The desecration of the Qur`an that recently took place in the American torture chambers of Guantanamo Bay is not the only incident of its kind. Similar insults of Islam and its holy Book took place in some American prisons of Iraq and Afghanistan. And we do not known what goes on in the numerous secret prisons that the American army has built thoughout the world.
The desecration of the Qur`an is not limited to prisons. In the USA a Muslim sister ordered a Qur`an from a non-Muslim company and received a copy with obscenities written on it. Such things have pleased some Americans to the extent that they have put at least one sign supporting the desecration. Put in front of a church on one of the most traveled highways in America a sign reads: “The Koran needs to be flushed” (down the toilets) na a‘udhu bi allah. Some Muslim and non-Muslim Americans protested and the sign was taken down, but too many Americans either like this type of hate or tolerate it in the name of “freedom of speech”, although if a Muslim expressed certain views, such as a praise of Usamah bin Ladin, his freedom of speech probably will not be respected. There is a positive chance that he will end up in some torture chamber.
As an expression of hate and hostility towards Islam, desecration of the written Qur`an may be new in form but not in substance. Similar insults have been hurled against Islam’s book and the Prophet from the earliest days of Islam.
As we all know the disbelievers of Makkah used to call the Prophet a mad man or a magician who had fabricated the Qur`an with the help of some others. It is reported that some of them also used to throw garbage at him. In Tayf the Arabs threw stones at him and wounded him. Later, in Madinah the people of the book, that is the Jews of Madinah used to insult the call to prayers (adhan), as mentioned in the following verse:
And when you raise a call to prayer they take it as a mockery and fun. That is because they are a people who do not understand. (5:58)
But nowhere the Prophet and the Qur`an were insulted more than in the Christian West, especially during and after the Crusades. The Prophet was called devil, anti-Christ, liar, impostor, promiscuous, and was pictured as burning in hell.
After the enlightenment and the coming of learning and education in Europe under the influence of Muslims this very slowly began to change. But still there is an appreciable minority in the West who hate Islam and Muslims and repeat the insults coined in the Middle Ages. On the Internet numerous websites present the Prophet in a way that brings us back to the Middle Ages. And prominent Christian leaders and TV evangelists with influence in the White House continuously attack Islam and the Prophet on their TV programs, watched with appreciation by tens of millions of viewers. Some describe the Prophet as terrorist; some describe Islam as evil and so on.
This hate and hostility in many cases is not limited to verbal insults. It extends to actual plans and activities against Islam and the Muslim world. We need to be very conscious that there are people in the West, especially in the English speaking countries of the USA, Britain, and Australia, who, along with the Zionists are engaged in a war against us. These people are in a minority – about 20 % -- but 20% determined people in a population of hundreds of millions can do a lot of damage. Muslims must not bury their heads in the sand and behave as if such enemies do not exist.
What is the reason behind all this hate and hostility and how can Muslims deal with it? Let us examine these questions in the light of the Qur`an itself.
The reasons behind the insults
One reason behind insults against Islam, its holy book and the Prophet is a feeling of being threatened by Islam. The threat felt may be to one’s belief system and/or to one’s own power or the power of one’s group. Insults are a way to prevent oneself or others from paying attention to the threatening message of Islam. The kuffar of Makkah tried many ways to prevent people from paying attention to that message. In addition to insulting the Prophet they used to tell people to make noise when the Qur`an was read:
And those who disbelieve say, Do not listen to this Qur`an and make noise during its recitation so that you may dominate. (41:26)
Both the feeling of being threatened and the disbelievers’ way of dealing with the threat is irrational. In the verse quoted above (5:58), the Qur`an gives an explanation of why the people of the book used to insult the Muslim call to prayer:
“That is because they are a people who do not reason or understand (ya‘qilun).”
This principle is applicable generally, so that one reason non-believers insult Islam, its scripture and its Prophet is that they lack understanding or ‘aql. Here ‘aql is used in a general sense as well as in the particular sense of understanding of Islam. Many people who insult Islam do so out of irrational hate and prejudice. They know very little about Islam, its holy book and the Prophet. This is clearly against ‘aql, which demands that we first know what we are hating and insulting. Many other people know a great deal about Islam and still hate and insult it. They may even have some “intelligent” purpose behind the insults, e.g., preventing fellow Christians/Jews from reading about Islam with an open mind, or proving themselves to be faithful Christians/Jews, or getting attention and then using that attention to promote their brand of Christianity/Judaism, or, in case of torturers at Guantanamo Bay/Megiddo Prison, to extract information from Muslim prisoners. These well-informed people lack ‘aql in a more particular sense: Despite all their information about Islam they are not able to see that the Qur`an and the Prophet, far from posing any danger to them, are in fact a source of God’s mercy for them and a healing of what is in their breasts.
