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Ijtihad, Rethinking Islam (23 Feb 2012 NewAgeIslam.Com)

Outcry Over Afghanistan Quran Burnings: Misguided ‘Honour’ About Sacred Book

Outcry Over Afghanistan Quran Burnings: Misguided ‘Honour’ About Sacred Book

By Asra Nomani

Feb 22, 2012

The burning of Qurans at Bagram airfield has sparked outrage and some extremist reaction, but Muslims should study, think about, and critically examine the sacred text—not "honour" it with blind reverence, says Asra Nomani.

In the pre-dawn darkness Tuesday morning, I watched U.S. Gen. John Allen, commander of the International Security Assistance Force, as he issued a contrite apology for the burning of Qurans in northern Afghanistan at Bagram airfield. It had all the cultural sensitivies of a man schooled in the honour-shame culture of Afghanistan, Allen saying, "To the noble people of Afghanistan, salam-alai-kum," ("peace be upon you") the "tan" of "Afghanistan" pronounced with a deliberate short "a" sound, not like the long sound in "tan" leather.

"I assure you, I promise you, this was not intentional in any way. And I offer my sincere apologies for any offense this may have caused," he said. "My apologies to the president of Afghanistan. My apologies to the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. And most importantly, my apologies to the noble people of Afghanistan." I felt uncomfortable just listening to him bend over backwards doing cultural sensitivity gymnastics.

He went on to thank "the local Afghan people" who saved the Qurans, ending in Pashto with manana tashakor, or "thank you very much."

Meanwhile, outside Bagram, a crowd of the "noble" people threw rocks and set an Afghan police booth on fire. Reuters later reported that shots were fired into Koran-burning protests in Kabul, wounding several people. On the second day of protests, the Washington Post reported that Afghan officials said at least three people were killed after police opened fire on protests in Parwan province, where Bagram is located, to disperse thousands of anti-American demonstrators.

Watching the video of the apology and the protests, I just thought: how unfortunate. In the West, we bend over backwards to express cultural sensitivities that the most hardened of Muslim militants or the most ordinary of Muslims don't even practice. When militants firebomb mosques and plant suicide bombers in mosque congregations, they don't apologize for the Qurans that burn and smoulder in the aftermath of their attacks. When I was on the pilgrimage in Mecca in early 2003, my family and I were on the top floor of the sacred mosque, where Qurans were scattered on the floor, offending some but not causing a riot.

A protester holds a copy of a half-burnt Koran, allegedly set on fire by U.S. soldiers at Bagram Airbase north of Kabul. A NATO spokesman said the Koran was among material mistakenly sent for incineration at the base., Massoud Hossaini, AFP / Getty Images

Like the video of the Marines urinating on the bodies of slain Afghans, this isn't a debate about moral equivalence. Ten years into the war in Afghanistan, it's short-sighted (to put it nicely) for American soldiers, to be burning Qurans.

But on the flip side, just like a lot of other misguided honours that Muslims are trying to protect in our community, from wounds dating back to the days of colonialism and harkening into the modern day with protections over the national sovereignty of Pakistan during the Osama bin Laden raid, we, as Muslims, go too far protecting our perceived "honour" at the expense of common sense. No book, while sacred, is equivalent to human life. In April 2011, demonstrators stormed the United Nations compound in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, killing 12 people, after a copy of the Quran was burned in Florida.

The latest incident was a "mistake," Allen said. That's believable. An intentional disregard for culture? I doubt it, considering the way spokespeople from the U.S. military to the Obama administration have been trying to apologize for the offense. This is not an offense that was scripted.

No book, while sacred, is equivalent to human life.

In our Muslim community, we're taught to handle the Quran respectfully—put the Quran on the highest shelf in the room, wrap it in cloth to protect it from dust, and do a ritual washing, called wudu, before we touch it. Hardliners go further. The Internet is filled with all sorts of rulebooks and folklore, like at a conservative Muslim website that even pushes the idea that "non-Muslims" can't touch the Quran. Another site says it's a "great sin" to enter a lavoratory with a Quran.

Yet another conservative website declares that we can't "stop reciting when one yawns, for when reciting, one is addressing one's Lord in intimate conversation, while yawning is from the Devil."

