By Maniza Naqvi
Burning the Koran was not a problem for some of the earliest and most revered Muslims considered to have been exemplary in their actions. In a manner of speaking, they were the forefathers of this tradition and had supremacy for burning the Koran in order, in their opinion, as a matter of necessity, to secure it.
Koran burning, it seems has proved handy for mining and oiling it for whatever its worth, whenever, whichever absolute power ruling over Muslim populations has faced any danger to its longevity. Fourteen hundred years later, Koran burning fueled divisions again; and was once again linked to reasons of security two years ago in September 2010 when there was much agony and fury about the odd call to burn copies of the Koran by an odd preacher in Florida. The President of the United States stepped in to plead with the preacher to not do this (here). And among the reasons the President gave in making his case was that it would endanger American troops fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. To have stopped the preacher outright from burning copies of the Koran would have been against the preacher’s rights of freedom of speech enshrined in the first amendment. The preacher was, quite correctly, free to do what he pleased it should not have mattered if he hurt sentiments. Sentiments are important but not as important as principles enshrined in the first amendment. This is what makes America: the rule of law that guarantees the freedom of speech, and together, the rule of law and freedom of speech, guarantee the strengthening of tolerance, a flourishing of opinions and civil liberties. The plea to not burn the Koran, however, wasn’t this, but rather couched in the justification that it would hurt the military troops and become a security risk because it would hurt sentiments! Anyway, a year and half later, earlier this year in February 2012, copies of the Koran were burned by Americans at a military base in Afghanistan. Protests and riots ensued and people were killed (here and here). These were people who probably had never had the opportunity to even learn how to read, let alone read or understand the Koran. It is not clear and no one seems to have investigated why there was a need to burn these copies or: why there were so many Korans at an American base or whether these were even copies of the Koran; or whether these were copies of the Bible in the Pashto language, which were being distributed by the US military to illiterate villagers who would not have known the difference as had been reported earlier (here, here , here , here and here) or why was there such religiosity at the base.
Destroying copies of the Koran has been a regular occurrence. In Pakistan alone, each year, for example in Lahore, hundreds of copies of the Koran are found lying in the bed of the main canal that runs through the city when it dries out—thrown in the water by the pious who want to rid themselves of torn copies of it—to do so in water is “allowed” by tradition and of course then there are the copies used by the pious for the purposes of securing their gains by using it as a prop and tool for black magic. In other parts of the country there are rivers where the same practice would occur and of course there is the sea in Karachi. The percentage for each form of piety’s purpose would be hard to determine though judging by the talk of black magic and superstition and the number of Mullahs involved, for a fee, in this booming business, I would imagine that the number of copies destroyed accordingly for this purpose outweigh any other reason.
Burning or destroying books to obliterate ideas and thoughts should be a crime. Burning copies of books to make a point should not. It was not the Koran itself that was burned in the episodes in the past several years. It was just copies of it which were burned, to make a point. There is nothing in the Koran that differentiates it from Judaism, except for the mention of Jesus and Mohammad and matters related to their lives. The Bible does not mention Mohammad while the Koran refers to all the Abrahamic prophets and refers to Jesus as the immortal son of Mary and Mary has an exalted status. The Koran does not seek to prove the existence of God, whose existence is without question: there is no God but God. It recounts stories already revealed in the Old Testament. Instead, the Koran is concentrated on how humankind should live justly and do no harm: “And the little girl buried alive is asked for what crime she was put to death.” And “Do not oppress the orphan, and do not drive the beggar away, and keep recounting the favors of your Lord.” (Here, Sura 81 Al Takvir and Sura 93 Al Duha).The Prophet recited his Revelations to his family night and day and they knew it by heart. By heart, heart to heart. He recited it to those companions who were closest to him and they memorized the Koran and knew it by heart.
Burning the Koran, ironically, became necessary by the authenticators when it went beyond the safekeeping of the heart of being memorized by heart to becoming an authenticated written document. Maulana Syed Abul Ala Maududi (here), the eminent Islamic scholar and theologian and founder of the Islamic party, Jamaat e Islami, whose members regularly and violently protest against any thing they see as blasphemy and disrespect of the Koran, in Pakistan sheds light on this matter.
