Posted at 10:17 AM ET, 02/21/2012

Koran burning in Afghanistan — how should holy books be disposed of?

Thousands of angry Afghans rallied Tuesday after learning that U.S. troops had burned copies of the Koran--a desecration that the top U.S. military officer in Afghanistan,Gen. John R. Allen, says was unintentional. Allen apologized profusely and promised a full investigation.

The Post’s Sayed Salahuddin and Kevin Sieff report on the protests, and on how Islam says the Koran should have been disposed of:

“Proper treatment of the Koran is a highly sensitive issue for Muslims across the world, including in Afghanistan ... Experts in Islam say copies of the Koran should be buried or released in flowing waters if they need to be disposed of, but religious leaders in Afghanistan said Tuesday that local practice is not to dispose of the texts at all.”

Many religious traditions accord their holy books the same respect as they give human remains. Most traditions say scripture and other sacred texts cannot be burned. Below, religious scholars give guidance on how holy books from each faith can be disposed of:

Islam

Muslim scholar Allamah Haskafi, author of the 18th-century jurisprudence text Durr-Mukhtar, wrote of the disposal of the no-longer wanted Korans:

“If one decides to get rid of religious literature, the right thing would be to bury them by wrapping them in something pure first, in a place where people would not walk very rarely. Similarly, it would be permitted to tie the books and papers with something heavy and cast them into a flowing river. You may also burn [texts other than the Koran], but in this case, only after erasing the names of Allah, his Angels and his Messengers (peace and blessings be upon them all). As far the old and unusable Qur’ans are concerned, it is not permitted to burn them unless there is no other way to dispose them.”

Judaism

Jewish sacred texts, including not only Torah scrolls but also their covers and dust jackets, “must be set aside... and are subsequently buried,” according to guidelines prepared and distributed by the Association of Chabad Rabbis of Illinois, and published on Chabad.org.

Historically, buried holy books often shared the grave with a deceased Torah scholar, according to Jeffrey Spitzer, chair of the Department of Talmud and Rabbinics at Gann Academy. “This serves both to honor the books and to prevent further degradation,” Spitzer writes. In modern times, he says, such joint burial has become more difficult because of the sheer amount of printed material.

However, any sacred books or objects, or printed material with the name of God written on it, are supposed to be ceremonially buried in a Jewish cemetery, rather than disposed of in any other way.

Protestant

Guidelines are less stringent, as Protestant theology does not place sacredness in texts. “Dispose of it as you would any other book. Recycle the paper if you can,” writes former Lutheran bishop Wayne Weissenbuehler on TheLutheran.org. “It's how the Bible is used and treated when it is working that matters most.”

HumanCond.org, an academic wiki site, found that the American Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian churches, as well as the Church of Latter Day Saints, had little or no guidelines for disposal of religious texts.

Roman Catholic

On Catholic.com, similarly open-ended guidelines are given:

There is no specifically mandated means of disposing of old Bibles. Some Catholics follow a custom of disposing of religious articles that have been blessed by either burying or burning... If not, dispose of it as you would any other book. If it’s still in fair condition, you might put it on a book donation table to benefit someone else.

The Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA says the Bible can be burned, and its ashes buried.

Hinduism

Sacred Hindu texts are disposed of in reverential ways, usually by immersion in clean water, burial or burning, according to the Hari Bhakti Vilasa, a Hindu book of rituals and conduct. If still usable, the items can be sent to the next of kin or cremated with a deceased owner.

Buddhism

There is no set or official way, although a Buddhist priest or Buddhist lay person should recite a Buddhist scripture in front of the items to be disposed of, if such a person is present. The material can then be burned and its ashes buried, according to the Society for the Promotion of Buddhism. If the material cannot be burned, then it is permitted to place the text in a bag and leave it for recycling.

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By  |  10:17 AM ET, 02/21/2012

Tags:  World, Afghanistan, Koran, religious texts

 
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