BANGKOK, Thailand -- Top Muslim leaders in the Council of Muftis of Russia warned President Vladimir Putin it was wrong and dangerous for a court to order the banning and destruction of a Russian translation of the Koran, and compared it to "crazy American pastor" Terry Jones's Koran burning.

The Koran is available in several Russian translations but a court ruled on Sept. 17 "that the translation by Elmir Kuliyev, published in Saudi Arabia in 2002, violated federal law banning extremist materials," Associated Press reported.

"Russian Muslims were appalled by the neglect of law shown by the court" in the southern Black Sea port of Novorossiysk said Ravil Gainutdin, head of the Council of Muftis of Russia, in an open letter to Putin on Sept. 20.

Gainutdin "said the court's order to destroy the Muslim holy book was particularly outrageous," AP reported.

Muslims perceive the Koran as God's words transmitted in Arabic through the Prophet Muhammad, and forbid the intentional destruction of the holy book, including translations.

"We recall how the burning of just a few copies of the Holy Koran by a crazy American pastor elicited a firm protest, not just from Russian Muslims but from our entire society, in solidarity with the stormy and long-lasting anger of the global Muslim community and all people of goodwill," the council's letter to Putin said, according to Reuters.

The letter was referring to Jones who supervised his Dove World Outreach Center's Pastor Wayne Sapp in Gainsville, Florida, burning a Koran in 2011, sparking deadly protests across Afghanistan and the Middle East.

Jones also threatened to burn the Koran on September 11, 2010 and two weeks ago.

If the court's verdict is not reversed, "there will be unrest...not only in Russia but all over the world. We are talking about the destruction of the Koran," Rushan Abbyasov, the deputy head of the council which has close ties with the Kremlin, told Reuters.

The court "ordered the widely read text outlawed under a Russian anti-extremism law that rights activists say has been abused by local officials out of prejudice, or to persecute groups frowned upon by the dominant Russian Orthodox Church," Reuters reported.

The Council of Muftis had earlier awarded Kuliyev its medal for Spiritual Unification, Russia's Interfax news agency said.

The council was established in 1996 to unite Russia's Muslim organizations, according to Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs.

It also issues fatwas and other Islamic Sharia legal opinions, according to its website.

Islam is the second biggest religion in Russia, comprising 10 to 15 percent of the 143 million population who are up to 20 percent practicing Russian Orthodox.

It was unclear why the court selected the translation by Kuliyev, an ethnic Azeri theologian, and how it violated the law.

"This is pure idiocy. Some local prosecutor sent this material to a local court and they together decided to ban a holy book," Kuliyev's lawyer Murat Musayev told Reuters.

Kuliyev will appeal the verdict, Musayev said.

"This is a very high quality translation," said Akhmed Yarlikapov, a Russian Academy of Sciences expert on Islam, according to Reuters.

"The banning of Kuliyev's translation is utterly unprofessional, you could ban the Bible just as easily because it also has passages that talk about the spilling of blood," Yarlikapov said.

When any Russian court bans text for being extremist, the publication is automatically put on the Justice Ministry's nationwide blacklist which currently lists more than 2,000 publications, Reuters said.

These include Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf," Jehovah's Witnesses' texts, and other Muslim books.


Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco, California, reporting news from Asia since 1978, and recipient of Columbia University's Foreign Correspondent's Award. He is a co-author of three non-fiction books about Thailand, including "Hello My Big Big Honey!" Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews; 60 Stories of Royal Lineage; and Chronicle of Thailand: Headline News Since 1946. Mr. Ehrlich also contributed to the final chapter, Ceremonies and Regalia, in a new book titled King Bhumibol Adulyadej, A Life's Work: Thailand's Monarchy in Perspective.

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(Copyright 2013 Richard S Ehrlich)