February 21st, 2012
01:14 PM ET

Rioting over Quran burning is un-Islamic, scholar argues

By Richard Allen Greene, CNN

(CNN) - Muslims believe the Quran is the word of God, so holy that people should wash their hands before even touching the sacred book, which is why Quran burning incites such fury.

But with angry demonstrations against Quran burning taking place in Afghanistan, one leading Islamic scholar urged Muslims not to react violently to desecration of the book.

"What is captured on the pages can be printed again. If they burn 1,000, we can print 10,000. What's the big deal?" Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra asked Tuesday after hundreds of demonstrators protested reports of the burning of Qurans and other religious material by NATO troops.

"A NATO soldier killing innocent people is far more painful than the burning of a Quran. I would rather they burn 100 Qurans than to hurt one woman or man or child," Mogra said.

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The commander of NATO's International Security Assistance Force admitted that the burning did take place, and he apologized.

"It was a mistake. It was an error. The moment we found out about it, we immediately stopped and we intervened," Gen. John Allen said.

The material that was burned at Bagram Airfield was removed from the library of a detainee center "because of extremist inscriptions and an appearance that these documents were being used to facilitate extremist communications," a military official said Tuesday.

"Additionally, some of the documents were extremist in and of themselves, apparently originating from outside of Afghanistan," said the official.

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It's not the first time that damaging Qurans - or even the threat to do so - has provoked angry Muslim reaction.

Terry Jones, the pastor of a tiny evangelical church in Florida, announced plans to burn the Muslim holy book on the ninth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

He was persuaded not to do it at the time, but he made good on the threat a six months later.

Two weeks after that, protesters in northern Afghanistan attacked a U.N compound, leaving 12 people dead.

Muslim scholars say that the Quran is holy, revealed by the Angel Gabriel to Mohammed over the course of 23 years of visions.

"Symbolically and literally this is the most sacred reminder of God on Earth for a Muslim," said Akbar Ahmed, the chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington. "More than a mosque ... more than any other symbol it is the Quran that symbolizes the word of God for a Muslim."

"The first belief among Muslims of all types is that the Quran is the word of God," said Shainool Jiwa, of the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London. "The words themselves, the typing, takes on a level of sanctity. There is a sacredness about it."

But, she said, violent reactions to its burning are as much a sign of the times as an expression of faith.

"There is a history behind this. It's much more reflective of the times we are in, the protests and anger," she said. "This whole issue has become politicized."

Mogra, who chairs the mosques and community affairs committee of the Muslim Council of Britain, said burning a Quran is in fact an appropriate way to dispose of one that is damaged.

"Copies of the Quran that are torn, tattered or falling apart can be disposed of in a number of ways" so that the word of God is not "scattered" or "thrown away with the rubbish," he said.

Burning, burying or even using a paper shredder are all acceptable, he said.

So is throwing it into deep water so that it disintegrates.

The Muslim community in Leicester, England, where he lives, holds an annual burial of damaged Qurans in a graveyard, he said.

So while Mogra said he could understand the anger about burning a Quran, he called for perspective.

"Our reactions are totally out of order. It's totally un-Islamic. What the pages of the Quran contain is much more important than the pages themselves," he said.

"The pastor in the States who threatened to burn a Quran - I felt, 'Give him a truckload of Qurans to burn.' People in the far east and the Middle East were dying just because someone has threatened to burn the Quran," he said. "I would rather they saved their lives and cared for their children."

-CNN's Zain Verjee, Barbara Starr Steve Almasy contributed to this report.

- Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire

Filed under: Afghanistan • Islam

soundoff (818 Responses)
  1. Minopl

    Imagine what a lovely world this would be if there was no religion. Religion breeds so much racism. I've seen quite a few cute muslim and jewish girls. I should be able to date both before making a choice. Actually I want to date one girl from all ethnic/religious groups on the planet so I could learn a lot. Mostly for educational purposes mind you.

    February 22, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • Hugo

      Google Melvin Calvin god and read. Does your opinion change at all?

      If not, can you answer what motivated George Washington Carver?

      February 22, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
  2. Kimster

    This is exactly why we need to stay out of the Middle East. These people live in the dark ages and prefer to stay there, and to assume that they desire democracy is foolish and not worth spending American lives on.

    February 22, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • Minopl

      True. In fact if Syria wants to get rid of al-Assad they can just say he burnt a Quran.

      February 22, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
  3. silliness

    My magic holy book is better than yours!