On a deeper level, I believe that we, as Muslims, have to change our relationship with the "sacred text" and make it something that we study, think about and critically examine—not "honor" with such blind reverence that we lose our sense of common sense and rationality. In Islam, we're taught to reject idolatry. Just as some in the Christian faith struggle with "bibliolatry," or the worship of the Bible, I would argue that, in our Muslim faith, we face a similar struggle with "Quranolatry," a virtual idol worship of the Quran.

I learned this when I visited the pioneering Muslim feminist scholar Fatima Mernissi in Rabat, Morocco, some years ago. The pages on her Quran were dog-eared, and she read it without covering her hair or doing wudu, the traditions I was taught I had to do whenever I opened the Quran. "To me, the Quran is a research book," Mernissi said, respectfully. Her easy access to the Quran challenged my other-worldly relationship with the Quran, and, in a very magical way, she liberated me from relating to the book as if it was beyond my capacity for research and ijtihad, or critical thinking.

Later, in the women's balcony at my mosque in my hometown of Morgantown, W.V., I was intellectually liberated by pioneering modern-day Quranic scholars and their re-reads of the Quran. I read scholar Amina Wadud's book, Quran and Woman: Re-reading the Sacred Text from a Woman's Perspective, and scholar Asma Barlas's book, Believing Women: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur'an.

They challenged an even more sacred notion about the Quran that is most unsettling and disturbing, but also very much a part of the problematic relationship we, Muslims, too often have with the Quran: that we can't question how we read the Quran. In fact, I learned, we can, and indeed we had to do just that if we were going to see a progressive interpretation of Islam express itself in the 21st century. Something tells me their books weren't available at the detainee library at Bagram.

Sure, incidents like the Bagram burning fuel the haters. In a statement circulated on a propaganda research website, Jihadology.net, the Afghan Taliban turned the headline into an opportunity to blast "the American invaders" for their "barbaric" and "perverted" act.

In typical fashion, in a press announcement, titled, "Statement of Islamic Emirate regarding the desecration of the Holy Quran by the American invaders in Bagram," the Afghan Taliban made the act an offense against "one billion Muslims worldwide," invoking the collectivist nature of the society: "Last night, the American invaders, in accordance with their barbaric characteristics once again burnt copies of the sacred book of the Muslims (Holy Quran) with the purpose of desecration and with this perverted action, aroused the sensitivities of one billion Muslims worldwide including the Afghans."

Not that the Taliban is keeping count, but it continued: "Ever since the invasion of Afghanistan by the American savages, this is almost the tenth time that they have carried out such barbaric actions and violated the sanctities of the Muslims in Afghanistan for the defence of which, the Muslim Afghan nation have repeatedly shown strong reactions and have taken to the streets to protest in every corner of the country."

As news broke of the protests in Afghanistan, I ventured in the pre-dawn darkness to an Afghanistan cultural training class with U.S. military personnel. Before I left my house, I plucked two Qurans from my shelf. In class, I started with the news of the protests in Afghanistan, handing a Quran to a Muslim participant as he described how he learned to handle the book. In some families, Muslims will kiss the Quran when they receive it, bringing it sometimes to their forehead and to their eyes in an intimate connection to the book. I had the participants hold the Quran, read and discuss conflicting interpretations that come from different passages, and get introduced to how various interpretations of Quranic verses influence cultural habits in Muslim society.

Even my handling of the Quran today some would protest. I grew up learning that I couldn't hold the Quran if I was on my period, or "menses," as my mother loved to call it. While this borders on TMI, or "too much information," I share these details because they speak to the very intimate rules and restrictions that we face, handling the Quran, if we accept the rules of the mainstream. During the training, my period began. I grew up believing I was then "dirty" and that I couldn't touch the Quran until I had finished my period and bathed clean.

But even on this point, we have scholarship challenging these restrictions. A young Canadian scholar, Nevin Reda, has asserted that the typical restrictions on women not being allowed to pray or handle the Quran during their menstrual cycles needs "reevaluation."

In my class, I held the Quran because I have come to the same conclusion that Jewish and Christian women have come to believe: that we are not impure when we are on our periods.

In handling the Quran as I did, some—such as the "noble" men pelting rocks at Bagram—would say that I dishonored the Quran. But I arrived back home safely, as did my Quran. I penned this column, my Quran beside me, and I emerge now from my seat to tuck the Quran back into my bookshelf, not on the highest shelf, but—more significantly to me— within arm's reach.

