Marcel Duchamp, Fountain (1917)
As an agnostic, I regard all religions as idolatrous in as much as they assign divinity to things created by themselves. Buddhists and Hindus make no bones about making idols of metal and stone and then worshipping them. It is the most brazen example of man creating god and worshipping him, her or it as the creator.
I bring up the subject as I have recently received a letter from Preetam Giani, who lives in Pakistan. His original name was Mehboob Ali. He was expelled from Cambridge University for preaching and practising homosexuality. Since then, he has been doing the same in Pakistan and is often in trouble with the authorities. We have been corresponding for some years. In this letter, he has spelt out his views on idolatry. I would like to share its contents with my readers.
It has often been asserted that the conflict between Hinduism and Islam is a conflict between two somewhat different forms of idolatry. Referring to me, he writes: “My friend has compared my assertion to a verse from Iqbal’s Jawaab-e-Shikwa.” He goes on to say: “In this verse, Iqbal bemoans, as he was so fond of doing, the historical decline of Muslim dominance, attributing it to deviation from Islam’s original message and adoption of new, corrupt practices amounting to idolatry. However, the comparison is not a very valid one, for Iqbal and I are saying quite different things. Iqbal is merely putting words expressing his simplistic notions about Muslim decadence into God’s mouth. (Another of his simplistic ideas, latched on to by M.A. Jinnah, was the ‘two-nation theory’, which formed the rationale for India’s partition in 1947.) On the contrary, my contention is that the original Quranic conception of God (as indeed that of Jewish belief, from which it clearly derives) is itself idolatrous in all respects except in that it’s not materially represented. In other words, Muslims worship one mental idol (though many of them also worship the local SHO — station house officer or police station incharge), whereas most Hindus worship several idols with material form (and also, probably, their local SHOs). So, theologically, the difference between the two religions is more apparent than real and should not have formed the basis for a millennium of bitter enmity and copious bloodshed. If only members of both communities could abandon their respective forms of idolatry, incline instead towards all-inclusive pantheism (simply put: God is everything, everything is God), banish all forms of superstition from their lives, avoid prejudices more then AIDS, uphold secularism and develop the characteristics of honesty, courage, compassion, objectivity and critical thinking in themselves. If only they could!”
Preetam has also sent me his rendering of two of Mirza Ghalib’s (1797-1869) couplets. I reproduce them for the enlightenment of my readers:
Ta’at mein ta rahay na mae
o ungbeen ki laag
Dozukh mein daal do koee
lay kur bashisht ko
So worship may not be tainted by
greed for wine and honey,
Let someone pick up heaven and
throw it into hell!!
Vafadari bashurtay ustavari
usl eemaan hai
Murray but-khanay mein to kaabay
mein garho Brahmin ko
Fidelity, provided it’s steadfast,
constitutes real faith:
If a Brahmin dies in his temple,
bury him in the Kaaba.
The following news item is from a recent issue of the Private Eye:
“‘Each time I sit on the toilet, it’s a little scary’, 78-year-old Stan Auerbach told reporters in his bathroom in Garnet Valley, Pennsylvania, ‘wondering, if it might explode, I have two toilets fitted with the high-pressure Flushmate III system, but now that the government has declared them a ‘laceration risk’, I’m worried I may be sitting on a time bomb. These stories about explosions are worrying.’
‘Since June, when the US Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled 2.3 million Flushmate III Pressure-Assisted Flushing Systems, descriptions of exploding toilets have been widely reported. ‘I required dozens of stitches for an extremely deep wound caused by exploding porcelain,’ an anonymous 26-year- old reported on the CPSC website. ‘Because I am a bigger person, I was able to absorb the brunt of the force. Had this happened to someone elderly, or a child, the outcome could have been catastrophic.’
‘David Birks-White, a San Francisco lawyer, has filed a $5 million lawsuit against the manufacturers. ‘Fundamentally, you can’t have toilets that blow up,’ he stated, ‘how much more do we need to say about that?’
‘The CPSC has so far received 304 reports of Flushmate-related toilet explosions, with 14 ‘impact or laceration injuries.’”
(Courtesy: Private Eye)