The Power of the Qur`an
But Islam’s holy Book and Prophet do pose a real danger to the powerful who use their power to oppress others. The Holy Qur`an is a mighty expression of that freedom which comes with faith in the one true God and the hereafter and with submission to the Almighty. Its message is capable of shaking the existing powers to their very core. At the very least it prevents Muslims from submitting to them. British colonial governor, after experiencing Muslim resistance in India went back to his country and spoke in the Parliament. Lifting a copy of the Holy Qur`an in his hand, he said to the ruling class: “As long as this book rules the Muslims, you cannot rule them.” It is said that soon after this, orientalist studies of the Qur`an started or intensified so that the message of the Qur`an may be undermined. Now once again the powers of the world are threatened by the Qur`an.
The Holy Qur`an refers to its power:
And if there had been a Qur`an with which mountains are moved or the earth is cloven asunder, or the dead are made to speak (it would have been this one[i]). In any case all command is with God. Have not then the believers yet stopped hoping (too much for the conversion of the unbelievers by accepting) that if God so willed he would have guided all people. And disaster will not cease to strike those who disbelieve or to settle close to their homes until the promise of God (for their destruction) comes to pass. God certainly does not go back on his promise. (13:31).
In another verse the power of the Qur`an is illustrated as follows:
Had We sent down this Qur`an on a mountain, you (O Prophet) would certainly have seen it humbling itself and tear apart for fear of God. These are examples that we put forward for the people that they may think. (59:21)
An idea of the power of the Qur`an can be obtained by the fact that it dislodged the idols in the Ka‘bah and turned it into a masjid dedicated to the worship of the one true God. We are so used to hearing this fact that we do not realize the power that was needed to achieve it. How difficult was the task can be understood if in our time we think of turning the USA into an Islamic state with a muslim leader sitting in the white house or turning the Vatican into a masjid. Today even some Muslims cannot imagine the possibility of any of these events happening, even though global victory of Islam is prophesied in the Islamic sources. Well, one man succeeding in turning the Ka‘bah into a masjid for the one God was similar. It was like moving mountains.
The Qur`an is more powerful than all the atom and hydrogen bombs in the whole world. That is because the Qur`an changes the hearts and minds of people and the heart and mind of man is more powerful than anything we know on earth and also because human beings can produce these bombs but they cannot produce anything like the Qur`an.
Say: "If the whole of humankind and the Jinn were to gather together to produce the like of this Qur`an, they could not produce the like thereof, even if they backed up each other with help and support. (17:88)
And how do we know that human beings cannot produce anything like the Qur`an? Because if that were possible, the British colonialists, the American "hegemonists", and the Zionist usurpers would have done it to neutralize the Qur`an!
Some people of the book are bound to insult the Qur`an
(O Prophet) say: O people of the book! You are on nothing till you establish the Tawrah and the Injil and what (else) has been sent down to you from your Lord. But surely what has been sent down to you (O Prophet) will increase in most them obstinate rebellion and disbelief. So be not sorrowful over the people who disbelieve. (5:68)
The first part of this verse tells the Jews and Christians that they need to establish the Tawrah and the Injil. This and many other verses give respect to the Jewish and the Christian scriptures despite the fact that both the Qur`an and objective scholarship show these scriptures not to be entirely faithful to the prophets whose teachings they purport to present. If those who desecrate the book of God had read the Qur`an before insulting it they would have discovered that while they insult this book, this book gives respect and honor to their scriptures. But unfortunately most of them do not want to read it. They insist on hating it without knowing what it is.
The second part of the verse tells us that (until the final global victory of Islam) this Qur`an is bound to increase rebellion and disbelief in the Jews and Christians. This is a theme that is repeated often in the Qur`an about the disbelievers in general. The Qur`an came as an advice of mercy and healing but many people become hostile to it.
O humankind! There has come to you a good advice from your Lord and a healing for that which is in your breasts and a guidance and a mercy for the believers. (10:57)
We have explained in this Qur`an (everything) that they may take heed, but it only increases their aversion! (17:41)
It may at first surprise us that people hate what comes to them as healing and mercy. But if we examine our own experiences we can think of many occasions when we give advice to our friends or relatives or our sons and daughters that is for their own good but they hate not only the advice but also the one who gives it. Among psychologists and psychiatrists it is well known that patients have not onle a strong subconscious resistance to the treatment but also some hostility towards the doctor. This is the case with those who go to a doctor and therefore are probably willing to accept at least the fact that something is wrong with them. The hostility to cure is much greater in case of those who do not want to admit that they need treatment.
