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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. JC

    Un-Islamic? Since when have "average" Muslims failed to rise at any perceived slight? It IS Islam, and the saddest part of it all was that there was a time when the west were the barbarians and the Muslims were the scholars and preservers of history. Now the role is reversed. The west has learned what happens when you do not read for yourself, do not think for yourself, and do not challenge your core values. Sad that Islam cannot make such adaptions. How many of the Afghans have actually bothered to read their own holy text? How many simply skim it, paying lip service to a religion for their own ends? How many rely on Imams to tell them what the Quran actually says? Didn't their prophet specifically avoid setting up priests to avoid placing barriers between the people and their God? How well has that worked out? Who are the barbarians now?

    February 23, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • Thinker

      It really is a cultural thing. In the middle ages, Catholics would have been just as angry if Muslims burned the bible. Heck, the pope used the closing of Jerusalem to pilgrims (of all religions, as the city was under threat of siege) as the justification for the first crusade. Back then, the Catholic church influenced the daily lives of everyone in wester Europe (even non-Catholics). When you have a religion with secular power such as exists with Islam in the middle east or Judaism in Israel, or Christianity in the past (not sure if there are any places where the church holds secular power other than the Vatican) combined with harsh living conditions (including an atmosphere of fear) you will have a culture that takes such things as a phisical attack on them, and respond with violence. Christians did it in Spain during the long period of Muslim rule for example.

      February 23, 2012 at 11:12 am |
  2. Proud American

    They kill our troops, by their own standards we should get rid of the whole town!!!! We should NOT tolerate such ignorance. But we give these people immunity for some reason for the way they act, all the while puckering up to make them happy. I say if this is the way you act, screw it, let the taliban kill you, let the dictator gas you all. I don't care, we would have a more civilized world without you anyway.

    February 23, 2012 at 10:43 am |
  3. SoFunny

    Hello, the rioter's can't read, so what's the big deal? It's so religious my ash!

    February 23, 2012 at 10:41 am |
  4. Proud American

    Blow me mahamoud!! And the monkeys that act like this. It is inexcusable.

    February 23, 2012 at 10:40 am |
  5. BillR

    Hey Obama why not go in person and stand in the crowd of Rioters and apologize. You have done NOTHING to protect our troops nor have ordered an action now they they killed 2 USA soldiers. What are you doing bout that? Your a boneless two faced piece of garbage. Your suppose to be standing up for the USA< not the criminals. I don;t care what this guy does or says anymore, he is useless not to be on TV right now ordered an attack on those very same people who killed our men. Apologizing over a dam book, what a disgrace.

    February 23, 2012 at 10:38 am |
    • BRC

      I don't remember seeing that Obama apollogized, I just read that the General in charge of the NATO facility apollogized. Also, What further action would you like us to take? Im pretty sure the rioters who killed the US soldiers were shot (they deserved it), and we're already conducting a war in the area, so where do we go from here? We could put them on double secret probation, but I'm not sure if htey would recognize the significance.

      February 23, 2012 at 10:51 am |
  6. Robert

    They are just mad because they were burned before they got a chance to read them.

    Too bad, so sad.

    February 23, 2012 at 10:35 am |
  7. marcia

    Burning the Quran pales in comparison to what the "fervent" Islamists do to their own people, their women, their children and to the world in general. But let me say...OBAMA is more disgusting than any of this to the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. The man is a coward and a phony and a traitor for apologizing. He is sickening!

    February 23, 2012 at 10:33 am |
  8. citizen

    That is one stupid scholar. Muslims murder Christians daily. It is Islam.

    February 23, 2012 at 10:30 am |
  9. Lex

    These people are craZY. tHE LIVES OF nATO TROOPS SHOULD NOT BE SACRIFICED ANY MORE FOR THEM. lET'S JUST GET OUT AND LET THE TALIBAN DO ITS WILL.

    February 23, 2012 at 10:30 am |
  10. Ajax

    welllll noo shiite!

    February 23, 2012 at 10:29 am |
  11. Pete

    What if someone deletes the Quran from their Kindle- Will they be killed by the IT/Moral police? What if they destroy their IPAD with a Quran screensaver? So many questions- so few martyrs

    February 23, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  12. BillR

    People should not burn the Quaran, that is not right and a waste. Do like I do, Give it to the goats, They love eating paper. I also use it when i go camping, Sure beats paying top dollar for toilet paper. Use your imagination, there are so many uses for it.

    February 23, 2012 at 10:20 am |
  13. bill

    Holy Muhamed!! We would never want to be caught doing something 'un-Islamic'. Not as long as no Musilims EVER do anything 'un-Christian'. Wow, CNN. Get a life!

    February 23, 2012 at 10:09 am |
  14. Jim Morgan

    IIs he going to apologize the the American Catholics and Bishops next???

