after the meeting — with Musri at his side — that they had a bargain and that he would call off the Koran-burning.
Later he accused Musri of lying and said the burning was only suspended, not canceled.
"We are just really shocked," Jones said hours after his original announcement. "He clearly, clearly lied to us."
Musri, the president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, countered that Jones wasn't confused or misled and that "after we stepped out in front of the cameras, he stretched my words" about the agreement.
The imam in charge of the New York Islamic center and mosque project also quickly denied any deal was made.
Musri said Jones had instead caved into the firestorm of criticism from around the world and that his announcement might have been a ploy to try to force Muslim leaders' hand on the Islamic center.
Jones said later he expected Musri to keep his word and "the imam in New York to back up one of his own men." Musri said he still plans to go ahead with the meeting Saturday.
Despite Jones' wavering, many in Asia greeted the news not to burn the Koran with relief, though some said the damage already has been done. Muslims consider the book the sacred word of God and insist it be treated with the utmost respect.
Cleric Rusli Hasbi told worshippers attending Friday morning prayers in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, that Jones had already "hurt the heart of the Muslim world."
"If he'd gone through with it, it would have been tantamount to war," the cleric said in the coastal town of Lhokseumawe. "A war that would have rallied Muslims all over the world."
In New York, the Islamic center project leader, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, said he was glad Jones had backed down but that he had not spoken to the pastor or Musri.
"We are not going to toy with our religion or any other. Nor are we going to barter," Rauf said. "We are here to extend our hands to build peace and harmony."
Moving the mosque is not why Jones canceled his threat, Musri said. Instead, he relented under the pressure from political and religious leaders of all faiths worldwide to halt what Obama called a "stunt." Musri said Jones told him the burning "would endanger the troops overseas, Americans traveling abroad and others around the world."
"That was the real motivation for calling it off," Musri said.
Jones had never invoked the mosque controversy as a reason for his planned protest at his Dove World Outreach Center. Instead, he cited his belief that the Koran is evil because it espouses something other than biblical truth and incites radical, violent behavior among Muslims.
Obama urged Jones to listen to "those better angels," saying that besides endangering lives, it would give Islamic terrorists a recruiting tool. Defense Secretary Robert Gates took the extraordinary step of calling Jones personally.
Jones' church, which has about 50 members, is independent of any denomination. It follows the Pentecostal tradition, which teaches that the Holy Spirit can manifest itself in the modern day.