Thursday, September 09, 2010

How to dispose of electronic copies of the Qu'ran

People get enormously upset about disposing of old, worn-out, unused or unusable copies of the Koran — the sheer offense given by burning a Koran is nearly beyond the pale of Western imagination, scarcely to be believed.

So what is the approved method? According to those moderate Islamic sources I've been able to locate on the net, always bearing in mind that there are immoderate Islamic voices out there too, your choices are A) wrap the book(s) in a clean cloth and bury them in the ground well off the beaten path, or B) wrap them up in a clean bundle, weigh them down and throw them into a river or into the sea. The third option, C), is allowed when the first two options are not possible; and that is, to erase the names of Allah, the Prophets and the various angels, then burn the remaining no-longer-sacred body of the book.

The more elaborate the ritual, the nuttier the fruitcake, speaking of the more extreme adherents who would have you not merely bury the Koran(s), but enshrine them in stone-lined pits with slate roofs, and the like.

It is option C which points directly to how to dispose of an ebook copy of the Koran (such as Zekr) that, for one reason or other you need to delete. You should use secure remove, i.e., srm in Linux or Macintosh OS X. This routine, which may or may not already be installed on your laptop, applies Peter Guttman's 35-step algorithm to the unneeded files(s) to erase names (and everything else, including all content) in an utterly unrecoverable fashion — no trace of the Koran will remain on the laptop.

(The GNU Core Utilities on Linux also offer shred, another excellent file scrubber.)

This is not official, not halal in any sense, because I am not even Muslim. I could be wrong, but if this sort of thing worries you, then SRM seems to be a good solution "in the spirit of the law" to a very modern problem. Merely deleting a file normally removes only the location of the file proper from an index; the file remains until it is gradually overwritten. In comparison, SRM scrambles the bits of the file beyond recovery, then scrambles the index entry, then deletes the index entry. Gone.

Of course, if you don't have srm or shred or something similar, then it should be consonant with the spirit of option B to simply delete the files. As noted above, all this really does is to mark the file space for reuse by removing the pointer to the file, so the net effect is like plunging the old data into the twin streams of Time and Entropy. Very riparine.

Truth to tell, there is nothing quite so mischievous as finding trouble where no trouble was. Hope that helps ;-)

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