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Quran edition sparks tirade in Saratoga book store

Quran edition sparks tirade in Saratoga book store

A customer at Northshire Bookstore became upset after seeing “American Qur’an,” a new edition of the
Quran edition sparks tirade in Saratoga book store
Open Door Bookstore general manager Amy Lane holds a copy of "American Qur'an" in the Schenectady shop on Wednesday, December 23, 2015.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

A customer at Northshire Bookstore became upset after seeing “American Qur’an,” a new edition of the Muslim holy book, on display behind the counter, yelled loudly and made threats against the business, says store owner Chris Morrow.

“A gentleman vociferously objected to us having a Qu’ran on display in the store and berated one of my staff, and then called a few minutes later and berated her some more. He said that he was going to do everything in his power to put us out of business,” Morrow said.

The male customer, who was not identified, also called the Northshire store in Manchester, Vermont, and made a similar threat. After his outburst early Tuesday night in Saratoga Springs, the man left the store and police were not called.

On Wednesday morning, Morrow’s Facebook post about the incident unleashed a storm of comments. Most of the posts were supportive of the store but a few were strongly anti-Muslim, which ignited even more discussion. By Wednesday night, Morrow’s comments had drawn nearly 2,000 likes and had been shared on Facebook more than 400 times.

“American Qur’an,” lavishly illustrated with images of contemporary American life by award-winning Los Angeles artist Sandow Birk, was named a “Best Book of 2015” by Publishers Weekly.

The 464-page, hardcover book is written in English and has 427 color illustrations. Its list price is $100.

In a New York Times review, critic Holland Cotter wrote that Birk is “paying close, complicated attention to what may be the single most important and least understood book in the world at present … The book introduced a new audience to the Qu’ran with maximum ease and mininum harm.”

Reached by phone at the Manchester store, Morrow says Northshire, an independent bookseller that started in Vermont in 1976, has sold the Qu’ran “as long we’ve been in business,” and he cannot recall another incident quite like this one. “When a controversial book comes out and we carry it, people have made comments. But not quite to this extent and not as energetic in their condemnation of us.”

At The Open Door bookstore in Schenectady, a copy of “American Q’uran” is on display in the gift book section in the front of the Jay Street shop.

“As a policy, we would sell it, we would order it for people,” says owner Janet Hutchison. “We really believe in freedom of the press, the freedom to read. I’m not aware of any kind of protest or comments that we’ve gotten from anyone at all.”

“It’s an absolutely gorgeous coffee-table book, very lovingly illustrated,” says Amy Lane, book buyer and manager at The Open Door. “It doesn’t spout hatred in any way, shape or form.”

In his Facebook post, Morrow explained the store’s policy.

“We are a bookstore that carries books of all types, of all political spectra, all religions, and all varieties. We exist to provide education, entertainment and inspiration without bias. If terrorism succeeds in closing our minds off, terrorism has succeeded … ”

According to Birk’s website, the American artist wants others “to understand the Qur’an as it is, and always has been intended: a universal message to humankind.”

Following in the traditions of ancient Arabic and Islamic artists, Birk hand-transcribed the entire holy book and set the verses and passages against a backdrop of 21st century American life.

Reza Aslan, an Iranian-American writer and scholar who wrote the introduction to “American Qu’ran,” calls the book “a great favor, not only to Muslims, but also to Americans.”

In 2002, Birk depicted all of New York state’s maximum security prisons in the style of the Hudson River school of artists of the 19th century. Those images were shown at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and in galleries in New York City and Los Angeles.

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