Bangladesh, after nearly half a century of its independence, is again in political turmoil caused by a section of Islamic clerics against its statues, and sculptures of all kinds. But idol worship and the idle brain of ideal idiots of conventionally accepted speakers of the society are being conflated.
The laypeople, who possess no in-depth knowledge of scripture and Islamic creed are narrowing down their liberal views about liberal things.
On May 16, 2017, before dawn emerged, the statue of Lady Justice was brought down from the pedestal. Similar to the ancient Greek goddess of justice, Themis, it was installed in the Supreme Court premises of Bangladesh in December 2016.
However, faced with en masse anger and protestations from a group of radical Muslims, who termed it ‘Un Islamic’ or ‘Anti-Islamic, the then Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha had been forced to pass the bill of removal of the statue. Nevertheless, it was re-installed the next day, reported the Dhaka Tribune.
Before that, protest for the removal of other statues erupted primarily in Dhaka city in October 2008 by a few teachers and students of Dhaka University, reports The Daily Star. Again, in late November, this year the chief of the Hefajat-E-Islam, a radical Islamic group, denigrated the statues of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of the nation. He stirred the audience while delivering in a religious gathering to demolish any form of statues, including that of Bangabandhu, across the country.
Following the conference, on December 6, 2020, miscreants vandalized a statue of Bangabandhu in the district of Kusthia of Khulna division. Although, police arrested two madrasa students in connection with the incident.
But, once again the people of the nation and the nation seems to be divided between for and against the statues, or for the spirit of independence or against fundamentalism, or for Islam and against secular people. Because of the people with conservative views and madrasa students gearing for widening the gap between liberalism and radicalism.
Idol worship or idolatry
Like any other monotheistic religions, Islam also forbids worshipping and placing any form of statue, idols, or images beside or before God. Therefore, again, and again, statues and sculptures of the nation became a religious and political issue, and Islamists attacked the premise and works of secular and liberals. It is more than obvious that they are in a constant move of radicalisation of the nation that fought and won independence from another Muslim nation, Pakistan, based not on any religious sentiment but secular and inclusive fervour.
That is to say, whenever the spirit of secularism tries to expand its horizons and to uproot fundamentalism through various forms of expressions and education such as, art, literature, music and other cultural activism, the radical Islamic preachers added coals to the fire of fundamentalism.
The temerity and audacity of these preachers are so unwarranted and against the spirit of inclusivism that they are sometimes condemned as conspirators. The deep-rooted conspiracy against secularism and democracy in fact, at play in the nation, when fundamentalism often succeeds in achieving what it longed for through political patronisation. The empowerment of them means disenfranchisement of secular voices and inevitable divisions within the nation.
Is it the statues or the pre-eminent power of them making people progressive bother the radicals? We all, one way or other, do worship some kind of image, statue or idol consciously or subconsciously. Famed as Socrates of Bengal, the unconventional writer and poet Professor Humayun Azad once wrote, “the Muslims of Bangladesh may not be the idol worshipers, but certainly worship the image, the imaginary shape or concepts.
Idolatry or the worship of Murti or idol that Hindus consider as absolute of gods or goddesses, Muslim conservative interpretation is in fact, often misleading. They cannot or do not purposely understand the distinction between idol worshipping and having statutes as symbols of some culture and heritage. Take, for example, the Turkish and Islamic Art Museum which was once a palace of Ibrahim Pasha, in Istanbul.
Along with other relics, it contains many collections of Islamic arts, the footprint and strands of hair of Prophet Muhammed. Just because they are collected and stored for display does not mean they are there for worshipping purpose.
Not the idols for idolatry but statues or sculptures often simply represent a certain significant figure in history such as the statue of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Mahatma Gandhi and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Alexander the Great, Socrates and so.
Culturally and aesthetically persevered figures such as Themis, the symbol of justice and fairness, the figure of Fonseca as a symbol of female beauty, and the statue of Marcus Aurelius as a symbol of military achievement have been in cultured people’s sight and psych for a long time. None of the figures mentioned demands any form of worship from anyone in the 21st century. They are there simply for secular educative purpose.
Statues are meant not idols
And yet, if the radical minds see them as figures to offer worship, then there is a problem of differences of ideologies and of understanding what is and what is not to be worshipped. But none has the right to impose the majority ideology on the minority in a free society. Many Muslim nations have statues or sculptures.
The largest Muslim nations Indonesia has the 3rd tallest statue of Hindu god Vishnu; the great Islamic scholar Al Biruni and Omer Khayyam’s statues are in Iran along with many other stunning figures; Saudi Arabia has sculptures and statues; statues, sculptures and paintings lay all around Egypt; Jordan, a country of 93.8 Muslims, has some of the oldest human figure statues in their museum; Malaysia has two-century-old Hindu Lord Murugan Statue and National Monument Park with human statues.
