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Don’t burn the Quran

Acts of provocation are not the way to critique Islam or win Muslims to Christ

Protesters rally in Sanaa, Yemen, on July 4 to denounce the burning of the Quran in Sweden. Associated Press/Photo by Osamah Abdulrahman

Don’t burn the Quran
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The Quran is Islam’s authoritative scripture. It’s the most sacred book on earth for billions of Muslims worldwide. They believe Allah verbally dictated it to Muhammad through the Angel Gabriel. The text isn’t easy to read, and some passages hardly make sense. Problematically, it has many verses against Judaism and Christianity, as well as erroneous claims about Jesus and Christians.

Can burning the Quran in public stop its message from spreading? Is it good to provoke Muslims by publicly burning their holiest book, or is it better to expose what it teaches so that people can make up their minds about its claims?

These questions are crucial for Christians to consider, especially as Sweden recently experienced a significant incident of Quran burning. As the Associated Press reports, while Muslims were celebrating a major festival, an Iraqi Christian immigrant decided to practice his freedom of speech by burning the Quran in front of a Stockholm mosque.

Of course, many Muslims across the globe condemned the action, and some Islamic countries pressured Sweden politically. In Pakistan, Muslims went by the thousands in major protests to denounce Sweden for allowing the burning of the Quran. In Turkey, the Islamist government used the chance to declare its Islamic propaganda and claimed that Quran burning in Sweden “raises questions about its reliability as a possible NATO member.” Iran avowed it would not send an ambassador to Stockholm because of the incident.

What should Christians think about burning the Quran? Isn’t it a protected action under freedom of speech?

As a Middle Eastern Christian, this Iraqi man had likely immigrated to Sweden seeking a better life and more freedom. Life for Christians in the Middle East can be significantly stressful, with varying levels of discrimination and persecution under Islamic dictatorships. Religious freedom under Islamic regimes is only for Muslims to practice their faith and live as religious elites. Christians always get the message that they are merely second-class citizens. Religious freedom for non-Muslims is nonexistent.

More importantly, for most Middle Eastern Christians, the source of persecution and discrimination is simply the teachings of the Quran as applied in Muhammad’s life and sayings. This one book, for Christians, is what drives all sorts of mistreatments against their community. When this Iraqi Christian immigrated to Sweden, he may have been ecstatic to express what he had been feeling for decades about the Quran.

In one sense the Quran for Muslims is like Jesus for Christians.

But Muslims worldwide have strong feelings about it, too. Not only do they claim it as sacred, superior, and inerrant, but they also see it as revered, venerated, and matchless. They would never even question its statements or think about them critically—nothing can be critically assessed in the Quran. Most Muslims read the Quran, not to come closer to the deity, but to simply receive his favor and avoid wrath. They don’t read it to know the deity but to fulfill a religious duty. The Quran, for most Muslims, is simply a metaphysical power. This is why many Muslims literally kiss the Quran—the book itself—and touch it to their foreheads as a sign of blessing.

To understand what the Quran really means for Muslims, Christians should not equate it with what they think about the Bible. Instead, in one sense the Quran for Muslims is like Jesus for Christians.

When Jesus is insulted, Christians never feel it’s right. Indeed, they won’t burn cities and shops, but the action itself is inflammatory. Christians revere and honor Christ, but they trust Him and His divine power, and they don’t need to defend Him with violence. Similarly, Christians love and cherish the Bible. We would find it insulting if anyone were to burn a Bible, but we view the Bible differently than Muslims view the Quran. Christians believe that God will honor and ultimately vindicate His Word.

The Iraqi Christian definitely has the right to express his feelings about the Quran and can exercise his freedom of speech in Sweden, but there are good reasons to doubt that what he did was right.

Burning the Quran won’t expose its erroneous claims, but will only provoke Muslims and portray Christians as disrespectful and unkind—simply contrary to how a Christ-like person should behave.

Christians should understand what the Quran says and critique it. They should expose its claims and show its shortcomings in every possible way, to help Muslims and non-Muslims alike comprehend how this is a man-made book and not a revealed scripture.

Christians can do all this and excel in it. Burning the Quran in public is not the best way forward, in Sweden or anywhere else.

A.S. Ibrahim

A.S. Ibrahim, born and raised in Egypt, holds two PhDs with an emphasis on Islam and its history. He is a professor of Islamic studies and director of the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has taught at several schools in the United States and the Middle East, and authored A Concise Guide to the Life of Muhammad (Baker Academic, 2022), Conversion to Islam (Oxford University Press, 2021), Basics of Arabic (Zondervan 2021), A Concise Guide to the Quran (Baker Academic, 2020), and The Stated Motivations for the Early Islamic Expansion (Peter Lang, 2018), among others.

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