March 20, 2001


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Arvind Lavakare

Idols: filth or deities?

It's a trifle unfortunate that the half-truths on third-rate, stuttering videotapes, treacherously transacted, have totally swept away the truth or otherwise of Islam being the rationale for the destruction of the Buddha in Bamiyan.

Star TV had, of course, done its usual rope trick on the theme. In its weekly debating show called 'The Big Fight', it had already drawn its conclusion by labelling the topic of discussion as 'Is Islam Getting Talebanised?' What it had thereby pre-empted was the possibility that what the Taleban had done was in conformity with Islam; what was put up for discussion, instead, was whether the Taleban was de-Islamising Islam or vitiating Islam.

The perpetrators themselves were clear about their deed. On March 5, Reuters reported from Kabul that Mullah Mohammad Omar, the supreme leader of Afghanistan's ruling Taleban movement, defended his order to destroy the historic Buddha statues as an honour to Islam. He said Islamic principles ordered their annihilation.

Support for this stand came from Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, a terrorist outfit operating in Jammu and Kashmir state. In a statement, the group said, 'In an Islamic country there is no concept of idols and our holy Prophet taught us to break idols.'

However, the contrary view was sought to be taken by two of the three Star TV debaters -- both Muslim. One of them was Prof Javed Habib, described as belonging to an obscure Babri Masjid Action Committee International, and Asghar Ali Engineer, whose views as a Muslim scholar gets red carpet treatment in all our 'secular' newspapers. While Prof Habib was quite wishy-washy but insistent that the teachings of Islam could not be changed by the Taleban --- just as the Gita's message could not be changed by anyone --- Engineer talked of the liberal core of Islam.

Those views were not challenged by the third participant, Seshadri Chary, editor of the RSS mouthpiece The Organiser. The man must be more knowledgeable about Hindutva than Islam.

Consider Engineer's mention of the benign Sufism in Islam's universe. Yes, Sufism is based on the view propounded by Hussein Ibn Mansoor Al Hallaj that there is no difference between God and man or God and self -- a manifestation really of the Advait philosophy in Hinduism. However, neither Chary nor the two panellists nor the anchor nor the audience knew enough -- or had the courage -- to remind Engineer that although thought to be a face of Islam, Sufism is not recognised in Islam.

Incidentally, another Muslim preacher had tried to introduce a new thought among his people but he was hanged in 1850. His preaching was continued as the Bahai movement by one Mirza Hussein Ali. Its main tenets were: religion must be consistent with scientific temper, each individual must use intelligence to search for the truth, and society must be founded on the concept of justice with everyone having equal opportunities and equal rights. Result? The Bahai sect was excommunicated from Islam in 1939.

Take the fate of another Muslim preacher, Mirza Gulam Mohamed, who founded the Mehdi sect in Punjab in 1890. Alternatively known as Ahmediya, the main tenets of this sect were that Mohammed was not the last prophet, that jihad should be limited to self-defence and not for propagating religion, and that the Ulemas are not required for the interpretation of Islamic laws. Those views grew amongst many Muslims. Result? The Ahmediyas were branded as heretics; they were tortured and their mosques razed to the ground, with Pakistan being in the forefront of that cleansing. Finally, the central organisation of the Muslim countries, World Muslim League, excommunicated the sect from Islamic religion.

In short, evidence shows that no change from within is acceptable to Islam, the religion founded in 610 by the one known as Mohammed the Prophet, the one who is said to have had a vision of the angels while sitting alone in prayer on a hill named Heera, near Mecca. The messages he received there from God were codified in the 114 chapters of Quran while his own sayings were recorded in four 'Hadiths' -- the traditions of the Prophet.

And what does the Quran say about idols, such as the Buddha statues in Bamiyan, or about idol worshippers?

According to what Engineer said on Star TV, 'The Quran does not contain a single word against idols or statues.' If he, director of the Institute of Islamic Studies, Mumbai, says so, it must be so, isn't it? But let's look nevertheless at several specific references to idols in the Quran as explained by either Yusufali or Pickthal or Shakir, three known experts of Islam, whose interpretation is different only in the choice of words, not in essence.

Chapter 4, verse 76 -- Those who believe do battle for the cause of Allah; and those who disbelieve do battle for the cause of idols. So fight the minions of the devil. Lo! The devil's strategy is ever weak -- Pickthal

Chapter 5, verse 90 -- O ye who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, (dedication of) stones, and (divination by) arrows, are an abomination, --- of Satan's handwork; eschew such, that ye may prosper. -- Yusufali

Chapter 9, verse 5 -- Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then leave their way free. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. -- Pickthal

Chapter 9, verse 17 -- It is not for the idolaters to tend Allah's sanctuaries, bearing witness against themselves of disbelief. As for such, their works are vain and in the Fire they will abide. -- Pickthal

Chapter 9, verse 28 -- O you who believe! The idolaters are nothing but unclean, so they shall not approach the Sacred Mosque after this year; and if you fear poverty then Allah will enrich you out of his grace if He pleases; surely Allah is Knowing Wise. -- Shakir

Chapter 14, verse 35 -- Remember Abraham said: O my Lord! Make this city one of peace and security, and preserve me and my sons from worshipping idols. -- Yusufali

Chapter 21, verse 57 -- And by Allah! I will certainly do something against your idols after you go away, turning back. -- Shakir

Chapter 21, verse 58 -- So he broke them to pieces, (all) but the biggest of them, that they might turn (and address themselves) to it. -- Yusufali

Chapter 22, verse 30 -- That (is the command). And whoso magnifieth the sacred things of Allah, it will be well for him in the sight of his Lord. The cattle are lawful unto you save that which hath been told you. So shun the filth of idols, and shun lying speech. -- Pickthal

Chapter 29, verse 17 -- For ye do worship idols besides Allah, and ye invent falsehood. The things that ye worship besides Allah have no power to give you sustenance: then seek ye sustenance from Allah, serve Him, and be grateful to Him: to Him will be your return. -- Yusufali

Chapter 29, verse 25 -- And he said: "For you, ye have taken (for worship) idols besides Allah, out of mutual love and regard between yourselves in this life; but on the Day of Judgement ye shall disown each other and curse each other: and your abode will be the Fire, and ye shall have none to help." -- Yusufali

Chapter 39, verse 17 -- And those who put away false gods lest they should worship them and turn to Allah in repentance, for them there are glad tidings. Therefore give good tidings (O Muhammad) to My bondmen. -- Pickthal

Chapter 98, verse 6 -- Lo! those who disbelieve, among the People of the Scripture and the idolaters, will abide in fire of hell. They are the worst of created beings. -- Pickthal.

So 'the Quran does not contain a single word against idols or statues' is it? Tell us another, Mr Engineer.

Tailpiece: If Islam does not sanction the demolition of idols, was Prophet Mohammed being un-Islamic when, after entering Mecca, he demolished 360 idols? And isn't a Muslim, Taleban or otherwise, expected to emulate his Prophet in every respect? We infidels await enlightenment.

Arvind Lavakare

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