Let me say up front: I do not belittle the desecration of the Qur’an. To intentionally desecrate the Qur’an – i.e., stepping on it, or urinating on it, or ripping up its pages, or kicking it across the room – is wrong, and it is indicative of either a deep disdain for all that is sacred or, more sinisterly, a deep disdain for all things Islamic. I agree that U.S. guards who intentionally desecrate the Qur’an should be punished by military authorities.
Yet, the reactions of some Muslims across the Muslim world to the desecration of the Qur’an is patently ridiculous. For instance, according to an article in the Christian Science Monitor:
When Ashiq Nabi got into an argument with his wife, she held up a Koran to protect herself, setting into motion a deadly series of events. Mr. Nabi then pushed his wife, say human rights activists, sending Islam’s holy book onto the floor and prompting the local mullah in Spin Kakh, Pakistan, to file blasphemy charges. Before the police could act, Nabi was spotted in town and the mullah allegedly spread the word over the mosque’s loudspeakers. A mob of more than 400 villagers chased Nabi until he climbed up a tree, then shot him dead. The April incident is only the latest in a string of extrajudicial killings by vigilantes for blasphemy, which is punishable by death under Pakistani law.
Shot him to death? Made his wife a widow? Orphaned his four children? Why? Because he sent the Qur’an to the floor? How about the Newsweek riots? 15 people were killed in Afghanistan, property was destroyed, and dozens were injured. Why? Was it worth having 15 people be killed? Did not God say:
Say: ‘Come, I will rehearse what God hath (really) prohibited you from: Join not anything as equal with Him; be good to your parents; kill not your children on a plea of want–We provide sustenance for you and for them; come not nigh to shameful deeds, whether open or secret; take not life, which God hath made sacred, except by way of justice and law. Thus doth He command you, that ye may learn wisdom. (6:151)
Did not God say:
Nor take life – which God has made sacred – except for just cause…. (17:33).
Did not God say:
And the servants of the Most Gracious are those who… Those who invoke not, with God, any other god, nor slay such life as God has made sacred except for just cause… (25:63-68).
If you recklessly take the lives of innocent people in a riot protesting the desecration of the Qur’an, isn’t that also desecrating the Qur’an? And what about the other instances of desecration of the Qur’an? Why haven’t Muslims been up in arms about those?
Human Rights Watch documented in a report issued last year that the (Muslim) janjaweed militia desecrated Qur’ans belonging to the (Muslim) African inhabitants of Darfur. Yet, I don’t care as much about that as the fact that the janjaweed have raped, pillaged, and massacred their own fellow Muslims in Darfur. Isn’t this also a desecration of the Qur’an? Why hasn’t the Muslim World responded forcefully to stop the genocide of Darfur?
What exactly is the Qur’an, anyway? Is it simply a book of paper and ink? Is it a charm with which Muslims adorn their chests and their walls at home? No. While I firmly believe the Qur’an is the word of God, transmitted through the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), I also believe that the Qur’an is so much more than just the word of God. It is a life-force, awakening the believer from his or her spiritual slumber. Moreover, the Qur’an comes to life in the actions of the believer. The Prophet’s wife, A’isha (r), once remarked that the Prophet Muhammad was a “walking Qur’an on earth.”
Thus, if someone truly believes in the Qur’an and claims to revere its word, then he or she will live its teachings. Thus, he or she will respect the dignity of all life, and hold human life in particular especially sacred. He or she will always stand on the side of justice, even if it be against his or her own people or political faction. He or she will always work to help the poor, needy, and less fortunate. He or she will always strive to be an advocate for all of humanity, selflessly working for the greater good of all.
Now, there are those who believe that the vicious terrorists who kill in the name of Islam are living the “true Qur’an,” and that is patently false. No matter how many times people – Muslim or otherwise – say it, killing and murdering the “infidels” is not sanctioned by the Qur’an. In fact, those terrorists desecrate the Qur’an by their acts of murder and mayhem. Those who killed Ashiq Nabi desecrated the Qur’an by their murder. Those Muslims who turn a deaf ear and blind eye to the genocide of Darfur, as well as those who are behind the genocide in Darfur, desecrate the Qur’an by their actions. Those Muslim merchants who cheat their customers desecrate the Qur’an, even if they wash up before touching the book and make sure it never gets dirty.
I can go on and on. Muslims need a deeper understanding of what it means to revere and sanctify the Qur’an. In Chapter 2:2, it says, This is the book, no doubt, that is a guidance for those who are conscious of God.
To get the full benefit from the Qur’an, one has to fully embrace and live by its teachings. Whenever one betrays the principles of the Qur’an or wantonly ignores its proscriptions, then he or she desecrates the sacred text. And it is a desecration that is far worse than ripping up pages of paper and ink ever was.
Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago physician and writer. He is the co-author of “The Beliefnet Guide to Islam,” published by Doubleday in 2006. His blog is at godfaithpen.com.