Asra Q. Nomani is the author of Standing Alone: An American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam. She is co director of the Pearl Project, an investigation into the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Her activism for women's rights at her mosque in West Virginia is the subject of a PBS documentary, The Mosque in Morgantown. She recently published a monograph, Milestones for a Spiritual Jihad: Toward an Islam of Grace. She can be contacted at asra@asranomani.com.

Source: The Daily Beast




  • Nice article!
    By Ajay Pal - 3/8/2012 11:53:12 AM

  • I agree and appreciate the comments of Mr. Younus and Sadaf ji. Our learned and renowned scholars are pouring the nector of Qur'an and Hadees repeatedly on this forum. Insha Allah the general awakening in the masses will be a reality and permanent.
    By Raihan Nezami - 3/8/2012 7:48:27 AM

  • @Ashok: The Qur'an commands the Muslims not to call the pagans (idol worshippers) unbelievers, kfirin.
    “You who believe, whenever you campaign in God's way, be discerning and do not say to anyone who offers you peace: ‘You are not a believer’ - seeking worldly gains (by exploiting him), for there are plenty of gains with God. (Remember,) you were like them before - till God favored you. Therefore be discerning. Indeed God is Informed of what you do” (4:94).
    “Don’t insult those whom they invoke besides God, lest they ignorantly insult God in enmity. Thus We have made their action seem pleasing to every community; then their return is to their Lord, and He will tell them what they had been doing” (6:108).

    I have been brought up in a very conservative Muslim family - my father, a devout Muslim, had literally scores of Hindu clients visiting him to place order for merchandise and I had the opportunity to talk to them and even to take them around some major temples at the far ends of Calcutta. We never thought of them as kafir. We really didn't give any thought to their religion and took them as fellow human beings. There are Hindus in ME. They are not called kafir, I am sure. I as an author of an exegetic work believe that those Muslims who put the label of kafir on Hindus, are defying the spirit of some of key Qur'anic verses revealed in its conclusive phase of the revelation:

    “O People! We have created you as male and female, and made you into races and communities* for you to get to know each other. The noblest among you near God are those of you who are the most heedful (atqakum). Indeed God is All-Knowing and Informed” (49:13).

    In Qur’anic vocabulary idol worshippers are mushrikin – but the term has an existential dimension as expounded in a recent article referenced below.
    “The Hindus are not ‘the mushrikin’ mentioned in the Qur’an.”

    Let us look at the undeniable historical reality. If Islam treated the Hindus as kafirs and infidels, Hindu civilization may have suffered similar fate as the native civilizations of all the new continents – though God knows best.
    Happy dewali and God bless you.
    By muhammad yunus - 3/8/2012 5:56:05 AM

  • There is no compulsion in Islam for hatred towards idolators; no scope for hatred. There is no compulsion in Islam for hatred towards idols either. Islam just chooses not to do idolatory. There is no compulsion in religion. To you your way, to me, mine is the fundamental concept of Islam. A fundamentalist of Islam cannot hate idols or idolators. And those who hate aren't fundamentalists. The irony is the idolators believe such haters as fundamentalist and such haters believe they are true to Islam. The haters call the idolators with contempt ‘Kafir’, some idolators call the haters with contempt ‘Fundamentalist’. I reclaim the title of ‘Fundamentalist’ from such haters and wash it with an explanation that being fundamentalist of Islam isn’t contemptuous. Being Kafir is ones own choice as per Islam and shoudn’t be contemptuous. Of course calling names like ‘Kafir’ or ‘Fundamentalist’ especially to the one who isn’t on fundamentals is provocative to idolators and haters of idolators respectively.
    By sadaf - 3/8/2012 4:02:19 AM

  • BS, I take serious objection to muslims calling me as a kafir because I am an idolator hindu. The Abrahmic agenda of genocidal intents towards idol worshipers like me is objectionable and against civilized values. Let us hope not only the muslims but the Christians DO NOT participate in the hatred towards idolator and pagan hindus like me.
    By ashok - 3/7/2012 10:46:57 PM

