Using the Quran to Control Afghan Anger

By Dr. Tawfik Hamid

Troops on the U.S.’s largest base in Afghanistan have unintentionally burned Qurans and other religious materials, triggering angry protests and fears of even larger demonstrations as news of the burning spreads.

The books were mistakenly thrown out with the trash at Bagram Air Field north of Kabul and were on a burn pile Monday night before Afghan laborers intervened around 11:00 p.m., according to NATO and Afghan officials.

By the morning, hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside of Bagram Bagram Air Field and on the suburbs of Kabul. Some shot into the air, some threw rocks at the Bagram gate, and many others yelled, “Die, die foreigners.”

Gen. John Allen, the commander of all foreign forces in Afghanistan, released a statement, then a video statement, then gave an interview to NATO television. In his and in all NATO officials’ communication today, each emphasized that the burning was unintentional.

Those materials were inadvertently given to troops for disposition and that disposition was to burn the materials. It was not a decision that was made because they were religious materials,” Allen told NATO TV. “It was not a decision that was made with respect to the faith of Islam. It was a mistake, it was an error. The moment we found out about it we immediately stopped and we intervened.”

Gen. John Allen launched an investigation and promised to take steps to make sure that the same incident would not be repeated.

The Quranic text can actually be used in such situations to control the Afghan anger and prevent its spread. In fact, the religiosity of people in these parts of the world makes the use of religious text more effective in controlling people’s anger than using formal apologetic approaches.

For example the Quran stated clearly that the Lord forgive unintentional mistakes and only consider an action as a sin if it was intentional. Quran Al-Ahzab 33:5:

“But there is no blame on you if ye make a mistake therein: (what counts is) the intention of your hearts: and Allah is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful.”

The point to be used with Afghans in this situation is that how could they know that the intensions of those who burnt the Quran was to insult it. They must bring evidence that the intention of the NATO personnel was to insult the Quran – as the Quran itself describes those who accuse others without having evidence as “dishonest” people. Quran Al-Naml 27:64:

Or, Say, “Bring forth your evidence (proof), if ye are telling the truth!”

The third Islamic Caliph Uthman Ibn Affan (who is considered to be one of the greatest Is disciples of prophet Mohamed) burnt the Quran and his actions were not considered as a sin – by either him or by the disciples of the prophet – since the act of burning was not associated with intention to insult it. Similarly, the Afghans must not react with anger against the burning of the Quran as they do not have a proof that it was associated with an intention to insult it.

In addition, even if the action of the two personnel who burnt the Quran was intentional, it is forbidden in the Quran to react against others. For example, the Quran forbids any angry reaction against the NATO soldiers who actually did not commit the burning and are likely to be against it. The Quran stated clearly in four different positions that not one should be punished for the mistake of another person Quran: Al-Isra 17:15; Al-An’am 6:164; Fatir 35:18; Az-Zumar 39:7:

“Nor can a bearer of burdens bear another’s burdens.”

Finally, there is no single verse in the Quran that considers its burning as ‘Haram’ or forbidden. (Afghan Muslim need to be challenged to bring this verse from the Quran!). On the contrary, there is a clear verse (Quran: Al-Imran 3:134) that asks Muslims to control and restrain their anger:

Those (the true believers) who spend (freely), whether in prosperity, or in adversity; who restrain anger, and pardon (all) humans;- for the Lord loves those who do good.

To conclude, because of the nature of the Afghan culture and the importance of religion in their life, the use of Islamic jargon and Quran text can aid in controlling the anger of the population in response to the burning of the Quran.

Note: some reports mentioned that these books (Quran, plus others) were being used to convey violent messages and communicate between Taliban prisoners.