”Within the Islamic text, there is so much respect for people of other faiths,” said Altaf Ali, the Florida director of The Council for American-Islamic Relations, which is giving out free copies of the Koran, along with guidelines on its significance. “We hope people of other faiths will utilize this opportunity to get the book and when they read it, they will see the similarities between the three faiths.”
The campaign comes after Newsweek on Monday retracted an item saying military investigators had confirmed that a U.S. interrogator at Guanta’namo Bay, Cuba, had flushed a copy of the Koran down the toilet. Violent protests resulted in Afghanistan and other Muslim countries. There were at least 16 deaths. It is unclear how many can be blamed on the Newsweek report.
The protests touched off a nationwide discussion about the treatment of holy Scriptures. Beyond CAIR’s campaign, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., drafted a House resolution this week urging that “holy books of every religion should be treated with dignity and respect.”
Muslims regard the Koran as the direct word of God, delivered in Arabic to the Prophet Mohammed, Islam’s founder, through the Angel Gabriel. Muslims believe Mohammed dictated the Koran’s 114 suras, or chapters, to his followers in the seventh century.
Strict Muslims ritually cleanse themselves before even touching the holy book — an observance that stems from a Koranic verse: “This is indeed a Koran most honorable. It is a book well guided which none shall touch except those who are clean.”
Nothing should be placed on top of the Koran, and it shouldn’t touch the ground. If it is damaged beyond use, it is disposed of in a respectful way, through burial or burning, said Maulana Shafayat Mohamed, head of the Darul Uloom Institute in Pembroke Pines.
”There is a saying in the hadith that the respect and sacredness that you attach to the Koran can be a means of elevation and prominence for you, and if you disrespect and disregard, it can be a cause of disgrace to you,” Mohamed said, referring to Mohammed’s oral teachings.
Muslims’ reverence toward the Koran mirrors attitudes in other faiths.
Traditional Jews view the Hebrew Scriptures, or Torah, as direct revelation from God to Moses. When the Torah is brought out of the holy ark, the congregation stands out of respect. On the Sabbath and holidays, it is carried through the synagogue during services so that congregants can step forward to kiss it. It’s forbidden to touch the pages of the Torah with your hands; even the cantor reads aloud with the help of a pointer, said Rabbi Jory Lang of the Rabbinical Association of Greater Miami.
”It has to be afforded an enormous amount of respect, not because of the parchment, not because of the ink, but because of the content,” Lang said. ‘I’ve been asked on a few occasions by Jews, `Aren’t we making an idol of the Torah?’ No. We are respecting the content.”
If the Torah accidentally falls and touches the ground, the congregation is required to fast for a day or study several pages of Talmud, ancient Jewish legal commentary, said Miami’s Rabbi Yitzchak Selmar, a sofer or Torah scribe. Torahs with torn pages or faded letters are no longer considered kosher and are buried in a Jewish graveyard.
Various Christian sects hold divergent views of Scripture — conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists regard it as God’s infallible word, while liberal denominations tend to believe the Bible can be interpreted, said Sam Lamerson, a professor of New Testament at Knox Theological Seminary, an evangelical seminary in Fort Lauderdale.
While there are no rules governing the treatment of Christian Scripture, believers generally handle the book with respect, he said.
”We certainly would never want to see the Scripture mistreated or abused,” Lamerson said.
Eastern religious traditions, even those with no central Scripture, often follow strict guidelines for the preservation, treatment and disposal of sacred texts. In Buddhism and Hinduism, for example, religious texts are not supposed to touch the ground and are often wrapped in silk cloth when they are not being used.
Within Hinduism, disposal of religious texts, mantras and images of gods can pose a major problem, particularly when everyday items such as calendars and bags of lentils often come with pictures of deities and sacred Sanskrit words, said Vasudha Narayanan, a professor of religion at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
”This is a problem across many traditions,” she said.
Allegations of religious abuse at Guanta’namo prison are not new. The Herald reported in March that captives allege through their lawyers that guards kicked and stomped on Korans and cursed Allah.
”Even the idea of taking the Koran into the bathroom would be very offensive to most Muslims,” said Aisha Musa, an assistant professor of religious studies at Florida International University. “The idea that someone would willingly desecrate it is very offensive to them.”