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Lawsuit boosts interest in Islam

Controversial translation of Qur'an was published in Ashland

Nothing spurs interest in a book like a juicy lawsuit.

Just ask Steve Scholl of White Cloud Press. Scholl has been overwhelmed with orders for a translation of parts of Islam's holy text since the book was targeted by a Christian group in federal court. Stories in national media about the lawsuit rarely mention the book's publisher, but Scholl doesn't care.

Since the controversy erupted in June, Scholl has sold about 10,000 copies of Approaching the Qur'an: The Early Revelations, ' half as many as he sold since it was first published in 1999. Television talk shows and stories in major newspapers have given the book a much wider audience than he could have imagined when he decided to publish it, he says.

It's a story that won't die, says the self-described free-lance mystic, whose book catalog leans heavily toward titles on spiritualism, mysticism and religious philosophy.

Scholl said he's been anticipating an end to the free publicity, but every time I think it's about to stop, our good opponents shoot themselves in the foot and give it another life cycle.

The book includes 35 seminal parts of Islamic scripture translated by Michael Sells, professor of comparative religion at Haverford College in Pennsylvania. Sells spent 15 years preparing the translations.

No translation prior to this has ever done (the Qur'an) justice, says Scholl, who studied Islam in college.

The book was conceived as a textbook for college religion classes and for anyone else who wants to understand a faith that has more than — billion adherents around the world. It drew fire this summer from the Family Policy Network, a Virginia-based organization that describes itself as pro-family.

The group sued the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill after the school made Sells' Qur'an translation required reading for its incoming freshman class. The suit alleges the university is infringing on students' religious freedom and attempting to indoctrinate students into Islam by forcing them to read passages of the Qur'an.

The school has selected a text for all freshmen to read for the past few years. Students meet in small groups to discuss the book to get a feel for the free exchange of ideas that is a fundamental part of the academic experience. University administrators chose the Qur'an after the Sept. 11 attacks because they wanted to give students a better understanding of Islam.

Joe Glover, president of Family Policy Network, has called the book a one-sided presentation of Islam because it omits passages that terrorists have cited to justify their acts. Scholl says the lawsuit reflects a long-standing antagonism between the Christian West and the Muslim world.

Muslims are the group we love to hate, he says, noting that most contemporary Americans have no concept of Muslims' role through history in developing the modern world's culture.

As the fall term approaches at UNC, the story kept taking new twists. University administrators offered to make the book optional for students, with the proviso that those who chose not read it would write an essay explaining why. The Family Policy Network attacked that plan, arguing it would force students to defend their religious beliefs.

Then last week the North Carolina House of Representatives voted 64-10 to bar the use of public money for the reading assignment unless other religions were included. That bill would have to gain approval from the state senate and the governor to become law.

With each new development, Scholl gets another batch of orders. A member of the North Carolina House called this week to order 64 copies ' one for each member who voted to withhold public money from the reading program.

Scholl's wild ride might be slowing down. A federal judge refused Thursday to block UNC's summer reading program. The ruling means discussion groups scheduled for Monday can continue, unless plaintiffs succeed with an appeal they immediately filed in federal court.

Scholl seems amused that the Christian group's effort to restrict the book's circulation has had the opposite effect. Rather than keep this book from being used, they've caused it to sell so fast we can't keep it in stock.

Ashland?s White Cloud Press has been inundated with orders for ?Approaching the Qur?an: The Early Revelations? since the Islamic holy text became the target of a lawsuit, says publisher Steve Scholl. Click the photo to see a larger (38k) version. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Mail Tribune Bob Pennell