Burning the Qur’an, Who Burnt it First?

Recently in Florida, USA a pastor Terry Jones attempted to hold an ‘international burn the Koran day’, this sparked worldwide outcry from Muslims and other religious groups. As I have been thinking about what happened I can’t pretend to know his motives. I do however think that if it was for the sake of the gospel or the cause of Christ that this individual was burning Qur’ans, then he is going about it the wrong way. The weapons of our warfare are not carnal. It’s not the Qur’ans in people’s hands that are a problem it’s the Qur’ans in people’s hearts that should sadden Christians, and it is there that we should strike with the two-edged sword of Scripture. The Qur’an should be burnt historically and theologically, this is how to make the way straight for the Lord, if perchance He might grant repentance to some.

I think much of the erroneous arguments of Islam may have been avoided, and the Qur’an seen for what it really is more easily by modern Muslims if Qur’an burning always met with such resistance in history. What do I mean? Well there was a time when Muslims burnt Qur’ans as well. Allow me to explain…

Islam holds that the Qur’an was revealed from God to Muhammad orally through the angel Jibrīl (Gabriel) over a period of approximately twenty-three years, beginning in 610 AD, when he was forty, and concluding in 632 AD, the year of his death.

The arrangement of the text followed no chronological sequence, the longest chapters are put first; the shortest last. Scholars still argue as to which Sura (Chapter) was given when, but there does seem to have been a development that followed events in the Prophet’s life. Muhammad recited the Qur’an to his followers as he received it and these revelations were committed to memory and recorded on “pieces of parchment or papyrus, flat stones, palm leaves, shoulder blades, ribs of animals, pieces of leather and wooden boards.” In short, any material that was to hand. The Qur’an did as such not exist as one book at the time of Mohammed’s death in 632AD.[i]

The Qur’an was then passed down via oral tradition, eventually being recorded by Abu Bakr into one volume, containing as much of what was believed to be the words originally spoken by Mohammed.

Skipping a little of the history (which would strengthen the point of my article), with a number of motivations (one no doubt being the unifying of the Islamic world), the third Caliph Uthman wanted to standardise the text. In order to strengthen his control on his Empire it was necessary to produce one text, without being seen to favour any one of the four versions in use by his subjects more that the others. Zayd’s text (which is that part I have skipped for the sake of brevity), conveniently located nearby and supposedly untouched for years provided the perfect solution. So in one simple move he was able not only to strengthen his own position, but also to cut the ground from under the feet of the other reciters (of the Qur’an) in areas where his rule had become unpopular.

Uthman ordered a committee of four to oversee a revision of Zayd’s text, and it was at this point that Zayd found a verse that he had omitted earlier (Zayed also disoverd two verses which were unknown earlier in the history of this book). Once the work was completed copies were made and sent out to the major cities of the Empire (probably to Kufa, Basra, and Damascus and possibly Mecca), accompanied by a reader. One copy remained in Medina. All variant copies were destroyed (by burning) and despite some opposition during the rest of Uthman’s reign it was accepted as the standard text[ii].

Hence we have the miracle of no variant texts of the Qur’an, and with that also no way to tell if anyone changed it. Unlike the Bible’s historical transmission the Qur’an was at one time in the hands of one man who burnt any and all other parts of copies of the Qur’an and declared his revised text as the actual real one. Did he change it? We will never know, since there are no manuscript traditions to verify or nullify the text as we have it.

If that burning of the Qur’an by Uthman had never happened, today Islam would not be as self-secure as it thinks itself to be with regards to its textual transmission. Long and short of it, I am against people burning Qur’ans, unless as converts to Christianity they wish to get rid of what they see as vestments of a false religion, like those magicians in Acts who came to see the truth that God is Holy, man is sinful by nature, Christ came and made a way for man to be reconciled to God by His body on the cross, and all who lay hold of Him by faith are at peace with God, and are thus caused to live in true submission to the living God

[i] William Montgomery Watt in The Cambridge History of Islam, p.32

Richard Bell, William Montgomery Watt, Introduction to the Qur’an, p.51

[ii] “CRCC: Center For Muslim-Jewish Engagement: Resources: Religious Texts”. Usc.edu. http://www.usc.edu/schools/college/crcc/engagement/resources/texts/muslim/hadith/bukhari/061.sbt.html#006.061.510. Retrieved 2010-03-16

  2 comments for “Burning the Qur’an, Who Burnt it First?

  1. September 19, 2010 at 9:42 pm

    Good observation Tyrell, linking the two burnings – Ever read Destiny Disrupted by Tamim Ansary? I read about Uthman’s standardising of the Qu’ran but it never came to mind when I heard the 9/11 news.
    Its good to consider because I have found the integrity of the Bible vs the Qu’ran to be the number 1 target for attacking Christianity by Muslims.

  2. tyrellh
    March 8, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    Hey Anton. Just noticed the comment now, sorry about that. I never read that book, is it any good?

    It is the number one issue hence I thought I would go with it

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