The Iranian government on Monday issued a strong condemnation a Florida pastor's burning of a Quran over the weekend, calling it provocative and warning the action will cause anger and resentment throughout the Muslim world.
Pastor Terry Jones, who heads the Dove World Outreach Center, a 50-member evangelical Christian church in Gainesville, Florida, burned the Quran and an image of the prophet Mohammed on late Saturday afternoon to protest against Iran's imprisonment of 35-year-old Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani.
Iran's foreign ministry described the Quran burning as "absurd, insulting and provoking" and the result of 'Islamophobia' in the West. "There is no doubt that this cheap American priest will cause religious hatred, anger and resentment throughout the Muslim world," a spokesman said, accusing the U.S. government of failing to prevent the burning.
The burning took place outside the church in Gainesville and was attended by a small group of supporters. "The image of Mohammed and the Quran will be burned as a form of demonstration and protest against the brutality, murder, rape and destruction of Islam that has taken place over a 1,400 year history and has not stopped," the pastor said. "Today is not a day of celebration by no means, it is actually a very sad day. It is sad that something like this needs to take place. It is sad that this type of step must be done."
Jones accused the U.S. government and other governments in the Western world of failing to protect Christians, minorities, women, believers and non-believers in Muslim countries. "Pastor Youcef has spent over 900 days in jail because of his religious beliefs, because he dared to share those religious beliefs," he said.
Youcef Nadarkhani, born to Muslim parents in the northern Iranian town of Rasht, was arrested in October 2009. Nadarkhani, who has said he was never a practicing Muslim, turned to Christianity as a teenager and later became a member of the Only Jesus Church. He was ordained as a pastor in Rasht.
Nadarkhani, who had protested against his child being given mandatory lessons on Islam in school, refused an order by Iran's Supreme Court to recant his Christian faith. As a result, he was tried, convicted and sentenced to death for apostasy in September 2011. His death sentence was upheld in February, and Nadarkhani's execution may be imminent.
Jones, who is participating in this year's presidential election in the United States as an Independent candidate, announced in 2010 that he would burn 200 Qurans on the ninth anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the United States. The announcement led to massive protests, leaving more than 20 people killed, but Jones canceled the Quran-burning event after international outrage and pleas from world leaders.
But in March 2011, Jones played the role of a judge during an event dubbed as the "International Judge the Quran Day." The Quran was charged with being responsible for violence and 'found guilty' after a six hour trial. Jones then 'sentenced' the Quran to burning, after which pastor Wayne Sapp carried out the act. The burning caused renewed outrage, mainly in Afghanistan where dozens of people were killed.