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The truth about sculptures and idols

  • Published at 07:11 pm February 13th, 2017
The truth about sculptures and idols

Worshipping idols is strictly prohibited in the Qur’an: “What you worship instead of Allah are mere idols, and you invent a lie. Indeed, those whom you worship besides Allah have no control over your provision” (Holy Qur’an 29:17).

It is also strictly prohibited in both Judaism and Christianity. In the Bible it is written: “You shall not make for yourselves idols, nor shall you set up for yourselves an image or a sacred pillar, nor shall you place a figured stone in your land to bow down to it” (Leviticus 26:1).

The central dogma of all Abrahamic religion is monotheism, not gods nor human personification of gods, but an omnipotent Almighty who is all-powerful, all-benevolent, intangible, and unseen. It is, therefore, a central aspect of every Muslim or every Jewish person’s faith that idols, in any form, should not be worshipped.

Right now, there is a debate raging in almost every living room, tea stall, and office break room about the sculpture placed in front of the Supreme Court in Dhaka. If you support keeping it, you must be an idol-worshipper, and therefore should be condemned to hell.

Hefazat-e-Islam, and other small-time Islamist groups, who do not have any elected representative in the parliament, are demanding this “idol” be removed, claiming it to be in violation of Islamic principles. Hefazat’s secretary general said that “people of all faiths are against this.” Islami Andolan Bangladesh chief and the Pir of Charmonai said, if the sculpture was not removed, they would “create a river of blood” in protest.

Here are a couple of the lies and propaganda which need to be debunked categorically, clearly, and immediately.

‘This Idol is in violation of Islamic principles’

No. It is not. Worshipping idols is wrong in Islam -- displaying a symbol of justice is not. Most of us respect “the Lady of Justice” because of what it stands for, but we are not kissing its feet or putting garlands on it. There is a clear line between a sculpture and an idol.

Idols are the personification of gods in some religions, but sculptures are works of art which represent an artist’s view. Sometimes that view becomes so universally accepted that it transcends religious or social boundaries and belongs to everyone. For example: Aparajeyo Bangla and the Shaheed Minar were mere sculptures in the beginning. But their history and appeal are so ingrained within our collective national psyche that they are no longer just works of art -- they are a part of our identity.

‘People of all faiths are against it’

Pure Trumpism. Donald Trump loves to claim how “everyone tells me that I am doing a great job” or “I have many Muslim friends. They all support my Muslim ban.” Of course, there is no basis to support these claims or data to prove them. So, if you support Trump’s methods, you can make any claim at any time. However, if one has even a shred of common sense and responsibility, one must think otherwise. Claiming something does not necessarily make it true. In reality, except for a few fanatics, no one seems to be bothered by it.

‘This is a Greek idol’

Actually, it is not. The statue has gone through many variations, but the origin is from the “Maat” in Egypt. In fact, the present form of the blindfolded lady did not appear until Hans Gieng’s 1543 statue in Berne. The Lady of Justice is a few thousand years old, and has had many names over the years. Justitia in ancient Rome, Maat in Egypt, Themis in ancient Greek, and, more recently, The Lady of Justice.

Let’s say we remove the statue today -- what’s next? Should we remove the Aparajeyo Bangla tomorrow?

‘Surely, Muslim countries do not have human figures or sculptures displayed in public’

Wrong. Maybe we should start with Pakistan. They have hundreds of Jinnah statue all over the country. As a matter of fact, they have a statue of Lajpat Rai in Lahore, who was, incidentally, a Hindu. Iran, Iraq, and Turkey have hundreds of revered historical figures displayed all over the country. Kuwait, Qatar, Dubai have public human sculptures.

“Surely not Saudi Arabia?” Wrong again. Even Saudi Arabia has sculptures displayed in their museums and in public. The appeal of the Lady of Justice is so universal that, from Tokyo to Tehran, it can be found in front of hundreds, if not thousands, of courthouses around the world.

‘We will create a river of blood to protest it’

When will these Islamist leaders learn that killing in the name of Islam is the worst thing they can do for their religion? This is a religion of peace, not war. These people, who claim to be the leaders of Islamic societies, surely must have not read the Holy Qur’an properly.

“There is no compulsion where the religion is concerned” (Holy Quran 2:256) -- as stated in the verse, and repeated many times by Muhammad (pbuh), no one can be compelled to live by Islamic morals. Conveying the existence of Allah and the morals of the Qur’an to other people is a duty for believers, but they must call people to the path of Allah with kindness and love and they may never force them.

Only Allah has the right to judge men

In a secular democratic society, everyone has the right to express themselves. However, they do not have the right to threaten peace, make false claims, or try to impose religious doctrines upon others.  Unfortunately, as with Trump, we see that these superfluous techniques actually work sometimes. As Hitler’s Propaganda Minister Goebbels used to say: “If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes truth.”

This is true now more than ever. Some of my moderate Muslim friends seem to be turning the cheek, saying: “Maybe we should remove the statue. It is not in agreement with our ‘culture.’”

If we bow down to religious fanatics because we are too scared of their “river of blood,” we will be giving up our dream of a peaceful and lawful Bangladesh. Let’s say we remove the statue today -- what’s next? Should we remove the Aparajeyo Bangla tomorrow? Clearly the freedom fighter lady on the right is not covering her head in hijab.

The endless demand of fanatic religious politics will never end.

Edmund Burke once said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

We cannot allow the evil thoughts of few religious fanatics to triumph in this beloved land of ours. We have to fight for justice, for religious freedom and for peaceful society.

Even if we have given up in many ways, we must stand up for the safety and security of our future generations.

May sane thoughts prevail, mutual respect prosper, and the law of this land stand tall like the magnanimous Lady of Justice herself.

Zaraf Bow is a self-proclaimed philosopher. He teaches people how to think freely with common sense and for his simple views, often becomes a victim of universal misunderstanding.