Council on American-Islamic Relations starts campaign to distribute holy book to politicians and other public officials.
100,000 copies of Quran to be given away
WASHINGTON // When the US President Barack Obama quoted from the Quran in his speech to the Muslim world from Cairo last month, Muslim-American leaders saw it as an opportunity to raise the holy book's profile in a country where its teachings are largely misunderstood. So yesterday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil rights and advocacy group here, kicked off a campaign to distribute 100,000 copies to politicians and other public officials, the first phase of what the group hopes will eventually be a total distribution of one million. The intent of this phase is to get the book - which includes Arabic text with English translation and commentary - in the hands of every member of Congress, the governors of all 50 states, each elected representative in each state's legislature, select federal, state and local law enforcement officials and members of the media, among others. Mr Obama also will receive a copy. "You name it, if you're an opinion leader or a policymaker, we're going to try to get a Quran to you," said Ibrahim Hooper, Cair's national spokesman, who plans to "sponsor" a copy of the book for the principal of his child's school. "Our surveys have shown over the years that general knowledge of Islam is low in the United States, and that when people know more about Islam, stereotypes and prejudice go down." "It's an educational effort; it's not an effort to proselytise. We are not sending Qurans so people convert. We are sending Qurans so people have an enhanced understanding of Islam." Mr Obama mentioned the Quran four times in his Cairo speech - including the fact that the first Muslim elected to Congress, Keith Ellison, was sworn in to office using a copy that had belonged to Thomas Jefferson - and quoted directly from the book twice. "The Holy Quran teaches that whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind; and whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind," Mr Obama said. "The enduring faith of over a billion people is so much bigger than the narrow hatred of a few. Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism, it is an important part of promoting peace." Mr Obama is hardly the only public official in the United States to refer to the Quran or invoke passages from it. His predecessor, George W Bush, who had strained relations with the Muslim world, noted in 2005 that he was the first to add a copy to the White House library. He later found himself apologising directly to the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al Maliki, for the desecration of a Quran in Baghdad by a US soldier who had riddled it with bullets. Cair's current "Share the Quran" initiative follows an earlier distribution effort called "Explore the Quran", in which the group, in cooperation with the Book Foundation, distributed 40,000 copies to any non-Muslim requesting one. Organisers reported that one recipient - a man training to become a priest - had been so inspired by the book that he decided to fast during Ramadan in solidarity with the Islamic community. Sales of the Quran spiked in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks; some bookstores could not keep up with the demand. The interest has hardly been just scholarly: in 2004, the publisher of the popular "For Dummies" series - Cooking for Dummies, Baseball for Dummies, BlackBerry for Dummies - published a version that tracked the history and teachings of the Quran (other religious titles include The Bible for Dummies and Judaism for Dummies). Two Muslim-American teenagers from Arizona - the brother and sister team of Imran and Yasmine Hafiz - published another educational guide, The American Muslim Teenager's Handbook, in 2007, in large part as a response to public misconceptions about their faith. Written with the help of their Pakistani-born mother, Dilara, it contains a section on the Quran. Other groups have tried to educate the public on the teachings of Islam as well - though with somewhat mixed reaction. The Islamic Circle of North America, a non-profit education group, ran an education campaign about Islam last year by purchasing advertisements in the New York City subway system. That effort prompted controversy after a US congressman charged that one of the organisers had links to Islamic extremism. Mr Hooper said his group hopes over time to distribute one million copies of the Quran, broadening the campaign to the general public. email@example.com