Reflections on Bamiyan
By N.S. Nasim
Although the statues at Bamiyan in Afghanistan have now been destroyed, the issue lingers on in other forms.

Reading the different points of view on the issue of those Afghan statues, I was especially distressed as there are some who are considered to be scholars of Islam that were quite vocal in trying to save the idols of Bamiyan.  They claim that destroying these idols is actually an unIslamic act.     Personally, I am amazed that it took so long for the Muslims of Afghanistan to act on this issue.

So, driven by the urge to find out if my feelings, so different from what I heard from these scholars, had some merit, I decided to try to search for knowledge myself.  Granted, I am a simple Muslimah, not a scholar, but I still want to share what I have discovered, and opinions that I have developed, with you.


First, idols are forbidden in Islam  (Qur'anic translations are from Yusuf Ali)

Qur'an: 22:30  Such (is the Pilgrimage): whoever  honors the sacred rites of Allah for him it is good in the sight of his Lord. Lawful to you (for food in pilgrimage) are cattle except those mentioned to you (as exceptions): but shun the abomination of idols and shun the word that is false

Qur'an 14:35: Remember Abraham said: "O my Lord! make this city one of peace and security: and preserve me and my sons from worshipping idols.

Qur'an 5:90:  O ye who believe! intoxicants and gambling (dedication of) stones and (divination by) arrows are an abomination of Satan's handiwork: eschew such (abomination) that ye may prosper.
Yusuf Ali footnote: The stones referred to were stone altars or stone columns, or slabs on which meat was sacrificed to idols.  Any idolatrous or superstitious acts are here condemned .

Quote from Fiqh us Sunnah:

1.12a  Idols are impure in the abstract sense, and they are considered impure if one touches them. The explanation of the preceding verse is that they are a tool of Satan, for they cause enmity and hatred and keep people away from the remembrance of Allah and prayer.

These weren't really idols, you think? They're "art" you think? Consider this:


Many, especially in the West, have elevated art to the position of reverence of an idol.  Consider the fracas over some of the "art" sponsored by our government's National Endowment of the Arts, including the crucifix in a bottle of urine some time back!  Any who dared object to that hideous "work of art" were labeled as ignorant, intolerant, and lacking any education, culture or sensitivity.

Do you see a similarity in the response from the west to the Afghan governments decision concerning the idols of the Buddha at Bamiyan?    Art has become a virtual idol in the west.  None dare object, as rejecting "art" in any form is considered analogous to blasphemy!


Next, consider the examples of our  Prophets.

Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH) destroyed the statues created by his father. (See Surah 21: 51-60)

Prophet Musa's (PBUH) response to the idol his people made of a golden calf (See Surah 20:83-98).

The first act of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), upon entering Makkah, when he went to the Kaaba, and destroyed the idols inside. From Sahih Muslim, Book 3, #68: Narrated Abdullah bin Masud The Prophet entered Mecca and (at that time) there were three hundred and sixty idols around the Ka'ba. He started stabbing the idols with a stick he had in his hand and reciting: "Truth (Islam) has come and Falsehood (disbelief) has vanished."


We've heard the argument that the statues are a religious relic, and that there is no compulsion in religion, thus it is "unIslamic" to destroy religious artifacts.   Consider this.  At that time that the Prophet (PBUH) entered Makkah, there were still active worshippers of those idols in the Kaaba, right there in Makkah.  But yet the Prophet (PBUH) destroyed them.  Now, consider the idols in Afghanistan.  These were not even at an active place of worship.   Yet, the world wishes to force Muslims to keep these idols in their "home".  Destroying these statues are  not an infringement on someone's right to worship.  These are simply hand-me-downs from the ancestors of these people, who were Buddhist.   The people of Afghanistan are not Buddhist.  They have been overwhelmingly Muslim for centuries.  It lies with the people of Afghanistan to decide their fate.


The statues were purely Afghani property.  Not the world's property.   They were created there, and they  remained there.  They were not given to Afghanistan by any foreign land.

Afghanistan is a sovereign nation.  NO ONE has a right to tell them how to maintain their nation, any more that Afghanistan has a right to tell the USA whether they can cut down trees at a certain site, or put new construction atop sacred Indian burial grounds (which we have!) , etc.


As the response by those countries has amazed me, I've given it a bit of thought.  Here are a few of my ideas for your consideration.

In some of our Muslim majority countries, we have similar ancient idolatrous/pagan ancestry to Afghanistan.  Those countries often elevate that "cultural heritage" to the status of "art",  (meaning that no one can question it) and promote it in schools, in their media, etc.   And, in some of those countries, this "art" means tourism dollars added to the economy.   I'll avoid the urge to post specific examples here, I can get going on this subject and get way off track!  At any rate, people become accustomed to seeing the ancient ancestry as a treasure to be studied, held high, and preserved.   It is ART.  The people finally accept it.

In still more of our Muslim-majority countries, we have governments which promote their leaders to such a degree that their statues are put up in public places, and the leader's face is put on every ''til then unpainted wall and a good number of billboards.  Schoolchildren routinely sing songs praising the leader.

All of the above  practices could be considered idolatrous.

And it was most usually the voices from the leaders and scholars of those countries that I hear crying the loudest about the outrage of the idols at Bamiyan being destroyed.   The more intense the emphasis in that country is on the deification of their pre-Islamic history, or culture, and/or current leader, the more intense the outcry against destroying the idols of Bamiyan.

In some cases, I believe that they are desensitized by the elevation of ancient idolatry or pre-Islamic cultural practices to the status of "art" and "culture" in their own countries.

In others, I believe that they fear the loss of deification of the leader, if their own citizens begin to question whether having a leaders face painted on every flat surface, or put up as a statue in every public square is acceptable Islamically.  They fear loss of their position,  being overthrown by Muslims who truly believe that Allah is the only one to be worshipped.   This must be stopped at all costs.  So, destroying statues in Afghanistan  is vigorously pronounced as "unIslamic" by the officials of those countries, via the religious "authorities" (who usually make their livings via a  government stipend......)

Other countries Muslim-majority countries, particularly those closest to Afghanistan, feel threatened, I believe, by the Taliban.  Any chance to criticize Afghanistan or the Taliban is gleefully used as much as possible.

And in still others, the desire to be accepted by, or continue to be accepted by  the western powers is the driving force to add their voices to the western world's outcry against destroying idols.  Acceptance by the western powers might mean a few dollars in the national treasury.

And finally, let's not forget Hindu-majority India's government, currently  well known as the killer of Kashmiri Muslims.  India's government's loud, outraged response to the destruction of the "art" and "heritage" of Afghanistan, was only overshadowed by the ruins of their OWN "art and heritage", the 500 year old Babri Masjed, destroyed by the Hindu zealots who are now running the government of India.

And, sadly, those ruins echo with the silence of the leaders of most Muslim majority countries, in their hesitance to condemn the of destruction of an active Masjed that was also an historic monument!  The leaders and scholars of many of these same countries are now magically finding their  voices in condemning fellow Muslims for the destruction of the idols (not even a place of worship) in Afghanistan.

Well, that is a brief summary of my opinions, strong as they may be.   Forgive me any mistakes, and I'll be awaiting any reply, as I am surely aware that many might be unhappy with what I've written, and will have plenty to say and criticize.  I know that many well known scholars take the opposite point of view.   But  I have failed to be convinced by any of those scholars so far.   We are told to search for knowledge,  and this is a summary of my effort , as humble, limited and flawed as my search may be, in attempting to find the truth, as well as a few opinions developed during that search.  I hope that it might be something to think about.

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