September 10th, 2010
12:12 PM ET
If you’re trying to understand what burning a Quran would look like to a Muslim, consider this:
“For Christians, Jesus is the word of God. For Muslims, the Quran is the word of God. Imagine someone burning Jesus,” says Emad El-Din Shahin, a religion professor at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.
Talk about the Quran has dominated the news ever since a Florida pastor announced that he would burn copies of Islam’s holiest book on Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
The pastor has since announced that he has called off the event, then later said it is still being contemplated. But his plan has already evoked some of the vilest acts of religious persecution in Western history, religious scholars say.
To burn a Quran is not just offensive; it is the equivalent of “destroying a people’s soul,” one Muslim scholar says.
The Quran is so sacred that many Muslims will not touch it without washing their hands, face and feet, says Caner Dagli, a religious professor at the College of Holy Cross in Massachusetts.
“Muslims always keep the Quran
The Quran teaches Muslims to respect the sacred books of Christians and Jews as well, says Chris van Gorder, a religion professor at Baylor University in Texas.
“To burn a holy Quran for a Muslim is to throw down a gauntlet,” he says. “Those who deface any holy book, including the Bible, in many Muslim countries today, will be executed.
“How many Bibles have been burned in the Muslim world in the last nine years? None.”
Muslims, along with Jews and Christians are known by some as “people of the book.” Each religion descends from the same branch. The prophet Abraham is their patriarch.
The Quran considers both Jesus and Moses great prophets. It also praises Mary, the mother of Jesus, says Shahin, the Notre Dame professor.
“Moses and Jesus are mentioned more than the Prophet Muhammad in the Quran,” Shahin says.
The prophet would meet Christian delegations in his mosque.
“He would allow them to perform Christian prayers in the mosque,” Shahin says.
Muslims believe the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad in a series of revelations by the archangel Gabriel. They say the prophet journeyed to a mountain cave where, after falling into a trance, the angel came to him and ordered him to “Proclaim!”
The Florida pastor, however, says he is compelled by his own faith to something else –burn.
The Florida pastor who has threatened to burn the Quran has unwittingly evoked some of the worst moments in Western history, Strenski says.
When a group of people conquered another, they often sought to destroy their victims’ sacred books. The Spanish conquistadors and Christian missionaries, for example, destroyed the sacred books of the Mayans; American slaveholders tried to destroy the African religion of slaves.
Desecrating a people’s sacred book is like “destroying their soul; you destroy their sense of who they are,” Strenski says.
“It’s about controlling memory,” Strenski says. “You can oppress people. You can beat them down, but if they can retain some kind of memory of who they were before you beat them down, they can pass that on and when the time is right rise up again.
The notion of burning a Quran was so offensive to one religious scholar that he drew on his own personal history.
Van Gorder, the religion professor at Baylor University, says that Nazis not only murdered millions of Jews. They also burned Torahs.
“As a German-American,” he says, “I rue that the day of burning books has come to my own ‘civilization.’ "
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.