News

How Religions Handle Disposal of Religious Texts

Afghans jointly read Islam's holy book
Afghans jointly read Islam's holy book "Quran" during a celebration to mark the anniversary birthday of Islam's Prophet Mohammad at a mosque in Kabul, Afghanistan, February 4, 2012.

Guidelines on how religious books should be handled once they are worn out vary by religion and sect

A perfect Quran should not be destroyed. Jews may bury Torah scrolls in graves or a special storage room. Roman Catholics can bury Bibles, while Evangelical Protestants do not have specific guidelines.

The three major Abrahamic faiths have different rules for when and how their religious texts can be discarded. Here are some of the traditions:

  • Islam: A Quran may be discarded if there is an error in the text or if the volume has worn out. In that case, religious scholars say there are two preferred ways of doing it - wrapping it in cloth and burying it, or washing away the text with water.
  • Roman Catholicism: Catholics can bury a Bible when it needs to be disposed of, though there have been instances in the Middle Ages of incineration done in the form of a burnt offering.
  • Protestantism: Protestants do not have special prescriptions about disposing of religious texts, since they view the inspired message and not the physical text as divine.
  • Judaism: In Judaism, any text that contains God's name should be buried when it is no longer usable, or placed in a dedicated room known as a "Geniza." Jewish cemeteries often have special graves for sacred texts. Some American rabbis recently ruled that recycling is also appropriate.

Scriptural religions - those based on texts believed to be the word of God - have different rules for when and how those texts can be discarded. But what they have in common is a reverence shown for such texts, with practices such as kissing it or never placing another book on top of it.

In Afghanistan, deadly violence broke out after U.S. military servicemen disposed of several copies of the Quran by burning them.

Rizwan Jaka of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society near Washington says he accepts U.S. explanations that the burning was inadvertent. He notes that the Quran itself teaches Muslims to "repel bad with good."

Sarah Thomson, spokeswoman for the Islamic Society of North America (http://www.isna.net/home.aspx), says the proper way of responding to the desecration of Qurans is by donating new ones or teaching about respect for the book.

She says the only reason a Quran may be destroyed is if there is an error like a misspelling, a missing page or an inaccurate translation if it's in a language other than Arabic.

"You wouldn't destroy them because they are old," she says.

In those cases, Thomson says the consensus among Muslim religious scholars is that the proper methods for disposal are wrapping it in clean cloth and burying it, or immersion in water.

However, some scholars say if those methods are not possible, a Quran may be burned if done in a respectful way, preferably at a mosque.

Many Jewish cemeteries have special graves for Torah scrolls and other documents because anything that contains God's name should be buried when it is no longer usable. It can also be placed in a dedicated room known as a geniza. In 1896, a geniza was found in Cairo, Egypt, with hundreds of thousands of Jewish texts dating back to before the ninth century including marriage contracts and legal and financial documents.

Rabbi Paul Drazen of the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism says that several years ago the movement's rabbis ruled that recycling is also an appropriate means of disposal.

Drazen says the burning of Torahs has an emotional component in Judaism. "Throughout generations Jewish texts were burned as part of the torture of individuals and it also preceded the Holocaust," he says.

Muslims and Jews have ways of showing respect for holy texts. Muslims will wash themselves before reading from a Quran, while Jews read with a silver pointer so as not to touch the parchment of a Torah scroll.

Hindu texts can be disposed of in water, by burning them or burial. However, Arumuga Swami, managing editor of Hinduism Today, says that often "the issue doesn't come up" because a whole category of Hindu scriptures, the Vedas, is memorized.

Christian guidelines vary according to denomination. For Roman Catholics, "the bottom line is that Bibles should be buried out of reverence for the sacred text," says Monsignor Kevin Irwin, who teaches liturgical studies at the Catholic University of America.

Evangelical Protestants, on the other hand, don't have specific guidelines, largely because it is the inspired message rather than the physical artifact that is considered divine, according to Greg Wills of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

"Paper and ink is perishable but the word of God lives forever," Wills says.


Jerome Socolovsky

Jerome Socolovsky is the award-winning religion correspondent for the Voice of America, based in Washington. He reports on the rapidly changing faith landscape of the United States, including interfaith issues, secularization and non-affiliation trends and the growth of immigrant congregations.
This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs