(CNSNews.com) – Muslims have killed, died, protested and boycotted over the real, perceived or rumored mistreatment of the Quran, but the book they revere as the final revelation of Allah to Mohammed was a version compiled by an early caliph almost two decades after Mohammed’s death. According to major Islamic sources, he then ordered all rival versions burned.
Plans by a small Florida church to burn copies of the Quran on the ninth anniversary of 9/11 have drawn condemnations from across the political and religious spectrum, warnings of possible retaliation against Americans abroad, and threats by Islamic radicals.
Allegations of Quran desecration in the recent past have led to loss of life, as occurred in 2005 after Newsweek reported, and later retracted, a claim of a Quran being thrown into a toilet at Guantanamo Bay. In countries like Pakistan, where desecrating a Quran or insulting Mohammed can carry the death sentence, minority Christians have been targeted for violence or brought to trial after being accused of Quran abuse.
Muslims argue that misuse of the Quran is particularly heinous because they believe that, in the original Arabic, it is the actual divine revelation given to Mohammed over a 23-year period – something that is sacred in itself.
A devout Muslim will never keep a Quran at ground level, for instance. A Muslim who has not undergone ritual washing may not handle a Quran, and a menstruating woman may not touch or even recite its words, according to rulings on “Ask the Imam,” a Web site featuring religious experts answering thousands of questions sent in by Muslims around the world.
Modern technology poses new dilemmas, so Mufti Ebrahim Desai, the South African cleric who heads “Ask the Imam,” warns that while have the Quran downloaded on a cell phone is permissible, that phone may not be taken into a toilet. And if the Quran is on a touchscreen-type phone or device, it may not be touched by someone deemed unclean.
The sensitivities led last year to calls for the banning of soccer balls depicting flags of countries that incorporate words from the Quran.
One was the flag of Saudi Arabia, which features the Arabic script for the “shahada” – the Quranic declaration “There is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is his messenger.” Because of this, the Saudi flag is never flown at half-mast.
Muslims have also protested text resembling Quranic script on ice cream products and basketball shoes. When fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld in 1994 made a dress incorporating a pattern he copied from India’s Taj Mahal – it turned out to include a phrase found in the Quran – German model Claudia Schiffer received death threats after wearing it. Lagerfeld issued a apology and burned the garments.
‘Six copies burnt’
“The Quran is the pure word of God,” according to a leading 20th century Islamic scholar, Abul Ala Maududi, as quoted on the Web site Islam 101. “Not one word therein is not divine. Not a single word has been deleted from its text. The Book has been handed down to our age in its complete and original form since the time of Prophet Mohammed.”
That view is disputed, however, not least of all by some of Islam’s most respected non-Quranic sources.
About 18 years after Mohammed’s death in 632, Uthman bin Affan, one of his sons-in-law and the third caliph, ordered that all circulating versions of the Quran be brought to him, compiled in one standardized version, and the others burned.
The story is related in the Hadith (Islamic canon) by Sahih al-Bukhari, who recounted (in Book 61, No. 510) that there were grave concerns about Muslims fighting over the differing versions.
“So Uthman sent a message to Hafsa saying, ‘Send us the manuscripts of the Qur’an so that we may compile the Qur’anic materials in perfect copies and return the manuscripts to you,’” Bukhari wrote. (Hafsa was one of Mohammed’s 11 widows.)
After having four men draw up a standardized copy, “Uthman sent to every Muslim province one copy of what they had copied, and ordered that all the other Qur’anic materials, whether written in fragmentary manuscripts or whole copies, be burnt.”
Zakaria Botros, an Egyptian Coptic evangelist and expert on Islam, has tackled the provocative issue on his Arabic-language “Questions about faith” broadcasts.
“Uthman saw that Muslims were killing each other because of the differences or contradictions among the seven readings. You know that the Quran had seven different readings, or letters. So he ordered the Quran to be recompiled…” Botros says in the program. (audio)
“So what did Uthman do, confronted with seven different Qurans or copies, and people were killing each other because of the contradictions therein? He wanted to put an end to the fight. So what did he do? He burnt six copies, and kept only one copy … He made copies from this one copy, which was called the ‘chief copy.’ And it was sent to all the Islamic capitals at that time.”
The Christian organization Acts 17 Apologetics Ministries this week released an eight-minute videoclip examining the issue, in the light of the Florida Quran-burning controversy.
The organization’s co-directors, David Wood and Nabeel Qureshi, read excerpts from various Islamic texts on the subject, before Wood sums up, “According to Muslim sources, entire chapters of the Quran were lost, large sections of chapters have been lost, individual verses have been lost, and in the end Uthman put together what he could, put out his own official version of the Quran, and burned all of the evidence”
Qureshi then gestures to the texts before them, and says, “Wow, I sure am glad that no-one burned this evidence.”
Wood replies, “Nabeel, let’s agree that we’re never going to burn any book, no matter how much we disagree with it.”