    February 22, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • BillyBob

      When you have 28% literacy in a county, when you have 60% unemployment in a country, they have nothing better to do than defending a book and demonstrate. What we should do is to give each one of these men the latest copy of Hustler magazine.

      February 22, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
  4. MD

    There is always so much violence around organized religions. It really is tiresome.....

    February 22, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
  5. Cj

    Well I find flying planes into buildings, blowing up public areas, burning the bible and the American flag offensive.

    February 22, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • MT

      I agree Cj. No one apologizes to us for burning our American Flag. We watch it on TV all the time.

      February 23, 2012 at 11:25 am |
  6. Minopl

    Don't mean to be mean but it's just paper to me. I don't think we should be worshipping paper. Just goes to shoe how crappy the world is. People always thinking that their God have a bigger deek than other people's God.

    February 22, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
  7. Hugo

    I'll try a different approach. The Pope claims to represent God. I suspect it's pretty hard to be Roman Catholic and not believe that. In any event, some, if not all, Catholics believe that the Pope represents God.

    But if you are a Catholic, who do you worship? God or the Pope?

    If you are Jewish, do you worship your rabbi?

    Regardless of your Abrahamic religion, I really question if worshiping a book is sound behavior. People belonging to Abrahamic religions should be worshiping God (and not something else) unless I have a serious misunderstanding about that set of religions.

    February 22, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • Brenda

      No Catholic believes the Pope is God. They believe he is God's spiritual leader of the Catholic Church and the successor of Saint Paul, one of the original disciples. You clearly have no idea what you are talking about.

      February 22, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • Hugo

      Brenda, Paul wasn't one of the 12. Read Acts, please.

      February 22, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
  8. just me2012

    WHO CARES??????

    February 22, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • Hugo

      How about the families of those killed at the UN compound? I bet they care.

      February 22, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • N1ck

      6.8 billion people in this world, I'm sure you'll find a few who care.

      February 22, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
  9. jon

    With all the anti-Israeli sentiment going on, I'm surprised no one has wondered why, after nearly six decades, Jews in Israel (and Europe for that matter) never retaliated towards the Germans for Kristallnacht, when hundreds of Torahs and thousands of prayer books were deliberately burned under the Third Reich.

    February 22, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
  10. Chris from Iowa

    Excellent point, Hugo. Ironic, too, as it was Muslims who kept the Greeks' masterworks of geometry, mathematics and other sciences alive during the Dark Ages.

    February 22, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • Hugo

      Thanks Chris.

      February 22, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • Ron

      You might being confusing muslims with hindus.. a lot of the things muslims take credit for were taken from hindus (which explains some of the animosity between the two).

      February 22, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • Hugo

      Ron, not saying you are wrong but how did the Hindus get the Greek information? I know Alexander went as far as, or near, India. Is that how? Or was it some other way?

      February 22, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
  11. Glades2

    It's offensive because to a Muslim it's the most sacred of all items in their religion – I'm a Christian, and while I don't believe in it, I still respect the belief of those who do, the same way I hope a Muslim would respect my belief in the Bible – the Golden Rule is the same to both faiths...

    February 22, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • Ron

      At the end of the day though... if you're educated you realize it's just a book. They are rioting because they are uneducated (and their leaders prefer them so).

      February 22, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • Hugo

      Glades, I submit that you don't "believe in" the Bible. I submit that you believe in God. Isn't that correct?
      (You worship God. You don't worship the Bible. Also, you read the Bible to learn about God. Right?)

      February 22, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • Glades2


      My belief in Father, Son and Holy Spirit is increased because of what is written in the Bible, so my belief in Him is increased because I believe in what is written, however as Billy Graham once said, Native Americans did not know of God, yet by their own words it seemed in many ways He already made Himself known to them many years before the first missionaires, so some of our faith is truly inborn, but the Bible is still a Chrisitan's "owner's manual" for this life – our Catholic Life Teen group once told us of an ancroynm for the Bible – Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth – so true...

      February 22, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
  12. Stephen

    Is burning the quran so much more offensive than burning the bible? You would defend the outrage of burning these qurans even though they had secret messages inscribed inside of them from the prisoners. But, Iran is killing a christian convert just because he has converted to christianity and Mu sl ems are ok with that?? That is just wrong.

