A Malaysian Muslim perspective on the Quran burning issue

I HAVE thought a great deal whether I should be writing this issue. Frankly speaking, I do not want to.

But then there are people mostly in the “free” Western world who would exercise their “free speech” and notions of their integrity of freedom; they will still burn the Quran just to be popular or to make a political statement. Because we have YouTube, I would not be surprised if it becomes a fashion.

Here I wish to explain four perspectives of Quran burning that I know and understand. The intention of this article is to hopefully educate Muslims not to get too excited or angry and react in a violent manner if someone burns the Quran.

It is also my hope that the “free” Western world would perhaps amend their idea of total freedom to just simply have a law that says it is wrong to burn books that are considered as “religious” books that would provoke violent reactions in other countries where the target would be the same people who had burned these religious books.

Is that so difficult? Will that curtail “freedom of expression”? For the price of peace on earth, good relations between people of different faiths and cultures, is that too much to ask?

Truth be told

(Photo credit: Reuters)


Firstly, burning the Quran is a “normal” practice in the Malay tradition. Surprise? Not at all. On this note, I must explain that there are three types of Quran, one which has an all-Arabic text, another which has both an Arabic and a Romanised text, and a third that only has a Romanised text.

The Romanised texts are of course translations in Malay, English or other languages that use that Roman alphabet. The Malays seem to place great “sacred” level to the all-Arabic Quran without the Romanised translations.

One must always be in the state of wudhu or purity like in solat or prayer in order to touch or recite the all-Arabic text Quran whereas there does not seem to be any strict requirement in handling the other two types of Quran.

Prof Dr Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi

The all-Arabic Qur’an must always be at the very top of the book shelves and always wrapped in precious linen. Its reading or recitation must have a reha or a decorated timber holder to place the Quran in.

Thus, this type of Qur’an is highly revered, and my mother told me if the Quran deteriorates with age, it must not be thrown into a pile of garbage but must be BURNED totally to ashes so that no pages containing the sacred Arabic letters can be disrespected by people who happened to step on it or being mixed with other garbage.

So, burning the Quran, in a way, is to lay it to rest in a respectful manner.

Muslims should not get too excited or angry and react in a violent manner if someone burns the Qur’an.

Interestingly, the treatment of the translated Quran that has both the Arabic and Romanised translation is unclear. Most Malays would still hold it with respect like the all-Arabic Quran, but holding it without wudhu seems permissible, especially the ones with a plastic jacket covering it.

However, the destruction of this Quran when it deteriorates is still by burning and not simply discarded. Of the third type of Quran, most Malays would not have it as owning it without the Arabic text does not make it a sacred book.

Practise self-constraint

Whether the person is burning any of the three types of Quran, I would not be disturbed. Why? Well firstly, that person is burning a Quran that he or she has bought, so it is his or hers and not mine.

Secondly, I know he or she is trying to provoke a response from me by making me angry. So, why should I play into his or her play book?

Thirdly, if he or she disrespects a book deemed sacred by a billion people, then something is seriously wrong with his or her own sense of human values.

Hence, if that person who is burning the Quran intends to get famous by getting millions of YouTube hits and “likes” or “dislikes,” he or she will get no reaction or response from me. I am not interested in making that person famous nor am I interested in making his or her political statement any more important.

I would “kill” his or her mission by being non-reactive. Does that mean that I do not love Islam, my religion? Does that mean I have no courage to defend Islam? No, it simply means I have a higher order of understanding of the reaction that the person burning the Quran wants of me which he or she will never get!

Fourthly, I wish to ask the Western world who allows their citizens to burn the Quran to consider putting a small limitation to their precious “freedom of expression.” Will making it a crime to burn religious books dent the idea of liberty, progress or freedom of thought as well as expression?

You can still allow people to be naked in public to proclaim a political protest in front of video cameras. Do go ahead with that. You can still call Muslims or other faiths by rude and terrible names again on cameras. Its fine with that. You can burn effigies of Muslim leaders and scholars and that is still OK. Your freedom of expression is assured.

Yes, we know you are angry. Yes, we know you think Muslims are a bunch of terrorists and primitive worshipers of an old religion. That is OK. Think what you might, and say what you want. But just don’t burn the Quran or any other religious book in the name of humanity and dignity to all. Is that so difficult?

Finally, to Muslims, don’t get too excited or angry and just register our concern politely to the relevant authorities. Yes, we know you love Islam. Shouting bad words against the embassies is not the way to do it.

Demonstrating and causing social disharmony is also not the way. By doing so, you are actually helping these kinds of people to burn more Qurans.

For the Westerners, please change your idea of “freedom” a bit to understand the meaning of adab or politeness living among different communities. How can you call yourself a great civilisation when you don’t accord respect and dignity to others who place some idea of sanctity to such places as mosques or kitabs (religious scriptures)?


Dr Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi is a professor of architecture at a local university. His opinion piece first appeared in MYsinchew on Feb 1, 2023.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.


Main photo credit: MStar

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