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Who Was the First Person to Burn the Quran?

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One of the distressing incidents prevalent in our contemporary world is the burning of the Quran. The motive behind such actions and the individuals responsible for initiating this deplorable act raises significant questions. Why would someone even burn the Quran? What is their motive behind it? Who was the one who first committed this evil act? To explore the answers, please read the following article.

The First Person Who Burned Copies of the Quran

Some might think that burning copies of the Quran is something that has recently happened. However, this is not the case. The very first person who burned copies of the Quran was the so-called third caliph after the Prophet (s), ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan. ‘Uthman wanted to unify all the copies of the Quran into one. Therefore, he gathered a group of those who knew the Quran by heart (i.e., huffaz) and those who had compiled the Quran. He formed something similar to a council and they agreed upon one form and compilation of the Quran. Afterward, ‘Uthman ordered that all other copies of the Quran be burned. By this act, ‘Uthman wanted to ensure that only the copies of the Quran that the council of reciters agreed upon would remain. While ‘Uthman aimed to ensure the preservation of a standardized Quran, the act of burning the sacred words of Allah cannot be justified and is highly disrespectful.

Some may argue that the burned copies were old and worn out, necessitating a method of disposal. Consequently, they might assert that burning them was the most appropriate means of respectfully discarding these copies. However, this argument is flawed on two accounts. Firstly, ‘Uthman did not restrict the burning solely to worn-out copies but included all copies that did not conform to the council’s decision. Secondly, even if there were worn-out copies that required disposal, the proper method would involve submerging them in flowing water, such as a river, or burying them rather than burning them. So it was ‘Uthman who was the first person in history who burned copies of the Quran.

The Motive Behind This Act

‘Uthman’s intention seems to have been a good one. However, why would it necessitate burning other copies of the Quran to ensure that only one version of the Quran remains? Would it not suffice that they announced that their copy of the Quran was the authentic version of the Quran and the others inauthentic? Would not the reciters, scribes, and those who had memorized the Quran tell people which copy of the Quran is authentic? The act of burning anything is despicable let alone a holy scripture such as the Quran. In fact, by ‘Uthman burning copies of the Quran, this doubt arises that perhaps there were certain things written in those copies of the Quran that ‘Uthman did not like. Perhaps those compilations of the Quran included the tafaseer (exegesis) of the verses, which would disgrace some of the sahabah. Of course, these are just assumptions.

Is the ‘Uthmani Compilation (Mushaf) the Original Quran?

We as Muslims believe that Allah has guarded the Quran against distortion and alteration as mentioned in the Quran itself:

إِنَّا نَحْنُ نَزَّلْنَا ٱلذِّكْرَ وَإِنَّا لَهُۥ لَحَٰفِظُونَ ‎﴿٩﴾‏

Indeed, it is We who sent down the Qur’an and indeed, We will be its guardian. (15:9)

Hence, the majority of Islamic scholars and theologians agree that the Quran has remained unaltered and free from distortion. Nevertheless, it is acknowledged that there may have been variations in the arrangement of verses, surahs, and juz (sections) within the Quran. Shiites, for instance, hold the belief that the most authentic version of the Quran was compiled by Imam Ali (a) after the passing of Prophet Muhammad (s). This particular compilation followed the chronological order of revelation, which differs from the arrangement of the Quran we have today. It also contained many other elements, such as clarification and interpretation of the verses, and many other things that would make understanding the Quran crystal clear.

It is worth noting that Imam Ali (a) dedicated six months to compiling this Quran, meticulously organizing it according to the order of revelation. Subsequently, he presented his compilation to the sahaba (i.e., the companions of the Prophet) and other individuals of that time. However, they rejected it, stating that they did not need his compilation of the Quran. In response, Imam Ali (a) informed them that they would never see his compilation again.

This specific compilation of the Quran has been passed down from one Imam to another until it reached Imam al-Mahdi (a). When Imam al-Mahdi (a) emerges, the details of this compilation will become known.

The Ahlul Bait’s Stance on the Unified Copy of the Quran

After a council consisting of twelve members among the reciters and memorizers of the Quran was formed, a universal compilation of the Quran was made, which came to be known as the ‘Uthmani Compilation. After it was decided that this compilation be the authentic copy of the Quran, Imam Ali (a) said, “After this, no one has the right to make any changes to the Quran and it must remain in this way.” When Imam al-Mahdi (a) reappears, he will replace this copy of the Quran with the one that Imam Ali (a) compiled. This compilation is superior to all other compilations.

Nevertheless, our Imams have told us to recite the Quran the way people do before the reappearance of Imam al-Mahdi. Therefore, the Ahlul Bait (a) have told us to recite the Quran in the form it is today until Imam al-Mahdi (a) brings Imam Ali’s compilation and it becomes the official and accepted copy of the Quran.

Why Is the Quran Burned in the Present Era?

The evil practice of burning the Quran has recently gained ground. Of course, this act is committed by non-Muslim individuals who wish to desecrate the Quran. This sacrilege does not aim to annihilate and make the Quran extinct like it was done before in history. Rather, they aim to show their hatred of Islam and the Quran symbolically. Nevertheless, burning the Quran is an extremely disrespectful act that provokes strong and negative emotions in Muslims. On the contrary, Muslims never burn the holy scriptures of other religions, even though they believe most of them, such as the Torah and the Gospel, have been distorted. In general, desecrating people’s religious beliefs should be banned because it is a vicious crime against humanity. It is not freedom of speech to insult other religions, just as it is not freedom of action to kill innocent lives.

Promoting tolerance, understanding, and mutual respect among different faiths and beliefs is essential for fostering peaceful coexistence in our diverse world.

Conclusion

‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan was the first person to burn copies of the Quran. His justification was that those copies of the Quran were “inauthentic” and needed to be somehow disposed of so that only one authentic compilation of the Quran would remain that people would have to accept. However, it must be noted that what ‘Uthman did was a highly disrespectful act that cannot be justified one way or another. This act was highly suspicious and raised doubts that have not been dispelled to this day. When a Muslim ruler orders copies of the Quran to be burned, what can one expect from non-Muslims? In the end, we should always be protective of our holy book and never allow anyone to desecrate it, Muslim or non-Muslim.

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