    February 22, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • Hugo

      Of course (at least two) Muslims are OK with killing a Christian. You aren't saying much. At least two Americans are in favor of murder, robbery, etc. And somewhere there are another two Americans who are pacifists to such a degree that if you handed them a rifle and then started shooting at them, they would not fire back. And there are at least two other Americans who would kill you for such a stunt. What's your point?

      February 22, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
  13. Tom

    "What is captured on the pages can be printed again. If they burn 1,000, we can print 10,000. What's the big deal?"

    my God (pun intended), there may actually be hope for the human race after all...

    ?: if I delete a soft copy on my laptop do I deserve to be killed? what about flushing my browser cache? or DRAM that flushes on shutdown? what if I just close a browser window w/verses in it? if Apple or Amazon revoke the DRM to an iPad/Kindle copy should the devout fly planes into their HQ?

    just curious how far this applies in the "modern world" – it may come as a surprise to some of the rioters in these countries that there are newer technologies for content distribution than hand-scribed copies or even movable type press...

    February 22, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • Erika

      :It was something of great ecnxtemeit discovering your site this morning. I came up here today hoping to get something new. And I was not disappointed. Your ideas upon new strategies on this topic were enlightening and a fantastic help to me. Thank you for making time to write out these things plus for sharing your opinions.

      April 1, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
  14. Guitar

    Once again, Religion proves itself not to be based in rationale or reality. No difference – no matter what religion.

    February 22, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • Hugo

      How so? You complain about lack of rational thinking and yet you don't provide an example that you are capable of such. Why is that?

      Was Melvin Calvin a rational person? He won a Nobel Prize in chemistry. I bet it's pretty hard to win that prize without being rational. How about CS Lewis? Was he rational? St. Francis?

      February 22, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
  15. Ron

    Ugh.... logic in a CNN story.... don't.... know.... what .... to do. -looks around and throws a chair-

    February 22, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • BRC

      I saw a cat and a dog shaking hands. If I were religious I would take it as a serious omen.

      February 22, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • Hikmet

      I just visited your tsebiwe and just wanted to say hats off to you and the work you are doing. This seems like a great initiative and should be incorporated in all western societies. Something needs to change to stop this cycle. I hope elkingston is doing well now.Kim

      March 31, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
  16. steve

    I guess there were not enough latrines to utilize the surplus paper.

    February 22, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
  17. Bill

    This isn't a religious issue, it's an education issue. This is about ignorant, dark ages, barbarians looking for any reason to lash out at those different than them. This could have occurred over someone spitting on the street.

    It's OK for them to sell off their daughters and sons to pay debts, to subjugate their wives and daughters, to kill anyone that doesn't believe like they do. Allah forbid that you accidentally harm something sacred to them.

    I have known a number of western Muslims. Most of them are nice folks. However the conditions and societies that breed the "cultures" (I use that word loosely) in places like Afghanistan have no place in the modern world. They brought this upon themselves for harboring Al Queda. We attempted to help them create a better nation with more opportunities for all.

    Next time their neanderthol like behaviors impact anyone but themselves, then need to be obliterated from the face of the Earth.

    February 22, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
  18. Fair Taxes

    Take a tree and make it into paper.

    Take some carbon soot turn it into ink.

    Nobody care what you do with it.

    Arrange dots of ink on that paper in a particular pattern, and suddenly people are prepared to kill and die for it.

    Humans are, by and large, animals, or frightened children at best.

    Save your outrage for something that really matters.

    February 22, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
  19. Hugo

    I agree with Mogra and would like to expand on the point. Let's look at numbers vs numerals. Numbers are intangible. Numerals are what we can write down on paper. Numerals are symbols. Numerals aren't numbers. They represent numbers.

    To a Muslim, the Quran is the word of God. However, the Quran itself is just media containing symbols that only represent the word of God. If you are a Muslim, why care about symbols? If you are a Muslim, isn't your faith in God stronger than that? (Do you choose to worship God or something else?)

    February 22, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • lee

      can you say-Europe around 900-1100AD? Supersticious nonsense. They would do better to get their people into schools and learn about the world, open their small monds and join a modern community. so backward and hurtful.

      February 22, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • ObamaJoe

      Kids are more sensitive unto heart,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

      February 22, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
  20. steve

    Why are our good soldiers fighting for these debased moronic lugheads aka followers of islam.

    February 22, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • christine

      They're not fighting for any people. They are fighting for oil. Period. Our soldier are dying so Exxon and the others can keep on posting their BILLIONS of dollars in record profits each year.

      February 22, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
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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.