The Quran: The issue of the content and the container?

torn quran

Once again, a riot breaks out by Muslims outraged at the tearing and disrespecting the Holy Quran. Not for the first time, and I daresay not the last either. I’m used to these outrageous riots in both Pakistan and Afghanistan especially, for some unknown reason. These riots don’t tend to happen in the Gulf or most of the other Arab countries. The most intense riots and demonstrations – other than those in Pakistan or Afghanistan – appear to occur in Muslim communities in western countries. Paradoxically, countries Muslims chose to escape to from the persecution and maltreatment they received at the hands of Muslim leaders and co-religionists and to partake of the economic and living opportunities those countries provide.

torn quran
At least 17 people were injured at an overcrowded German refugee shelter after one resident tore pages out of a Koran. Around 20 refugees chased the Afghan man who damaged the Muslim Holy Book and threw the discarded pages into the toilet. He was eventually saved by the shelter’s guards which prompted the mob – according to local media mainly Syrian men – to turn their anger on the camp’s security team. [ DailyMail ]

So, I wasn’t particularly shocked when I heard of riots having taken place earlier this week in a German refugee camp when a Syrian refugee found a torn copy of the Quran in a toilet. What did surprise me; however, was that the suspected perpetrator was an Afghan!

To complete this sad saga, the Syrians of course took it upon themselves “to protect the honour of Islam and its Holy Book” by instigating a riot when it appeared that the police were protecting the suspect, as the police should, but that’s another story. Human rights are completely foreign to the Arab populace, so it will take some time for the refugees to appreciate why the German police had to protect the suspected culprit. In time, I hope, they will realise why. But that’s again another story. The story here is why we automatically resort to violence to prove a point. It’s almost a required part of negotiation and a facet of our self-expression.

Given that the Quran of course is a Holy and revered book and should be respected, as should the Bible and the Torah, why should vandalising any of these Holy texts create such a violent response?

Why is a piece of paper, or a book for that matter, be held in so much reverence; while, what’s printed in it is completely ignored, misinterpreted and misrepresented, as evidenced by the very act of rioting and overheated emotions? Are the teachings of the Quran less valuable than the paper they’re printed on? It is quite apparent that the faithful put much more value on form than function.

One needs to ask, what does it matter if someone disrespects and vandalises the Quran in any way? Will it reduce or invalidate its teachings and the values it espouses in the eyes of the whole world, let alone Muslims? Would that respect or its messages for that matter change at all if someone tore the Quran up, perforated it with a shotgun, burnt it or destroyed it in any other way?

I remember my late grandmother, rest her soul in peace, who was illiterate – well, she could read the Quran and only the Quran, but couldn’t read a newspaper if you put a gun to her head. I know, weird. However, before any newspaper gets thrown out or otherwise repurposed, she used to go through them and cuts out any paragraph or passage that has verses of the Quran and saves those pieces of paper. Then and only then could the newspaper be re-used in whatever other purpose, or simply be thrown out. When asked why she did that, she would simply respond that we have to respect the words of Allah. Bless her. When I pressed her and pointed out that regardless of what is printed on that paper, its re-use will never change the value of Allah’s Holy words. She just brushed me off with a “yalla, don’t you talk rubbish at me now off you go and leave me alone” that admonition normally was appended with “ya aswad elwijh” which literally meant “oh you of a black face” which was the ultimate insult by her. Such a simple time! 😉

I believe that it all boils down to the fact the Muslims regard the Quran as the direct words of Allah. As such, it is held in very high reverence, and vandalising it, or improperly disposing of it is regarded as an affront to Allah Himself. I believe that this interpretation needs to be revised. Especially as the Quran is now available on various electronic media, probably sharing space with completely offensive content that arguably be much more of an issue than the act of vandalism and physical disrespect. It is time to shift the objective to valuing the Quran’s content, rather than just its physical form.

I believe that true value of the Quran is in its ideas, lessons, stories, and inspiration it brings forth. And no amount of vandalism, be that tearing, burning or abusing the pages of a book will ever detract from the essence of its contents.

My friends, regardless of what is done to the physical book, let’s not succumb to emotions, let’s instead value the Quran’s contents and live by them. Let us distinguish between the content and the container. The content of the Quran, after all, is much more important than the container.


  1. Emile

    Lovely article, have to be honest likewise we experienced and lived through the same example as set by your late Grandma (rest her soul). Have to admit, I for one (till today) live by that same process, ie. censoring newspapers that contain the verses, or names of Allah. Yet, I totally agree with you in concept. Our version of “ya aswad elwijh” is “sawad Allah way’hek ya tayse” – May Allah blacken your face, You Ox.

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