1. What is the Islamic way to get rid of religious written material? I have heard that you can burn paper or throw it into the river. Is this correct?
The standard way of getting rid of such material is to bum it. This will erase any trace of writing. We follow here what happened during the Khilafah of 'Uthman when, together with Hafsah (a mother of the faithful and the daughter of 'Umar), he made a number of standard copies of the Qur'an and had all the remaining material burnt with the acceptance of the consensus of the Companions. This is the best way of disposing of religious material.
Some people say that you can also wash away the writing from the fear paper. That was acceptable in the past when the ink was not absorbed by the paper. Whilst this may remain the case in rural areas, where children can wipe away writing from slates, etc., in our society most of the matter is printed and cannot be washed off. Even if it is thrown into the sea the material may end up in a place which is not honourable or decent.
So we follow the example of 'Uthman, even though some of the Companions had reservations about burning holy text. Ali rebuked these people saying, "If I had been ruler during that period I would have done the same to dispose of the written Qur'anic material."
(26 - Qur'an 1)
2. I understand that Makkah society at the time of the Prophet (s.A.w.) was very tribalistic and people are very proud of their lineage. How did the Prophet (s.A.w.) tackle this problem and can we still derive some lessons from his experience for today?
Of course, Muslims always look to the example of the Prophet (s.A.w.), whether it be for worship or for social matters. One of the basic thrusts of the Islamic message was the oneness of humanity. People are the children of Adam, and Allah created Adam from dust. Allah says in the Qur'an, "O people! We have created all of you from a male and a female and made you nations and tribes so that you may know one another. Surely, the most honourable of you are those who are keeping their duty to Allah.'
The Prophet (s.A.w.) narrated many Ahadith to the effect that humanity was one and it reflected the oneness of the Creator. When one of the Companions of the Prophet, Abu Dharr al-Ghifari had a small quarrel with another Companion and told him "You are the son of a black woman", the Prophet rebuked him saying "Enough. You reproach him on the colour of his mother. You still have a trace of pre-Islamic ignorance in you."
In practice, this equality is manifested in the act of prayer. We do not have separate rows for the upper classes and different races in Solah. People of all kinds of social and racial backgrounds offer their prayers shoulder to shoulder.
Umar said of Abu Bakr, the first Caliph, that he was a great master who had freed master Bilal. Umar, the second caliph, was referring to a black, freed slave as his master. There can be no better example of equality.
Among the second generation of Muslims, the main people of knowledge were the non-Arabs. The great scholar of Makkah Ata Ibn Abi Radah was, say the history books, "blacker than the crow" and having a very broad nose (illustrating his Negro features). When people went to seek guidance from Abdullah Ibn Umar, he used to say to them, "Do you come to ask me when you have a great scholar among you, Ata Ibn Abi Radah."
The great Imam of Yemen, Tawous, was a non-Arab.
(86 - Seerah 2)