The Fate Of Saddam Hussein's Quran

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NPR's Audie Cornish speaks with the Guardian's Iraq correspondent, Martin Chulov, about the fate of the Quran written in Saddam's blood, as the new Iraqi government comes to terms with the relics of the former leader.

AUDIE CORNISH, host:

The Quran is at the center of another very different debate in Iraq. From crumbling palaces to copper busts, Iraqi leaders are wrangling over what to do with relics of Saddam Hussein's reign. And one piece in particular has them mystified. It's a 605 page copy of the Quran written in Hussein's blood. The former dictator sat with a nurse and calligrapher over the course of two years to get through the 114 chapters of the Muslim holy book. And today, the gruesome artifact sits locked in a Baghdad vault.

Martin Chulov joins us now. He's the Iraq correspondent for The Guardian newspaper and he's one of the few outsiders to make it into the vault. Martin, welcome to the program.

Mr. MARTIN CHULOV (Correspondent, The Guardian): Hi there, Audie, it's nice to be with you.

CORNISH: So tell me how Saddam had this done and why he had it done?

Mr. CHULOV: He had it done to what he says is a gesture of gratitude. He started work on this after his son, Uday, had narrowly survived an assassination attempt in downtown Baghdad. At that time, Saddam re-embraced with his religion. He's a - he was a Sunni Muslim and he was very secular Sunni Muslim that it - at that point in his life he decided to re-embrace Islam. And he sat there for two years, twice a week, and gave 27 liters of his blood.

CORNISH: Martin, how did this survive the U.S. invasion in 2003?

Mr. CHULOV: It was hidden at the time. And when it was finished, it was presented to Saddam in September 2000. And it was put inside a mosque in West Baghdad which he had named Mother of All Battles mosque. And that was in reference to the eight, nine year war with Iran.

When the U.S. invaded, the caretakers of the mosque knew that it would become a very valuable artifact. And he - they hid many pages of it (unintelligible) and in relative times. And eventually, it was installed in a glass casing at the back of three or four vaulted doors inside that very mosque where they (unintelligible) mosque it is.

CORNISH: So this is not something the public can go and see?

Mr. CHULOV: There was a time in 2000, 2002 and even early 2003 where it was being showcased for public viewing. It - these three vaulted doors have not been opened for the last three years, so nobody ahs seen it in that time. It's, you know, we're in a point in Iraq's post-invasion history where the government wishes this would just go away and the caretaker for the mosque just don't know what to do with it. So for now, it's out of mind and out of sight.

CORNISH: So what's the next step for this particular artifact, the blood Quran?

Mr. CHULOV: Well, you know, nobody really wants to deal with this thing right now. For now, it's in the Mother of All Battles mosque, in the vaults, out the back. There are three different keys to three different doors and they're scattered allover town. There needs to be a committee, getting together, to bring all those keys together to allow anybody to enter it.

On one hand, people don't want to destroy what is (unintelligible) a holy book. On the other hand, it's considered haram in Arabic, by many interpretations, because it was written in blood and...

CORNISH: And by that, you mean, I guess, an abomination.

Mr. CHULOV: Exactly. I mean, haram is the word you hear all around the Arab world all the time, and it means forbidden. And it is being seen as an abomination by many, if not most, but by the same token being seen to destroy a Quran might be even more forbidden. So people just don't know what to do with it for now.

CORNISH: That's Martin Chulov, Iraq correspondent for The Guardian newspaper. Martin, thanks so much.

Mr. CHULOV: You're welcome.

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