Burning the Koran was to secure it, Maulana Syed Abdul Ala Maududi tells us in his Volume I of his “Tahfeemul Koran, the Meaning of the Koran which is translated into English by Chaudry Mohammad Akbar (here). Maulana Maududi narrates that the Koran was revealed to the Prophet in the dialect he spoke of Arabic, of the Quraish of Mecca. The Prophet recited his revelations and his recitations were memorized or written down by his closest companions. During the Prophet’s life apostasy broke out with certain tribal heads beyond Mecca claiming Prophet hood. And immediately after the Prophet’s death an apostasy broke out, amongst the tribes beyond Mecca. The first Caliph Abu Bakr (here) on the insistence of Omar Ibn Al Khattab, the second Caliph (here) had the Koran compiled. This narrative makes no mention at all, of the Prophet’s own and only child Hazrat Fatimah (here) or of her family, probably because Fatimah died, under circumstances worthy of further inquiry, involving Hazrat Omar Ibn Al Khattab, within a few months of her father’s death. And so, just as there had been a tremendous effort in early Christendom to sideline and indeed erase Mary, there was a similar effort in Islamdom to sideline Fatimah and knock her out of the discourse.
Burning the Koran is contextualized by Maulana Maududi: “Though many companions of the Prophet had committed the Koran to memory during the lifetime of the Holy Prophet, it had not been in book form. But immediately after his death, an event occurred that necessitated this work. A furious storm of apostasy broke out and many of the Companions who went to war to suppress it were killed. Among these martyrs were some of those who had committed the whole of the Koran to memory. Then it occurred to Hazrat Omar that necessary steps should be taken to preserve the Quran in its original form against any and every kind of danger and that it was not wise to depend exclusively on those who had learnt it by heart. He therefore, urged that it was essential to put the whole of it in black and white in the form of an authenticated book. He tried to impress this necessity of this step on Hazrat Abu Bakr, who at first showed hesitation to do what the Holy Prophet had not done. But after some discussion, he agreed to it. Accordingly he entrusted this work to Hazrat Zaid bin Thabit (here) who showed hesitation at first like Hazrat Abu Bakr and for the same reason. But at last he was convinced and he undertook this historic work. And he was the best qualified for this work. He had frequently acted as an amanuensis to the Holy Prophet and was one of those Companions who had learnt the Koran directly from him. …..Arrangements were, therefore made to collect and gather all the written pieces of the Koran left by the Hole Prophet and those in possession of his companions. Then, with the cooperation of those Companions who had committed the whole or any part of the Koran to memory word for word, all the written pieces were compared with each other for verification. Hazrat Zaid would not take down anything in his manuscript unless all the three sources tallied with one another. Thus was compiled one correct authenticated and complete copy. The authenticated copy of the Holy Koran was kept in the house of Hazrat Hafsah, Hazrat Omar’s daughter, one of the wives of the Holy Prophet and it was proclaimed that anyone who desired, might make a copy of it or compare with the copy he already possessed.
Burning the Koran to secure it was a necessity writes Maulana Maududi: “For obvious reasons the Koran was revealed in the dialect of the Quresh of Mecca. However the Arabs living in different parts of the country were, at first allowed for the sake of facility to recite it according to the dialect of their own clan or district but this did not produce any difference in its meanings…Then it was feared that the different dialects of the Koran might give rise to various kinds of mischief and might cause disputes among persons having different dialects. They might even begin to accuse one another of tampering with the Koran. Moreover, there was the danger that the pure and beautiful Arabic of the Koran might be altered or changed by those Arabs who came in contact with non-Arabs. Therefore Caliph Usman (here), in consultation with other Companions of the Holy Prophet decided that the authenticated copies of the Koran compiled by the order of Hazrat Abu Bakr, should alone be used in the whole Muslim world and the use of all other copies in any other dialect or idiom should be prohibited. As a precautionary measure he had all the other existing copies burnt to ward off any possibility of future confusion and misunderstanding. For instance some of the companions had noted down explanatory words and comments n the margins of their copies and it was feared, that these might get mixed up with the original text of the Quran. Though such a possibility did not exist at that time, it was an act of most prudent foresight to make the Koran safe and secure against any possible alteration in the future by burning all other copies.”
Other Writings by Maniza Naqvi (here)