Speak no evil

 Published in: The Daily Star on June 7, 2017
Speak no evil

Early morning tweets are something I wake up to and they form the structure of my day. Most news items shape the next 16 hours. Some just stay on and linger for almost a week. Some even sink into my consciousness forever. Some heal, some scar, some make me ponder. Some make me rejoice, some evoke tears, and some bring shame. For issues that shame me, I often have to balance and choose not to speak out or at the most, if I do, I sound temperate. All of us have to watch our mouth. We can’t say what we want to say, we can’t react the way we want to react, lest we are noticed by the notorious and suffer.

The instance of suffering has been set. One is languishing in a country nearby, unable to return to base. One has just been threatened to have her bones broken, if she doesn’t offer an unconditional apology. Even if we don’t take these incidents into consideration, we still end up being silent when abused, deaf when accused, blind when guilty. This is how it has been. As long as we are beneficiaries, we don’t revolt. As soon as we fall out of grace, we turn into gallery goers, carefully protecting our seats and refusing to join the field to defend, or even to score.

While the statue was taken down, few members of the civil society issued statements about how this move would shame secular Bangladesh. While issuing the statement, no one took it too far. Many were left speechless and many felt sad, not because of the explanation that came with it, but because many of us don’t side with religiosity. That’s how I felt…till the statue was re-positioned. I am a practicing Muslim, who prays regularly. We also have regular congregation for prayers at the office. So, no matter how busy any of us are at the office, we stop work and pray simply because faith moves mountains. At home, I have many carvings and paintings that have human figures. I have collected them over the years with a firm belief that they don’t defy my imaan (faith) or my God. When I was little, I grew up watching an uncle praying while the television or the radio was on. When I asked him questions, he quietly taught me that he was challenging himself and that the outer noise helped him concentrate more on his prayer. He explained that with time, I had to learn to cancel the noise around me and focus on my God.

I call Him my God as there’s no one else I can turn to. So while I am able to say my prayers even with a figure somewhere in the surroundings, I know that any statue will never be an idol as it will never be impregnated with deity. Our Almighty will always forgive, lest we commit sin unknowingly.

A few around me don’t pray. But deep down inside, I know for sure that they are, in many ways, far superior as human beings than I can ever hope to be. To them, humanity comes first. To them, religion follows right after. I don’t judge them and I don’t understand their conviction, but I do understand that they play by their conscience. But what drives suicide bombers, murderers and bigots? What prompts them to turn to insane rage and kill the innocent?

A few additional questions also come to our minds…

Have the Iranians turned into non-believers just because they have around 17 statues on display of important secular Islamic figures of 16th century poet Sheikh Bahai and Farabi, a respected musician and Islamic philosopher of the ninth century? Has Egypt faced shame for its rich sculptural history in the statues of pharaohs, gods and more? Were the early Muslim rulers deviated as the rulers minted coins with images on them? Why then do we have reference of the jinns making synagogues and statues (tamatheel) for King Solomon, considered a prophet? Why didn’t companions of the Prophet (such as Amr ibn al-Ash in Egypt and Saad ibn Abi Waqqas in Iraq) destroy the ancient statues they found during their conquests, in consideration of those statues not being worshipped?

While we look for answers, let’s also differentiate between a mere statue (timthal) and an idol or statue being worshipped (sanam). All Muslim scholars agree that it is prohibited for Muslims to worship statues because it makes them idolatrous. But that distinction between timthal and sanam matters very much when it comes to the contentious status of statues that are not worshipped.

Egypt still has Sphinxes; Mesopotamian statues stood proud for centuries before being demolished by IS. Bamiyan Buddha statues were there for long before being attacked by the Taliban. Ironically, Mullah Mohammed Omar once issued a decree in favour of the preservation of the Bamiyan statues by arguing that Buddhist population no longer existed in Afghanistan, and that the statues could be a potential major source of tourism income for the country.

Let’s remember, with or without statues, paintings or carvings, believers will be believers. No God permits destruction or hatred, or sneaks up on pedestrians on bridges and rams into them with trucks. No God supports suicide vests. My God or yours weeps and takes our side while the audience in a concert in Manchester honours the victims of the latest attack. My God or yours thrives in love and not in threats or terror.

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