THE BLOG
05/16/2005 03:56 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Riots in Jalalabad

Last week, I was interviewed by CNN International about the Quran desecration report - and in particular about the riots in Jalalabad. I said that if the allegations were proven true, then we're dealing with a gratuitous provocation of Muslims. I stand by that answer. But TV doesn't give you the space that a blog does, so now's the time to say something else: Why riot violently over the mistreatment of a Quran? It's not as if one's basic human rights have been transgressed.

Ah, my copious critics will declare, but it is like abusing a basic human right. If you're a good Muslim (which clearly I am not), your very identity and dignity are bound up in revering the Quran. After all, it is the literal word of God -- unsullied, untouched, unedited, unlike the other holy books.

Sorry. That argument just doesn't wash. One can appreciate the Quran's inherent worth, as a I do, while recognizing that it has ambiguities, inconsistencies, outright contradictions and -- gasp! -- the possibility of human editing. This is not simply Irshad Manji making such a claim. This is Islamic tradition talking.

For centuries, Islamic philosophers have been telling the story of the "Satanic Verses." These are verses that the Prophet Muhammad reportedly accepted as authentic entries into the Quran. Later, he realized that these passages deify heathen idols rather than God Himself. So he belatedly rejected the verses, blaming them on a trick played by Satan. Which means that the Prophet Muhammad edited the Quran.

Let's push the point further. If pious Muslims emulate Prophet Muhammad's life, then those who compiled and organized the Quran's verses after the Prophet's death might very well have followed his example of editing along the way. The compilers were, after all, only human -- as human as Muhammad himself was. Moreover, they collected the Quran's verses from sundry surfaces such as leaves, stones and tree bark. Is it not possible that errors could have infiltrated the process of pulling together the "official" Quran?

In asking this question, I'm not impugning the wisdom of the Quran or inviting another fatwa on my life. I'm suggesting that Muslims have to get comfortable asking such questions if we're going to avoid the further desecration of human life. Jalalabad's riots have resulted in several attacks on innocent people, including aid workers. How does this benefit the cause of dignity -- for anyone?