Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Disposal of the Koran (Qur'an)

It has been alleged that the Koran (Qur'an) has become a means of communication between prisoners at Bagram Airfield, in Afghanistan. These books, considered holy by some, were defaced by the prisoners when they used them as a covert means of passing messages to one another. These defaced Korans (Qur'ans) were then thoughtlessly burned by Order of U.S. Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, who has since apologized. While his actions may seem to have been a rather "politically incorrect" way of solving the problem at the time, it is not altogether unfounded in Islamic law. The Islamic jurist Hanafi Imam al-Haskafi is the noted authority on the subject, but there are parts of his teachings which have not been aired by the media.

In all honesty, I am not a big fan of the Koran (Qur'an); which instructs its adherents to pray for my destruction 5 times a day; but I am a fan of accuracy, and so, in the name of accuracy; as well as curiosity; I was compelled to seek out information about the correct way to dispose of the Koran (Qur'an). It seems to me that the General was acting under circumstances which did not permit the preferred disposal of the Korans (Quar'ans). However, by virtue of the teachings of the noted Islamic scholar and jurist Hanafi Imam al-Haskafi, the General was acting in good faith, all be it unknown to him, at the time. The last paragraph describes the conditions under which the General was acting; he was very unlikely to have been able to destroy these defaced books without inciting violence. At the same time he would have been decried as a bigot if he had not replaced them. The following is what I found to be the general consensus amongst the Islamic sites which I used to answer the question in a fair and honest way.

Question: How does one get rid of unwanted religious literature, such as religious books, leaflets with the name of Allah, etc? Also, please state the ruling on what should be done to the copies of Qur’an that are no longer in a useable state:

Answer: In the name of Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful,

With regards to getting rid of unwanted religious and Islamic literature, the great classical Hanafi jurist (faqih), Imam al-Haskafi (Allah have mercy on him) states:

“Books that are no longer benefited from, one should wipe away the names of Allah, His Angels, and His Messengers, and burn the rest. There is also nothing wrong with casting them into a flowing river as they are (i.e. without wiping away those names) or burying them, and this (burying them) is better.” (Radd al-Muhtar ala al-Durr al-Mukhtar, 5/271)

Thus, if one decides to dispose of religious literature, the best thing would be to bury it by wrapping it in something pure first, in a place where people would not normally walk. It would also be permitted to tie the books and papers with something heavy and cast them into a flowing river. Alternatively, the literature may be burnt, but in this case, only after erasing the names of Allah, His Angels and His Messengers.

Disposing Unusable Copies of the Qur’an

As far as old and unusable copies of the Qur’an are concerned, it is not permitted to burn them unless there is no other way to dispose of them.

The great Hanafi Imam, Imam Ibn Abidin (may Allah have mercy on him) states:

“If a copy of the Mushaf (qur’an) becomes old and it is difficult to read from it, it should not be burnt in fire. This is what Imam Muhammad (m: student of Imam Abu Hanifa) pointed out and this is what we take. It will not be disliked to bury it. It should be wrapped in a pure cloth, and a Lahd grave (m: grave that has a incision in the side wall, customary in hot climate countries where the earth is solid) should be dug, because if a Shiq grave (m: grave with a straight opening, common in cold climate countries due to the earth being soft) is dug and the copy of the Qur’an is buried, it will entail the soil falling on top of the Qur’an which is a form of disrespect, unless a slab is placed as a roof…” (Radd al-Muhtar, 5/271)

In light of the above, there are two methods of disposing of an unusable copy of the Qur’an:

1) Wrapping it in a pure piece of cloth and burying it respectfully in a place where people (normally) do not walk about. In cold climate countries (such as the UK), one may dig a Shiq grave, but a slab should be placed first and over it the soil.

2) Fastening the Qur’an with a heavy object like a stone and then placing it respectfully in flowing water.

If one is able to implement the above two methods, it would not be permitted to burn the copy of the Qur’an. However, if the above two methods are difficult to carry out, then one may burn the Qur’an and bury or drown the resulting ash.
And Allah knows best

Muhammad ibn Adam
Darul Iftaa
Leicester , UK

This site has proved useful in the past to debunk some of the things I have read in the papers and heard on the radio. It has also consistently squared itself with the Koran (Qur'an) at my local library. It's worth a visit;

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