That is the question! And the question posed here is whether it is permitted or not to touch, read or hold the Holy Qur'an whilst not in the state of wudhu.
I first heard the question being asked by a Muslim brother in my Saturday afternoon meetings for new Muslims that I used to attend in 2010. He went on to explain that one day on the train on his way home after work, he pulled out a copy of his Qur'an and started reading it. Not long after he had started reading, he was approached by two elderly Muslim men who first asked if he was a Muslim. When he replied in the affirmative, they told him to put away the Qur'an and scolded him, saying "How dare you read the Qur'an on the train? It is a dirty place! You should know better! Do you even have your wudhu?"
This story has stuck with me. Not so much in the funny way the brother related the episode, but in the answer the young Imam present gave to him, and the advice he gave to the rest of us on that day.
The Imam first asked whether the brother actually had made his wudhu before handling the Qur'an – it turns out that he had. The Imam then commented that the two elderly gentlemen were wrong! They themselves should have known better. And here is why.
The Imam then went on to say something which caused the more experienced Muslim brothers in our group to audibly gasp. (I’m paraphrasing) He said…"My advice to all of you here is simple. Even if you do not have the state of wudhu and you have a moment of idle, pick up your Qur'an and read it. The benefit you gain from this will far outweigh any sin you commit in touching the Qur'an without your wudhu".
In other words, my understanding of what the Imam said was this:- If touching the Qur'an without wudhu is a sin, then it is a lesser sin than what you would otherwise be doing!
Does anyone truly know where this directive / belief came from? Almost every Muslim will tell you not to touch the Qur'an if you have not performed your ablution beforehand.
I can write with almost 100% certainty that the Prophet (pbuh) did not issue the instruction because the Qur'an did not exist as a printed book or scroll in his lifetime, nor is there a single authentic Hadith recorded which contains the instruction to or example of not touching the Holy Qur'an without wudhu. [See Sahih Bukhari Volume 6, Book 60, Number 201 as a confirmation that the Qur'an began to be collected in the form it is in today by Abu Bakr]
To continue with the above, the Imam went on to explain that when he was studying, whilst riding the bus in the morning and in the evening, he would ensure that he read the Qur'an, and he admitted to us of doing so not always in the state of wudhu. He explained that he would rather answer to Allah (SWT) for reading the Qur'an without his wudhu than answer for why his eyes were looking at the pretty girl with a mini-skirt sitting opposite him!
Reading the Qur'an, the Imam explained, ensured that (a) his eyes were not causing him to sin by looking at sinful things and (b) his mind was busy and therefore could not wander to think of sinful things.
I’m going to stop here for now. Insha’Allah, we will soon have a forum on this website and I would be interested to know what ideas other people have on this topic. In the meantime, have a watch on what Dr Zakir Naik has to say on the subject.
May Allah open the way for all of us to attain a better understanding of His Final Revelation to us. Ameen.