  • I strongly protest and condemned the total USA forces who have involved in this, they should punish publicly,so other can gate the lesson,now time has come reunited as per the Islamic history.
    By Mohammad Anwar qbal - 3/7/2012 6:22:39 AM

  • if someone is raped and if she demands justice will u say it to be extremist reaction . mrs Asra Nomani think over it. burning of quran is worst crime and we demand death penalty to culprit
    By subhan chougule - 3/6/2012 7:15:33 AM

  • @ Captain Ron. The Muslims who call the Cbristians /Jews kafir themself commit kufr i.e. deny the truth inscribed in the Qur'an. The Christians and Jews are unfailingly referred to as the People of the Book (ahl al kitab) - an epithet that applies to the Muslims themselves. The Muslim men are allowed to marry from among the People of the Book with their wives retaining their religions. Muslim women are not barred from marrying them. So only a misguided Muslim will call you a kafir.
    By muhammad yunus - 3/3/2012 5:48:13 AM

  • Wonderful and very true, to the point. I would truly love to see a more transforming Islam. I hope that someday i wont be called a Kafir by my Muslim brethren, that they will someday realize I am as much a creation of the Creator as they are.
    By Captain Ron - 3/2/2012 2:46:38 PM

  • Making personal attacks on the author instead of offering substantive arguments to rebut her points is wrong.
    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 3/2/2012 1:14:38 PM

  • @Asif Ali.
    1. If you ara a Musllim, please refrain from calling a child 'illegitimate. To quote a recent exegetic publication that has the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif and authentication by the leading American Islamic jurist, scholar and Professor of law, Dr. Fadl: "It (the Qur'an)levels no stigma upon such a child born of unwedded mother. The fact is, no matter the legitimacy of a relationship, all children are God’s creation, and based on the Qur’an’s broader message, subject to the same set of laws."

    2. If you know Urdu, I will ask you to reflect on this verse from Iqbal:

    'ta 'assub chor nadan dehr ke aa-ina khaane may - ye taswirain hain teri jinko samjha hai bura tu ne." [Eschew rejudice in the house of mirror - this world. The pictures you regard ugly are your own.] Broader meaning: It is the perversion of your mind that see evils in others without looking inwards.
    3. As a Muslim you are supposed to speak kindly. If you understand little bit of Qur'anic Arabic, God says: 'qulu lin naase husnan' [speak kindly to people].
    Please reflect on these points and restrain yourself if you are angered.
    By muhammad yunus - 3/2/2012 7:26:48 AM

  • Do we need to read Asra Nomani's foolish diatribe, who herself is Pro-Western with an Illegitimate child following western lifestyle blindly... Can she say the same things to Pat Robertson upon burning of a Bible in Florida??? What she doesn't know that as long as her skin is shinning and tight, she will be appreciated in the western world, later, she will be left in the Nursing Home for good. I know how it goes in USA, I lived there for a long time.
    By Asif Ali - 3/2/2012 2:46:15 AM

  • I second what Rashid saheb and Yunus saheb have said to Mr. Malik.
    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 3/2/2012 2:07:05 AM

  • @a.m.malik. Your statement that the commentators on this site "appear experts at their own less studied religion" betrays both arrogance and ignorance. Your character assassination of Asra Nomani and charging her with sexual perversion is not beftting of a good Muslim - a Muslim who understands the Qur'anic message without the accretion, embellishment and distortion of the historically driven Islamic theological discourses that in many areas subvert the Qur'anic message. The example of a cleric condoning incest (the case of Imrana in India) is fresh in our memory. And what about the hadith on suckling and the Prophet embedding all his wives in one night and others bearing similar imageries of a sexually perverted mind? Is this the "truth that remains the truth" you claim. What more proof do you need for beeing weary of the maulvis and the ahadith - though of course all of them are not alike - though God knows best.
    By muhammad yunus - 3/1/2012 9:51:08 PM

  • @ a m malik
    “The is the reason that she mothers an illegitimate child…”
    The above statement stems from highly ignorant and fanatical society we live in!
    NO CHILD IS EVER ILLEGITIMATE, since every child born is from the union of a male and female according to the biological laws of nature -6-36- and therefore legitimate and worthy of respect.
    As for his serious charges……that is for the accused to ponder and respond.

    By Rashid - 3/1/2012 8:06:00 PM

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