How should worn-out Bibles or Qurans be disposed of?

How should worn-out Bibles or Qurans be disposed of? January 23, 2023

THE QUESTION:

How should worn-out Bibles or Qurans be disposed of?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Due to occasional news about Muslim riots when a copy of the Quran is believed to be mistreated, you’re probably aware that Islam takes very seriously the way its sacred book is handled, about which more below.

But The Guy has rarely if ever heard of such discussion about a printed Bible and therefore was intrigued this past week when Joe Carter (a GetReligion alumnus) responded online on behalf of the Gospel Coalition to a reader who asked, “How do you dispose of a worn-out Bible? Is there a protocol like with a flag?” www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/ask-tgc-dispose-bible//

As the question indicated, federal law states that an American flag “in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.” Patriotic groups often provide public boxes to collect discarded flags that are then burned in formal ceremonies.

As for the Bible, the book itself contains no rules on proper disposal, so the Coalition regards this as “a matter of personal preference.” But many people naturally feel that respect for Scripture rules out simply tossing the holy book into the trash alongside cookie wrappers and egg shells.

As a conservative Protestant resource, the Coalition warns against any “unconscious sense that the printed pages of a Bible gain something of the spiritual essence of God’s Word,” which “could easily slip into a superstitious, or even idolatrous, view of print Bibles.” Nonetheless, the article recognizes that a Bible is “a symbolic representation of God’s eternal Word” so that care for it reflects appropriate respect for what it represents.

Some may decide to burn an old Bible, as with a flag, but the idea of book-burning is “repugnant’ to many so burial is perhaps the more fitting option, the Coalition advises, noting this is the general practice among Catholic and Orthodox Christians.

As the article further notes, burial is the common practice in Judaism for discarding Bibles or the Torah scrolls of Scripture used in synagogue ritual. This holds true if the writings are in languages other than Hebrew.

Observant Orthodox Jews should go beyond that, according to the popular “Ask the Rabbi” feature on Chabad.org. It advises that a range of similar “holy objects” such as tefillin or cloths that cover scrolls or Bibles and are no longer usable should also be buried. The same scruple is applied to materials that contain the name of God or three consecutive words from the biblical text, including school homework papers.

Treatment of the Quran is especially important for Islam because it is believed to provide the exact words dictated by God himself through an angel to the Prophet Muhammad, whereas Jews and Christians generally believe God inspired the human authors in their word choices.             The reverent practices followed in Islam are well-established by traditional authorities as widely cited on various Web sites. Burial is the common method for disposing of a Quran. It is wrapped in a clean cloth, and placed in a deep hole at a location where people will not be walking on top of it.

Burning is equally acceptable, and in fact was part of a major event in early Muslim history. Two decades after Muhammad died, the Caliph Uthman assigned the Prophet’s personal scribe to lead a project that standardized the exact Arabic text for all time. This authorized text was sent to all centers of Islamic learning for copying, and Uthman decreed that all other Quranic texts be burned.

Modern-day shredding of the Quran is also considered proper, but with the proviso that the resulting pieces of paper must be so tiny that no recognizable letters survive.

Otherwise, the Quran itself states, “It is, indeed, a noble Quran. In a hidden Book, that only the purified shall touch. A Revelation from the Lord of the Worlds.” (56:77-80) This means that the wudhu ablution, a ritual washing of the face, hands, and feet, is performed beforehand to purify anyone who will touch a Quran.

This tenet is typically extended to mean that a non-Muslim should not touch a Quran. Note, however, that in Islam a Quran is scriptural only in the Arabic language so this scruple would not apply to touching of translations.

In Muslim homes, a Quran copy is usually kept clean under a cloth covering and placed on a high shelf. Nothing is to be placed on top of a Quran, and it must never be located on the floor or in a bathroom.

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