BOB ABERNETHY, host: Disposing of a sacred text: In Judaism, when a Torah becomes too worn to use any longer it is reverently buried. Some Christians do the same thing with the Christian Bible. And Muslims? You may be surprised to hear that some Muslims say a Qur’an should be burned. We talked with Jihad Turk, director of religious affairs at the Islamic Center of Southern California.
IMAM JIHAD TURK (Director of Religious Affairs, Islamic Center of Southern California): The Qur’an as an idea is something that is in the hearts and the minds of the believers and followers of Islam. It’s not the actual text. It’s not the piece of paper. Muslims don’t worship the text of the Qur’an or destroy the Qur’an.
Although it’s not sacred or something that’s worshiped, it is considered the representation of the sacred word of God, and given that it’s a representation of it, a Muslim would want to make sure that it’s treated respectfully.
When Muslims want to respectfully dispose of a text of the Qur’an that is no longer usable, we will burn it. So if someone, for example, in their own private collection or library had a text of the Qur’an that was damaged or that was in disrepair, so the binding was ruined, etc., or it got torn, they might bring it by to the Islamic Center and ask that someone here dispose of it properly if they were unsure how to do that. And what I’ll do is I’ll take it to my fireplace at home and burn it there in the fireplace. So I sort of take the pages out and then burn it to make sure that it gets thoroughly charred and is no longer recognizable as script.
In the Islamic tradition, it’s the Arabic that is really considered the authentic, original scripture. The very early scripture of the Qur’an—when it was first collated and put into a binding there were a lot of loose papers around, and this was about 1,400 years ago. The first companions of Muhammad, led under the leadership of the third caliph, Uthman, actually instructed the followers to take all of those pages and burn them, and so that kind of set the precedent as to what should be done. If you burn it, it destroys the word, the ink on the paper. It’s no longer perceptible, and so therefore it is no longer scripture. It’s just ashes at that point.
ABERNETHY: For Muslims, according to Jihad Turk, when done with the proper intent the burning of a damaged or worn out Qur,an is in no way disrespectful. The specific paper and ink may be gone, he says, but the sacred word of God endures.