In the law of Prophet Muses, idolatry or worshipping an idol and is making a certain figure for the sole purpose of offering prayer, worship and sacrifice, is considered putting or honouring another god beside the Absolute God.
Verse 71 of Chapter As-Shura of the Holy Quran–Bridge’s translation– declares “They said, “We worship human-shaped idols and we remain consecrating ourselves to them.” The purpose is clear according to the verse: to have the statue or idol, in the shape of a human (or any), to worship and making themselves holy or pure in its name. To me, it looks like, God’s problems with us for having or making an idol or statue is not for possessing or making them, but the purposes are.
Are the portraits of Saudi Royal figures, the sculpture of Turfa the mare in Diriyah Arabian Horse Museum, the figures and images of Al-Buraq in Islamic history and museum meant for worshipping of any kind? In fact, an archaeological discovery of Saudi Arabia reveals that sculpting had emerged in the Arabian Peninsula six thousand years ago. Through the discovery, the researchers from Saudi Arabia believe that its cities are to become home to historical artefacts.
If preservation and protection of history and heritage through arts, statue and sculptures do not harm Islam and Islamic activities in many parts of the Islamic world, then why is it the otherwise this country? Is the ongoing agitation against the statue of Bangabandhu a motivated one to fulfil the interest of a vested quarter? Is it about religion or simply a political ploy to unrest the nation?
After 10 years of wait, the Department of Culture and Tourism of Abu Dhabi opened The New Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum. It is one of the most inspiring museums to take humanity back in the antiquities. From the time of 6500 BCE to the modern world it contains various objects, portraits, human figures, idols of Shiva, statues of Christ, Buddha; famous rulers, kings, emperors etc.
Live modern, yet think medieval: a preconceived ideology of the stiffed-neck
Wonderful to see how Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity are place side by side with cultural, religious and political significance attached. I can think of nothing more educative and harmonious than this effort: the outstanding representation of art and culture. Art has always been the attribute of power throughout the world.
On the contrary, the opposite of that what has happened in Mosul, Iraq, and in the Maldives. Maldivian court-ordered to destroy marine artwork by environmentalist Jason deCaires Taylor. Islamic State (IS) militants destroyed Mosul’s archaeological museum because they thought it was the part of the period of “Jahiliya” or ‘the time of ignorance’, the time before the emergence of Islam.
Therefore, anything that belongs to the period of Jahiliya is anti-Islamic and needs to be destroyed, e.g., statues, idols, paintings or portraits. “In doing so, it intends to return to the origins of Islam and its first actions, so the discourse of terrorists is effectively presented to us as retrograde, puritanical and radical”, to quote Jorge Elices Ocón, the researcher of Universidade Federal de Sao Paulo.
Canadian far-right white journalist Stefan Molyneux said: “Anybody who tries to change society without first examining the family, is trying to push a shadow without moving a statue.” If the radicals of the nation are in the move of changing popular perception about art and culture, should they not first change themselves?
Encyclopaedia Britannica defines idolatry or idol worship as “the worship of someone or something other than God as though it were God” while gross, or overt, idolatry consists of explicit acts of reverence addressed to a person or an object—the sun, the king, an animal, a statue, money, fame, leaders, saint or Sufis, a shrine or any passion.
How some men fail to differentiate between idols or images for worship and sculptors or statues merely parts of art and culture, is incomprehensible. Across the US people vandalised many well-known figures who were infamous for racism.
I think only once in history the statue of Mahatma Gandhi is vandalised in the Indian Embassy, US, during the protest against the custodial killing of George Floyd. People protested and brought down the statues on political ground, not on the backwards-looking zeal.
In 2019 the Taliban in Afghanistan destroyed the tallest statue of standing Buddha. The statues were part of Afghanistan’s rich cultural history. Islamic militants destroyed numerous archaeologically, historically and culturally important sites in Syria and Iraq.
Above all, If the conservatists of the land find their way to define any culturally significant statues of sculptures as Paganist or Anti-Islamic and the simple-minded populace are drawn by them, the political scenario will submerge in turmoil.
The minority of the land, especially people who worship idols will feel cornered by the majority. Soon the Hindus, Buddhists will discover that their idols are stolen, vandalise, demeaned or violated. The nation’s museums will be hijacked, cultivation of art and culture and human endeavour of creativity will come to a halt.
In order to create a just, flourishing, secular, secure and inclusive society cherishing the roots, that is cultural heritage, cultural history promotion and cultivation of art and literature cannot be replaced with anything else. The US family therapist and landscape painter Rosamund Stone Zander wrote that “Michelangelo is often quoted as having said that inside every block of stone or marble dwells a beautiful statue; one need only remove the excess material to reveal the work of art within.
Instead of corrupting the sane mind with ‘Idol idolatry and idle brain of ideal idiots’, we must find a reason to look for a statue inside every block of stone. Parochialism, hatred, will not help the brilliant mind to see beyond reality to possibilities of human camaraderie. Let’s stand for creations, arts and possibilities, and fight funambulism.