A lone prayer, lilting and melodic, dances on the arid wind. The sound wraps Chiltan Mountain near Quetta, Pakistan. The baritone praise and wishes bounces through the 30 caves. It caresses those that forever rest, shrouded, silent and forgotten. The holy mountain tomb offers forgiveness from sins for those who care for it.
The tomb contains no skeletons of bone. These skeletons are of ink, paper, and parchment.
The written word is sacred to the people of the book: Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Like the Torah, the Koran is too sacred to throw away. Allah’s book is a part of his personality. But what to do when a Torah or Koran is overused? What do you do when the binding no longer holds?
You have a funeral.
The Koran is considered too sacred for anything but a formal burial.
Chiltan Mountain became a tomb of these well loved books. After some 30 years of digging through the mountain’s caves, about 50,000 Koran’s have been found. The books molder in their white shrouds, still out lasting the people that laid them to rest. Some of the pages discovered date to the first 200 years of Islam. Many of these pages contained text that is accepted as the standard version of the Koran today. The mountain is a gold mine for archeology and scholars interested in how the Korans text became standardized.
Other book tombs have been found. Although none have matched the number of books buried int the Chiltan Mountain. In 1972, laborers working on the Great Mosque of Sana’a in Yemen found a room long forgotten. In the room, were piles of damaged books and pages of Arabic text. The room contained nearly one thousand different books of the Koran. Some of these texts also dated to the dawn of Islam.
In 1890, a Jewish book tomb was also found. Unlike the Chiltan Mountain and the Great Mosque, this tomb contained children’s books, poems, biblical texts, letters, bills, lists, calendars, medical texts, and Arabic texts.
Both Jews and Muslims believe in the importance of the written word. Muslims focus on the Koran. Jews venerate the written word in general. As the rabbi Solomon Schechter states:
When the spirit is gone, we put the corpse out of sight to protect it from abuse. In like manner, when the writing is worn out, we hide the book to preserve it from profanation. The contents of the book go up to heaven like the soul.
Chiltan Mountain, unlike our Western cemeteries, sees frequent visitors. People visit the mountain to pray among the thousands of Korans that are laid to rest. At the base of the mountain, a more traditional cemetery stands. People wanted to be buried as close to their beloved book as they could be. Mountains have a long history in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic belief. It brought the person closer to God and lifted them away from the concerns of society below. What more fitting place to lay a Holy Book to its final rest? What better place than to be suspended between earth and heaven, just as the message contained in its pages is suspended between earth and heaven.
Battles, M (2003). Library: An Unquiet History. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Lester, T. (1999). What is the Koran? (Cover story). Atlantic, 283(1), 43.
Tasgola Karla, B. (n.d). Mountain full of Qur’ans becomes holy site. Toronto Star (Canada).