    February 23, 2012 at 10:01 am |
  15. Tom

    Wait... wait... Islam is a peaceful religion, right?

    Now that two US Troops have been killed over this, shouldn't there be an outrage from the Islamic community to denounce the violence?

    February 23, 2012 at 10:00 am |
    • Tom

      Exactly correct. And this is VERY islamic.

      February 23, 2012 at 10:06 am |
  16. Conrad Miller

    And Muslims wonder why authorities watch Muslim groups . . .

    February 23, 2012 at 10:00 am |
  17. JoeP199

    If anything would ever make me give up my religion, it's listening to all of the babble on here every time the question of religion comes up. The only thing any of you can say is that your (religion, sect, cult, whatever) has a holy (Torah, Bible, Quran, Book of Mormon, whatever) book that is the absolute truth passed down without error over (4000, or 2000, or 1000, or 200) years by a succession of followers (rabbis, priests, imams, whatever), none of whom distorted it in any way, and that your particular founder or founders (Abraham, St. Peter, the Popes, Mohammed, Martin Luther, Joseph Smith) was totally without fault. What a total heap of self serving garbage, being served from all sides!

    February 23, 2012 at 9:54 am |
    • Observer

      Well said. I am continually puzzled by the anger and manufactured outrage. As I understand it, the most important virtue would be how we live our lives each day which serves as clear reflection of whats in my heart (soul). What is it with fanatics all over the world. Perhaps, education is the key here. But then you wonder what kind of education! I give uo on religion.

      February 23, 2012 at 10:13 am |
    • Crellboyne

      Bingo !! JoeP. Religion is responsible for most of the death and destruction in the world.

      February 23, 2012 at 11:07 am |
  18. ray

    It's ok for these people to burn a bible, but these people kill if someone burns their "book". If that doesn't tell you all you need to know about this "religion" which among other things treats females like property nothing will.

    February 23, 2012 at 9:52 am |
    • kash

      Please show an example where "these people" burned bible?

      For the record, muslims believe in Jesus and Moses as a prophet, and you would NEVER hear any muslim insult them. Can you say the same about Christians?

      February 23, 2012 at 9:55 am |
    • anonymous

      Muslims believe in the Torah and Gospels

      February 23, 2012 at 10:07 am |
    • Philippe

      The fact that Islam recognizes Jesus as a prophet is absurd. Jesus was either exactly who he said he was, or else a madman or something worse. Even atheists recognize this. How can you take only some of what Jesus said at its word but ignore the rest? Either accept all of it ane believe it, or accept none of it and believe that its all garbage. Don't try make up some crap middle ground

      February 23, 2012 at 10:11 am |
    • Ananonymous

      Never heard of a Christian (in this or the last century) sentence someone to die for converting their faith. Can you say the same about Muslims?

      February 23, 2012 at 10:16 am |
    • sharkfisher

      It's a crime to even own a Bible in Islamic countries.

      February 23, 2012 at 10:48 am |
  19. ForGoodOfAll

    Religious radical extremism is the problem in this world today. Most religious people are peace-loving, but the extremists tend to be nut jobs. Just my opinion!

    February 23, 2012 at 9:51 am |
    • dionysus

      So who are the extremists? Those who burn holy books or those who get angry when holy books are burnt? Burning a Holy Book is worse than killing people. The Qur'an represent an IDEA, an IDEOLOGY. Killing an idea or ideology is morally equivalent to killing all those who believe in that idea.

      February 23, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • BRC

      @dionysus,
      While you are welcome to your opinions and convictions, no it is not. I am against blatently and intentionally disrespecting peoples faiths and beliefs, I think that as civilized people, and for the US as a nation that claims to hold freedom and individual liberty in high esteem, we should always respect others, regardless of whether or not we agree with them. But, burning a book, mocking a religion, insulting a deity, those are all just words and paperl none of that measures up to injuring or killing a person. Harming another person is far worse that any "idealogical attack." If nothing else for the simple reason that you cannot kill an idea. I could burn every bible in the world today, tomorrow people of faith would start printing new ones. As long s there are people that hold a faith that faith exists. The only way to kill an idea would be to kill every person that had it, and that trully would be aweful.

      So, in answer to your question, the extremists are the ones that become physicaly violent because a collection of ink and paper was burned (whether or not it was an accident). There are other more reasonable ways to express outrage and offense.

      February 23, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • nepawoods

      Burning paper and ink does not kill an idea. Furthermore, if it's your "holy book", but MY BOOK (i.e. my possession), then you have no say what I do with it.

      February 23, 2012 at 10:44 am |
  20. Rob Lanken

    Islam is as Islam does.

    February 23, 2012 at 9:47 am |
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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.