Friday, February 24, 2012

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QUR'AN BURNING: Contextualization is Important

An effort to "enlighten" the crowd . . . -S.L.

An Afghan shows a copy of the holy Koran - allegedly burnt by US soldiers - in Bagram, about 60 km north of Kabul, Afghanistan, 21 Feb 2012(EPA)

In light of everything which has transpired over the past couple of days in Afghanistan, I thought I’d share my limited knowledge of Islam, the Kor’an, and the Muslimculture, in an effort to add a bit of context and background to what is really turning into a regionally destabilizing flashpoint.

I am sure some are aware of the history of the Qur'an. It was the words spoken by Muhammad to scribes, who wrote down these incremental revelations that occurredover a fairly long period of time. Its origin as the Word of God was declared though whether this meant that God spoke to Muhammad in Arabic or whether Godspoke through inspiration is unclear. Nonetheless the result was considered the Word of God as provided by Muhammad.

Muhammad was illiterate. Arabic is based on a three consonant root system which at the time of the recitation of the passages by Muhammad, and the inscribing of these passages, were written down without diacritical marks, on many different objects, from paper to rocks, leather, bone and anything else that could beused as a writing surface.

In order to consolidate all the various writings (which often conflicted), and present one authoritative guide, the third Caliph, Uthman, ordered a review would begin to determine what the original words actually were. This proceeded after Muhammad's death so there is no way of knowing whether the result of this effort was actually on target. The Hadith talks about these conflicts, but notthe quality of the result of the effort. For instance, the three consonant system (again, without diacritical marks) allowed for words as various as “book” (Kitab) and “library” (Kitub) to be written exactly the same way in Arabic.

So Uthman ordered that all copies of the Qur'an, all fragments of the Qur'an be collected and analyzed to determine the true one Word of God. This effort undoubtedly inserted fallible man into the process. The result of his efforts produced a singular unmarked text. All other copies of the Qur'an and fragments (stones, paper, leather, wood etc.) were destroyed. This solved the political problem of differing opinions in a world where the divine word is everything.

When the task was complete, all the fragments and whole copies of the Qur'an wereordered destroyed by Uthman. Anything that could be burned was burned. It would be quite easy to argue that the defacing of the Qur'an by people writing messages over the divine Word were committing blasphemy and that burning the Qur'ans so marked is the appropriate solution, so that they may never infect the minds of mortals again.

So . . . there is in fact a tradition of book burning as an acceptable method of destroying defaced copies of the Qur'an.

We Americans are simply failing to share this narrative with the world. We are once again allowing our enemies to pigeonhole us on what is really a rather logical and simplistic defense.

I'd offer something along the lines of:

"The prisoners (your Muslim brothers) defaced your most Holy book, and in an effort to remove that which is impure - according to the Islamic religion - we properly disposed of them in a respectful manner consistent with your culture's history and traditions."

The author was on the ground in Afghanistan early in the game, September of '01 . . . his life reads like a book . . . he led a battalion at the height of the madness in Iraq, and then went back as an advisor to Iraqi forces - S.L.


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