Now if a person rejects a good advice or if a patient rejects the treatment, he does so at his own loss. Thus God says:
We send down in the Qur`an that which is a healing and a mercy to those who believe while to the unjust it increases nothing but loss. (17:82)
If aversion or obstinate rebellion is the reaction that the Qur`an excites in most of the disbelievers, at least in the beginning, then some at least of the disbelievers are bound to resort to insults to the Prophet and the Qur`an. This is stated more explicitly in the following verse:
You shall certainly be tried and tested in your possessions and in your persons and you shall certainly hear much that will grieve you, from those who were given the book before you and from the mushrikin. But if you persevere patiently, and guard against evil, then that is a determining factor in all affairs (or that is among things to be pursued with determination). (3:186)
Here verbal attacks and insults from the disbelievers are mentioned as a part of the trials and tribulations that the believers must inevitably face in order for their faith to be tested. We should face these trials with sabr and taqwa. Sabr means steadfastness and does not exclude action against verbal attacks and insults and other trials. Taqwa means guarding against what is wrong. The meaning is that in responding to verbal attacks and insults we should not cross the limits of what is just and should not fall into wrong ourselves. For example, we should not attack or insult what they hold sacred except by way of a fair rational and objective criticism.
Insults should be countered by protests and da‘wah
There are two things that we should do in the face of insults that are hurled against Islam’s book.
First, we must protest. The Qur`an says:
He has already sent down to you in the Book (the instruction) that when you hear the signs of God [i.e. verses of the Qur`an] denied and ridiculed, do not sit with them unless they engage in a different conversation. (If you kept sitting with them), you would be like them. God will surely collect the hypocrites and disbelievers all together in hell (4:140)
Standing up when we hear the verses of the Qur`an being blasphemed or ridiculed and ready to leave is a strong form of protest. In case of desecration that is not taking place in our presence we should adopt other forms of protests, e.g., speaking out in public, writing letters to the media, and demonstrating as the people in some countries like Afghanistan did.
Second, we need to increase our efforts to spread the message of the Qur`an or support others’ efforts in this direction. In 6:69, just after instructing that we should protest when the verses of the Qur`an are blasphemed and ridiculed, God says:
On those who are mindful (of God) there is no responsibility at all for them (those who insult the verses of the Qur`an). But (it is their duty to convey to them the) message that they (too) may be mindful (of God). (6:69)[ii]
As noted earlier, one reason some Christians/Jews insult Islam’s holy book and its Prophet is that they want to prevent people from hearing and positively responding to it. Through increasing our da‘wah activity and spreading the message of the Qur`an, we can partly defeat this purpose.
We should not let the insults get to us
The last part of the verse, 5:68, tells the Prophet and through him all of us not to sorrow over what the disbelievers say and do. We should not sorrow because:
1) It is only to be expected that many Christians/Jews are bound to hate the Qur`an and insult this book or the Prophet. We should accept this reality and find ways to deal with it rather than to feel hurt by it.
2) God has promised that ultimately the insulters of the Prophet and the divine message he brought will be cut off:
Surely, he who hates or insults you (O Prophet) will be the one cut off. (108:3)
One day those who desecrated the Qur`an in the torture chambers of Guantanamo Bay and the Megiddo Prison and others like them would be forgotten or remembered only as we today remember Abu Jahl, Abu Lahab and other Makkan Arabs who died insulting and fighting the Prophet, often torturing helpless Muslims. Similarly the current American president himself along with the Islam-hating advisers, secretaries, and generals he has gathered around himself will be gone except in the books of history. But the Holy Qur`an that they desecrate will still be heard recited in the whole world in the masajid and from the cars and on the radios and TV sets.
[i] Another way of completing the phrase is: “And if there had been a Qur`an with which mountains are moved or the earth is cloven asunder, or the dead are made to speak, what then? Would they have then believed?” This is also consistent with what is stated elsewhere in the Qur`an, e.g., in the verse:
And even if We had sent down unto them angels, and the dead had spoken unto them, and We had gathered together all things before their very eyes, they would not have believed unless God willed, but most of them live in ignorance. (6:111)
It is likely that both interpretations are intended.
[ii] One can understand the verse in two other ways:
1) “If those who are mindful of God do sit with them, they are not responsible for their ridicule of the verses of the Qur`an, but leaving them has been recommended as a form of a reminder for the disbelievers to be more mindful.” Those who adopt this interpretation consider the verse abrogated by 4:140 where no choice about leaving the gathering is allowed, since anyone who keeps sitting in the gathering is said to become “like” the disbelievers.
2) “The command to leave a gathering that insists on ridiculing the Qur`an is not given because the believers are responsible for what the disbelievers say, but as a way of conveying the massage to them in the hope that they pay attention to the Qur`an and thus learn taqwa.” In this interpretation standing to leave the gathering itself is the message. This interpretation recommends itself because “leaving” a gathering and conveying the “message” cannot go together, unless “leaving” itself is the message or we assume that the message is to be conveyed at some other occasion.
Based on a Friday Khutbah delivered on
Dr. Ahmad Shafaat