Imagine that you’re one of the unwitting recipients of a free Koran, dropped with a clunk through your letter box early one morning. You take a quick look at the book. It’s boring, turgid, and incomprehensible. You don’t want it.
But how should you dispose of it? You’ve heard on the news about what happens to non-Muslims who burn the Koran, or throw it in the garbage, or flush it down the toilet. You don’t want to share their fate.
So what’s the solution? Bury it in the back yard? Hand it over to the police?
That’s what’s being discussed in Germany right now. Many thanks to Hermes for translating this article from yesterday’s Die Welt:
What to do with a Koran given as present?
The distribution of 25 million copies of the Koran in Germany was also criticised by Muslims. Many volumes will probably be thrown away, something intolerable for believers.
The distribution of the Koran by Salafists in various cities is a matter of discussion: 25 million copies of the Koran in German, about 360 truckloads of books, are what the extremist Muslims want to distribute among the populace.
This action is meeting criticism not only from politicians but also from many Muslims. The chairman of the Central Council of Muslims, Aiman Mazyek, said that the handing over of Korans is actually a good task. But he views the distribution of millions of exemplars critically because the “Word of God” is not a flyer that you distribute en masse. Moreover, he fears that some Korans could at worst be thrown away as waste paper.
The idea of the Koran landing into a waste bin is unbearable for most Muslims. Already in February, the burning of Korans by U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan led to protests and deadly riots: “The Koran is for the Muslims the direct word of God,” says Abdurrahim Kozali, Professor of Islamic law and religious practice from the Center for Intercultural Islamic Studies at the University of Osnabrueck. Therefore, the Muslims have always tried to handle the Koran with respect. According to Islamic law, the Koran should not be touched without ritual ablution or put on the floor.
To bury it like a corpse
If Arabic Korans are old and illegible, they should, in the opinion of most scholars, be wrapped in a cloth and buried as one would a dead body, says Kozali. It must be also made sure that the (burial) place is clean and that after the “funeral” nobody will enter the burial place anymore. According to Kozali, a minority of Islamic scholars say that the old Korans should not be buried, but burned.
They refer to the Caliph Osman (644-656) who, after having edited the official Koran, ordered the older versions to be burned. The Islamic theologian believes that rather than intending to distribute a standard Koran, he did so because he wanted to avoid debate and confusion over older versions. For this reason, the funeral of the Holy Book would preferably happen through incineration rather than by burying it.
“The Koran is for Muslims the epitome of holiness,” says Hartmut Bobzin, a professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg. Therefore it is not surprising that the Koran enjoys special respect among Muslims. This reverential treatment towards a scripture by Islam comes from the Jewish tradition, scientists presume.
“God cannot be offended”
These rules and regulations towards the discarding of Korans refer, according to most Islamic scholars, only to Korans in Arabic. Because only these are the revealed word of God. Translations of the Qur’an are therefore “Transmission”. That’s why the versions of the Koran distributed by the Salafists have on their cover: “The noble Qur’an, the approximate interpretation in German language.”
In Judaism, the texts in which the Hebrew name of God appears are not thrown away. Instead, they are usually kept in the synagogues on a separate place, the “Genizah”. The burying of documents is the reason why significant archaeological treasures could be found in recent years. The famous Cairo Geniza of Kairo is an example to this. Ancient manuscripts of this kind regarding the Koran are kept in the Great Mosque of Sana’a in Yemen.
The Catholic Church also advises the burial of an illegible or corrupted Bible: According to a spokesman for the Catholic German Bishop Conference, it should be buried in consecrated ground, in a cemetery, for example. This process is, however, not canonically specified. The content of the book is what usually matters, and not the book itself.
John Frederick, chairman of the German Bible Society in Stuttgart and former bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria said that there are no rules for Protestants regarding the discarding of a Bible. “We believe that the Bible is God’s word which has been written by men. God cannot be offended if we treat the Bible with disrespect.” But other people’s feelings might be hurt.