Censorship or Hate Crime?

Censorship, Hate Crimes, Religion
Two Qur'ans found in the toilet
Photo credit: University of Texas at Dallas, The Mercury

Two weeks ago, students at the University of Texas at Dallas campus found two Qur’ans in the toilet.

The Qur’an is the central religious text of Islam, which Muslims believe to be a revelation from Allah. Muslims revere the Qur’an above all other books. Many people have heard that the Qur’an is supposed to be kept on the highest shelf in the house to represent its place above other books. But there are many other rules for handling the Qur’an that derive from Islamic ideas of purity.

Most Muslims believe that only those who are physically clean through formal ablutions should touch the pages of the Qur’an. A non-Muslim should not handle the sacred text. In addition, when one is not reading or reciting from the Qur’an, it should be closed and stored in a clean, respectable place. Nothing should be placed on top of it, nor should it ever be placed on the floor or in a bathroom.

For the past five months, ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) has been recording hate crimes that take place on library property. When we define a hate crime in this context, we look at the “defacement of library property to target a specific group; use of swastikas or other symbols of intimidation, harassment or assault on library property.”

The deliberate destruction of the Qur’an targets the central faith and identity of Muslims. While it’s unclear if the specific books were property of the university or the library, it’s clear that this act is a hateful slap at the Muslim population of UTD.

In capturing the incident for our censorship database, we would tag this as a hate crime. What if the “defacement of library property” is the destruction of a book, like destroying the Qur’an? Is this censorship in addition to a hate crime?

The definition of censorship is a change in the access status of material, based on the content of the work and made by a governing authority or its representatives. Such changes include exclusion, restriction, removal, or age/grade level changes.

Book burning, tearing pages, destroying books in disrespectful and obscene ways are all methods of censorship. If the books are representative of a specific group of people like the Qur’an is of Muslims, is the censorship also a hate crime?

In all of this discussion, awareness is key. We can’t talk about it if we don’t know about it. Please report articles like this to our office. The Challenge Report form is ideal, but here are other ways to alert us of censorship cases:

  • Send us an email at oif@ala.org
  • Give us a call: 312-280-4226
  • Send a note through the mail: 50 E. Huron St, Chicago, IL 60611
  • Tag us on Twitter @OIF
  • Message us on Facebook

Whether it’s an article you saw online or in your paper, or a conversation on social media, let us know. Maybe you just want to check that we heard about it or you aren’t sure whether it’s something we would want to know about, ask.

Whether action or speech is targeting a religion, sexuality or race, discrimination and prejudice can be hurtful to your community. ALA’s Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services (ODLOS) is working in close coordination with OIF to respond to incidents that have been reported.


We encourage you to reach out to ODLOS at diversity@ala.org, or directly contact ODLOS Director Jody Gray, jgray@ala.org.

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