Burning the Q'ran: An Excuse for Bloodshed?

If you have been watching the news lately, you may have seen that nearly forty people have died in Afghanistan as a direct result of an accidental burning of some copies of the Muslim holy book, the Qu'ran--including 4 Americans, who were murdered in cold blood in supposed "safe" zones.  There have been riots throughout the country in retaliation, and several bombings by the Taliban, who are using this to their own advantage.

U.S. soldiers burned the copies because they contained radical messages written by inmates of a detention center.  The copies of the Qur'an were being used by the inmates to communicate with one another.  Hence, their disposal.

President Obama has issued an official apology, which was read publicly by the Afghan president.  But since Afghanistan is a largely illiterate country, with little or no mass media---no one got the memo that we're sorry.  Many people, including a number of Christians, were angered that our President would apologize to the Afghans for the burning of a book, when they have no intention of apologizing to us for the murder of four of our citizens.

All around the Muslim world, the news of the burning of the Qu'ran has been met with the same sort of rage albeit without the body count---at least for the present.

So what is it about the Muslim mindset regarding the Qu'ran?  Why is the burning of the Qur'an a justification for killing people in the minds of some Muslims?  

According to Sarwar Ghulam in  Islam: A Brief Guide: 
The Qur'an deals with man and his ultimate goal in life.  It's teachings cover all aspects of this life and the life after death.  It contains principles, doctrines and directions for every sphere of human activity... The success of human beings on this earth and in the life hereafter depends on obedience to the Qur'anic teachings.
John Azumah, an Islamic scholar writes,
"The Qur'an has to be recited in Arabic and cannot be translated into another language---if it is, the translation will not be accorded the same spiritual and devotional status as the Arabic version."

He then goes on to say something that gives us a clue about why so many Muslims justify their rage and violence over the burning of the copies of the Qur'an:
"[The Arabic version] is highly venerated by Muslims, almost as if it possesses magical properties.  Women are generally discouraged from handling it and men handle it only after undergoing ritual cleansing.  No object is ever placed on top of it."   
In Sura (chapter) 2 of the Q'ran, we find this: "No doubt is there about this Book. It is a guidance to the God-fearing."

What follows is a litany of apologetics for Muslims---responses on what they should say if they are confronted by Jews or Christians about the truth of the Qur'an.  For example:  "[Jews & Christians] say, moreover, 'Become Jews or Christians that ye may have true guidance.  SAY: "Nay! The religion of Abraham, the sound in faith, and not one of those who join gods with God."

(Abraham, according to the Q'ran, is not really the patriarch of the Jews, but a Muslim---like his sons Ishmael, Isaac and grandson Jacob.)

Some argue that there are peaceful passages within the Qur'an.  Christians are praised in Sura (5:82) as the best friends of Muslims, but then in (5:51) Muslims are warned against having Christians as friends since Christians are enemies to be fought (9:29)

In order to deal with the inconsistencies of the so-called Meccan recitations (which seem softer in their tone) and the Medinan recitations (which are not), a theory of abrogation was agreed upon.  Basically it states that when there is a conflict between two or more verses, those that come later supersede those that come before.

This is the reason why this "later" verse seems to be lifted up by so many radical Muslims:
Then when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them and prepare for them each ambush.  But if they repent and establish worship [convert to Islam] and pray the poor-due, then leave their way fre.  Lo!  Allah is forgiving, Merciful.  9:5
The Qur'an also went through roughly 300 years of editing and debate (marked by military, political and social struggle, I might add) before Muslim scholars settled upon the current version which Andrew Rippin, a leading Islamic scholar notes is:
"...the ultimate enshrinement of the text of the Qur'an as we now know it, understood to be literally the word of God, miraculous, inimitable, linked to an illiterate prophet, and thereby having its authority within the community..." 
[Here's an aside...  By the time Muslim scholars had finally settled on which version of the Qur'an was "miraculous, inimitable" and holy, The Bible had been canonized and Christianity had been spreading for nearly a thousand years.  Judaism and the Torah were roughly three thousand years old.  Islam resoundingly rejects both the Christian and Jewish Scriptures with the same sort of theory of abrogation as they give to their own.]

It's not hard to imagine how a largely illiterate and superstitious culture might respond to such teachings, and also how it might come to view Holy Script.  We have much of the history of Christendom to draw upon for examples.  But we have to go back a ways into history---some 500-600 years or more---to find it.

In largely illiterate and superstitious cultures (like much of the Middle East), Islamic beliefs seem to be grounded firmly in what can only be described as a Medieval context.  It is within this context that the Qur'an in it's "pure" Arabic form is bestowed nearly magical powers, and held in a kind of esteem that Westerners in the 21st century cannot fathom.

It is then at least understandable (though not tolerable) how some ordinary Muslims within these contexts might believe violence and bloodshed would be appropriate as a response for burning the Qur'an.  To be sure, there are also radical Islamists who have exploited this for their own purposes.

As Christians (particularly the Reformed brand), we have a different understanding of Scripture.  John Calvin, the great Reformer who wrote The Institutes of the Christian Religion, believed that the written word of God and the Spirit of God must always go together.  Scripture gives us a saving knowledge of God, but only when it is founded upon "the inward persuasion of the Holy Spirit."(Institutes I viii. 13)

Further, Calvin believed essentially that the paper, ink and binding of the Bible were not holy---they were as corruptible as human beings.  The only thing that made them the written word of God was the Spirit of God speaking through them.

This thinking places the power of Holy Scripture firmly where it belongs... with God, and not in matter.  Anything less is idolatry.


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