Ask Ali: On why burning the Quran is so offensive

Our religion is the dearest and most valuable thing for most Muslims, and in defence of it we can easily overreact.

Dear Ali: How do you view the angry Afghanistan protests over the Quran burnings at a US air base there, and how should religious materials or printings with religious texts be disposed of? HF, Abu Dhabi

Dear HF: I have reached the point in my life where I don't take personally insults to my religion, to religious figures such as the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) or to my religious values. I am proud of this.

Some of these acts might be done out of inexperience, some out of ignorance and some with the intention to disgrace or provoke. Our religion is the dearest and most valuable thing for most Muslims, and in defence of it we can easily overreact. I see in acts like this in Afghanistan an opportunity to educate people about our religion and how we practise it, and to explain why we feel hurt.

In evaluating the deeds of others, the intention is always crucial. So in this case, why did the US soldiers do what they did? Was it because they did not know that the Qurans (which had been used by prisoners) were among rubbish to be burnt, or because they wanted to show disgrace? The commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan apologised for the incident to all the people of the country, said the Qurans had mistakenly been given to the troops among rubbish to be burnt, and said he had ordered an investigation.

As a Muslim I appreciate the apology but also know that saying you are sorry is not going to solve things. I am also aware that many Muslims might link this incident to other offences by non-Muslims around the world against Islam, our Prophet or our holy book, and feel the urge to show their anger. That especially applies to many Afghans, who have seen foreign soldiers come into their country to protect them, yet have seen them sometimes fail to respect their religious values.

Burning our holy book means humiliation, disgrace and disrespect to each and every follower of Islam. To try to explain it in material terms, it would be like someone burning all your money, credit cards and identification documents at the same time. How would you react towards this? You would want to express your anger, and to save whatever you could from the flames. In the burning of our holy book, we would want to save our dignity as Muslims.

Still, I urge more tolerance and respect among ourselves and towards other cultures and religions, more openness and transparence, to make this world a peaceful place. Let's stretch out our hands rather than point fingers.

May God forgive those who burn our holy book, intentionally or unintentionally, and may all of our Muslim brothers and sisters gain strength rather than anger every time they hear of such incidents.

As for disposing of worn-out Qurans or other religious texts, individual practices may vary, from shredding to burning to putting them in the rubbish bin. But while the Quran does not include instructions for its disposal, Islamic scholars generally agree that it should be wrapped in a pure piece of cloth and buried respectfully in a place where people normally do not walk, or should be fastened with a heavy object such as a stone and placed respectfully in flowing water, such as a river. Only if these two methods are difficult to carry out should a Quran be respectfully burnt for disposal and its ashes buried or drowned.


Language lesson

Arabic: Maktabah

English: Library

"Maktabah" means "library", so if you wanted to ask someone for a nearby library you may say: "Wain aqrab Maktabah min huna?"

Published: February 29, 2012 04:00 AM


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