Monday, May 9, 2011

Osama, icons and iconoclasm

My Yahoo! column today is about Bin Laden, Wahhabis and Puritans, icons and iconoclasts. Read it here.

12 comments:

seana said...

Thanks for that clear and informative post about Wahhabism.

The one thing I did not quite understand is where Wahhabism stands in the broader picture of Islam today. Is Saudi Arabia mostly Wahhabist now or not?

Girish Shahane said...

Saudi Arabia is mostly Wahhabi, and non-Wahhabi Muslims, especially Shias, face a lot of discrimination.
Because those chaps found oil, they could spend billions propagating their narrow interpretation of Islam, which means Wahhabi influence has spread to othe rparts of the world like South Asia. There are, of course, a number of other orthodox groups which, while perhaps not in the same league as Wahhabis, are frighteningly conservative. Iconoclasm is far from exclusive to Wahhabis, although most non-Wahhabi Muslims would hesitate to torch and bulldoze the tomb of the Prophet's mother and build public toilets at the spot.

seana said...

Thank you. And, yes, it is fascinating that a media obsessed bin Laden would spring out of such an image opposed culture. Can't quite get my mind around that one.

adrian mckinty said...

Girish,

The fairly mainstream branch of Presbyterianism that I grew up allowed zero iconography. No crosses, stained glassed windows, pictures of Jesus, Mary etc. The minister wasnt allowed to wear a special garment or collar and of course the pews were wooden and there was no kneeling or anything like that.

I remember attending my first Church of England service when I was off at BB camp in Blackpool when I was about 8 or 9 and being shocked by all the incense, crosses etc.

It's pretty funny to go to a city like Varanasi and stay there for a while and watch American or Northern European tourists get off the bus and have their minds blown. For Italians and Spaniards I imagine its no big deal.

Girish Shahane said...

Adrian, yup, Indian temples shock a few tourists for sure, as does India as a whole.
My own moment of shock came when I visited the Van Cathedral in Isfahan. After being immersed in gorgeous arabesques and geometric patterns for days, to enter a place of worship with wall to wall technicolour figuration, including plenty of bare flesh, was completely unexpected. WE knew it was a church and would have figures, but our eyes and minds needed time to adjust. That's when I got an inkling of what Muslim traders and soldiers who rode or sailed into India must have felt. Which is not to excuse the many acts of vandalism committed in India and elsewhere in the name of Islam.

seana said...

By chance, I am reading a novel right now called Heresy, by S.J. Parris, which is set in Oxford in 1576, and the elimination of 'popery' there is in full swing. The uncomfortable benches and lack of visuals are duly noted by a visiting Italian ex monk, one Giordano Bruno.

Girish Shahane said...

Do let me know if it's worth reading once you're done. Meanwhile, I should get down to Wolf Hall.

seana said...

Wolf Hall is on a different level. Nevertheless, this is a good absorbing read.

adrian mckinty said...

Girish

Ireland's an interesting place in this regard. Traditional Irish Catholicism has always been about Marian worship, not Jesus or the invisible god. There are statues of Mary all over rural Ireland and surprisingly few of Christ. It's very easy to see the continuity between this and the pre Christian fertility goddesses.

Girish Shahane said...

Joyce blames the eye-ties, but I think you're right, Adrian.
"Fatherhood, in the sense of conscious begetting, is unknown to man. It is a mystical estate, an apostolic succession, from only begetter to only begotten. On that mystery and not on the madonna which the cunning Italian intellect flung to the mob of Europe the church is founded and founded irremovably because founded, like the world, macro- and micro-cosm, upon the void. Upon incertitude, upon unlikelihood."

~rAGU said...

This is just a comment? I do not see the point. Their zeal was always against the icons in "other faiths". Protestants saw Catholicism as another "faith". They still do. So did Muslims. I am sure you have heard Ahammadias declared people not of "their faith"! So obviously Hindus, something you carefully avoid in this post, do not belong not to "their faith". That is the point. Simple.

Girish Shahane said...

You're wrong as usual, Ragu. Catholics and Orthodox Christians fought for centuries, but didn't destroy icons in each others' churches.
Catholics also did not destroy icons of moderate Protestants like Lutherans, not did Lutherans destroy Catholic icons.