4:21pm 01/02/2023
Four views on the Qur’an burning issue
By:Prof Dr. Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi

I have thought a great deal whether I should be writing this issue.

Frankly speaking, I do not want to. But since there are people mostly in the “free” Western world who would exercise their “free speech” and notions of their integrity of freedom, they will still burn the Qur’an just to be popular, or make a political statement.

Because we have YouTube, I would not be surprised if it becomes a fashion.

In this article, I wish to explain four perspectives of Qur’an burning that I know and understand.

The intention of this article is to hopefully educate Muslims not to get too excited or angry and react in a violent manner if someone burns the Qur’an.

It is also my hope that the “free” Western world would perhaps amend their idea of total freedom to just simply have a law that says it is wrong to burn books that are considered as “religious” books that would provoke violent reactions in other countries where the target would be the same people who had burned these religious books.

Is that so difficult? Will that curtail “freedom of expression”?

For the price of peace on earth, good relations between people of different faiths and cultures, is that too much to ask?

Firstly, burning the Qur’an is a “normal” practice in the Malay tradition. Surprise? Not at all.

Firstly, I must explain that there are three kinds of Qur’an, one which has an all-Arabic text, another which has both an Arabic and a Romanized text, and a third that only has a Romanized text.

The Romanized texts are of course translations in Malay, English or other languages that use that Roman alphabet.

The Malays seem to place great “sacred” level to the all-Arabic Qur’an without the Romanized translations.

One must always be in the state of wudhu or purity like in solat or prayer in order to touch or recite the Qur’an whereas there does not seem to be any strict requirement in handling the other two types of Qur’an.

The all-Arabic Qur’an must always be at the very top of the book shelves and always wrapped in precious linen.

Its reading or recitation must have a reha or a decorated timber holder to place the Qur’an in.

Thus, this type of Qur’an is highly revered, and my mother told me if the Qur’an deteriorates with age, it must not be thrown into a pile of garbage but must be BURNED totally to ashes so that no pieces of it containing the sacred Arabic letters can be disrespected by people stepping on it or being mixed in other garbage.

So, burning the Qur’an, in a way, is to lay it to rest in a respectful manner.

Muslims should not get too excited or angry and react in a violent manner if someone burns the Qur’an.

Secondly, the treatment of the translated Qur’an that has both the Arabic and Romanized translation is unclear.

Most Malays would still hold it with respect like the all-Arabic Qur’an, but holding it without wudhu seems permissible, especially the ones with a plastic jacket covering it.

However, the destruction of this Qur’an when it deteriorates is still by burning and not simply discarded.

Of the third type of Qur’an, most Malays would not have it, as owning it without the Arabic text does not make it a sacred book. And I do not think you can find any of this kind of Qur’an in bookshops of Malaysia although you can get many of this kind in bookstores in Europe or America.

I own two versions once when I was in the US, but I have since lost them. Thus, I assume Muslims do not care much about the destruction of this type, and it is treated just as any other book.

Thirdly, I wish to explain that if anyone burns the Qur’an in front of me, I would not be angry or disturbed.

Whether the person is burning any of the three types of Qur’an, I would not be disturbed. Why? Well firstly, that person is burning a Qur’an that he or she has bought, so it is his or hers and not mine.

Secondly, I know he or she is trying to provoke a response from me by making me angry. So, why should I play into his or her play book?

Thirdly, if he or she disrespects a book deemed sacred by a billion people, then something is seriously wrong with his or her own sense of human values. And if his or her society allows that to happen, well that society pun sama jugalah.

Finally, if that person who is burning the Qur’an intends to get famous by getting millions of YouTube hits and “likes” or “dislikes,” he or she will get no reaction or response from me.

I am not interested in making that person famous, nor am I interested in making his or her political statement any more important.

I would “kill” his or her mission by being non-reactive.

Does that mean that I do not love Islam, my religion? Does that mean I have no courage to defend Islam?

No, it simply means I have a higher order of understanding of the reaction that the person burning the Qur’an wants of me, which he or she will never get!

Fourthly, I wish to ask the Western world who allows their citizens to burn the Qur’an to consider putting a small limitation to their precious “freedom of expression.”

Will making it a crime to burn religious books dent the idea of liberty, progress or freedom of thought as well as expression?

You can still allow people to be naked in public to proclaim a political protest in front of video cameras. Go ahead-lah.

You can still call Muslims or other faiths by rude and terrible names again on cameras. Fine-lah.

You can burn effigies of Muslim leaders and scholars and that is still OK. Your freedom of expression is assured.

Yes, we know you are angry. Yes, we know you think Muslims are a bunch of terrorists and primitive worshipers of an old religion. That is OK.

Think what you might, and say what you want. Just don’t burn the Qur’an or any other religious book in the name of humanity and according dignity to all. Itu susah sangatkah?

Finally, to Muslims, don’t get too excited or angry and just register our concern politely to the relevant authorities.

Yes, we know you love Islam. Shouting bad words against the embassies is not the way to do it. Demonstrating and causing social disharmony is also not the way.

By doing so, you are actually helping these kinds of people to burn more Qur’ans.

For the Westerners, please change your idea of “freedom” a bit to understand the meaning of adab or politeness living among different communities.

How can you call yourself a great civilization when you don’t accord respect and dignity to others who place some idea of sanctity to such places as mosques or Kitabs?

(Prof Dr. Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi is Professor of Architecture at a local university and his writing reflects his own personal opinion entirely.)


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