In South Africa, judge outlaws burning Bibles, Qurans, other holy books

A Muslim group successfully petitioned to stop a Bible bonfire in Johannesburg that was intended as a response to the now-cancelled Quran burning in Florida.

By , Correspondent

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    A man picks up a Koran book in the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community center in Mordern, South London, September 10. A South African court on Friday blocked a Muslim activist’s planned 'Bible burning day,' meant as a response to the now-cancelled Quran burning in Florida.
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A South African court on Friday blocked a Muslim activist’s planned "Bible burning day," meant as a response to the now-cancelled Quran burning in Florida.

Several Muslims in Johannesburg, where the event was set to take place, launched an 11th hour interdict in the High Court to stop Mohammed Vawda from setting a Bible bonfire on Sept. 11. They argued that such an event would be divisive and an insult to all religions.

After a 40-minute hearing in the South Gauteng High Court, Judge Sita Kolbe agreed and banned the event. The ruling also amounts to a ban in South Africa on the burning of any Bibles and other religious books.

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Lawyer Yasmin Omar, who represented an Islamic intellectual organization called Scholars of the Truth, spearheaded the legal bid with her husband, Zehir.

They called Mr. Vawda's plans "appalling."

After the verdict Mr. Omar said, "I’m very pleased the judge came to this decision. Not only did he ban this protest but he also banned other people from burning the Bible.

"Judge Kolbe ruled that freedom of expression is not unlimited if one exercises freedom of expression that is harmful to others.... We now hope American judges will see this decision and act accordingly by banning the burning of the Quran in America,” he said.

The ruling came a day after Florida pastor Terry Jones announced that he was putting his "International Burn a Koran Day" on hold because of mounting national and international pressure. Defense Secretary Robert Gates made a personal phone call Thursday to ask Mr. Jones to call off the event.

Vawda, a businessman and law student, said he accepted the verdict. “I was angry and enraged by Pastor Jones’s threats to burn the Quran. Why was he allowed to do it in America?" he asked.

“But now I have been enlightened by the judge who said by burning the Bible, I am also burning the Quran because we share the same prophets. In a sense, I have been stopped by two laws: the law of South and the law of the Quran.”

Mrs. Omar added: “What Mr. Vawda wanted to do is not just morally wrong but is an affront to Islam. We regard Jesus as a prophet who is part of the Quran so if he burns the Bible, he is burning part of the Quran."

“We do not want trouble like this in South Africa and it must be stopped because it can soon get out of control – where will it end? Next it could be the burning of religious temples, churches.

“What this man was planning to do is an affront to any decent person whether they are Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or whatever.”

Other Muslim groups in South Africa also urged restraint, saying the Bible burning plans were out of step with the country’s moderate Muslim population. There are nearly 1 million Muslims in South Africa and about 30 million Christians.

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