In an attempt to quell the rancor resulting from Newsweek’s retracted Quran-desecration story, a controversial U.S. Muslim lobby group is giving away free copies of Islam’s revered book.

The particular edition, however, “The Meaning of the Holy Quran,” previously was banned by the Los Angeles school district because commentary notes accompanying the text were regarded as anti-Semitic.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations has included the edition in the Islamic book-package it offers libraries nationwide and now is giving it away to help “improve America’s image” through a program called “Explore the Quran.”

“We want to turn a negative image into a positive one,” said CAIR’s Florida director, Altaf Ali, at a news conference in Cooper City, Fla, announcing the project. “America’s image is taking a beating, and it’s affecting us all, of different faiths.”

WorldNetDaily contacted Ali at his Florida office, but he refused to be interviewed for the story.

CAIR’s library project, begun in September 2002, was funded in part by a $500,000 donation from Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. In 2001, bin Talal’s $10 million donation to New York City was rejected by then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani after the prince suggested U.S. policies in the Middle East contributed to the Sept. 11 attacks.

The Saudi-funded CAIR is a spin-off of a group described by two former FBI counterterrorism chiefs as a “front group” for the terrorist group Hamas in the U.S. Several CAIR leaders have been convicted on terror-related charges.

A Florida-based group, Americans Against Hate, drew attention to CAIR’s distribution project, noting the book’s commentary and index makes it clear the Quran’s references to “apes” and “pigs” are descriptions of Jews.

Khaleel Mohammed, an assistant professor of religious studies at San Diego State University, says the Saudi-approved edition was first published by Abdullah Yusuf Ali in 1934 at “a time both of growing Arab animosity toward Zionism and in a milieu that condoned anti-Semitism.”

Ali, according to the professor, constructed it as a “polemic against Jews.”

Until recently, he said, it’s been the most popular version among Muslims. Yet, despite revisions over the years, Mohammed added, the footnoted commentary about Jews “remained so egregious” that in April 2002 the Los Angeles school district banned its use at local schools.

Goodwill gesture

According to the Los Angeles Times, about 300 copies of “The Meaning of the Holy Quran” were donated in December 2001 to the Los Angeles Unified School District by a local Muslim foundation as a goodwill gesture in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Jim Konantz, director of information technology for the district, said the usual review process was skipped for an unknown reason, and he received a complaint from a history teacher.

“It’s not an issue of whether the Quran should be available in the library,” Konantz told the Times in a February 2002 story. “It’s like any other research volume. But these interpretations are certainly in question.”

Ali’s rendering of Surah (Chapter) 2:65 of the Quran, which reads like most English versions, says: “And well ye knew those amongst you who transgressed. In the matter of the Sabbath; we said to them: ‘Be ye apes, despised and rejected.”

In his corresponding note, Ali says: “There must have been a Jewish tradition about a whole fishing community in a seaside town, which persisted in breaking the Sabbath and were turned into apes.”

Under the heading “Jews” in the book’s index, is a reference to Surah 5:60, which says: ” … Those who incurred the curse of Allah and His wrath, those of whom some he transformed into apes and swine … .”

In the index under “Jews” also are these phrases: “cursed,” “enmity of,” “greedy of life,” “slew prophets,” “took usury,” “unbelief and blasphemy of” and “work iniquity.”

Extreme or mainstream?

Scholars point out that Muslims believe the Quran was dictated word-for-word by Allah in the Arabic language, so any rendering in other languages is imperfect and can be seen only as an interpretation.

But author and researcher Robert Spencer, director of Jihad Watch, says that while Ali’s notes are particularly anti-Semitic, his rendering of the Quranic text largely is no different than any other version.

“It’s an indication that what we think of as extreme in Islam is not really extreme but mainstream,” he told WND. “You won’t find a translation that doesn’t have Jews being turned into apes and pigs.”

Some Muslim scholars say the text refers only to particular groups of Jews, such as those breaking the Sabbath, and is not meant to apply to Jews today.

But Spencer says the global, mainstream understanding regards this as a current, universal reference to Jews.

The Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute, or MEMRI, includes in its archives many translated writings and texts of sermons by prominent Muslims leaders who make such references.

For example, the highest-ranking cleric in the Sunni Muslim world, Al-Azhar Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, called the Jews “the enemies of Allah, descendants of apes and pigs” in a weekly sermon in April 2002.

In a TV program broadcast on Iqraa, the Saudi-Egyptian satellite channel, a 3-year-old “real Muslim girl” was interviewed about Jews. Asked whether she liked Jews, she answered, “no.” Asked why, she replied Jews were “apes and pigs.”

“Who said this?” the moderator asked. The girl answered, “Our God.” “Where did He say this?” “In the Quran.”

At the end of the interview, the obviously pleased moderator said: “No [parents] could wish for Allah to give them a more believing girl than she. … May Allah bless her, her father and mother. The next generation of children must be true Muslims. We must educate them now while they are children, so that they will be true Muslims.”

Spencer said many in the United States are unaware that this kind of rhetoric is common in the Muslim world.

“I think that maybe this is a chance for Americans to become aware of just how the text of the Quran itself plays a role in the creation of jihad terror,” he said.

It’s also a chance, he continued, “for Muslims who claim to be moderate to face that honestly and develop a genuine, non-literal understanding of the text that is convincing to their fellow Muslims and propagate it aggressively.”

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