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The Suffering of Statues

Robert Spencer is a vile Islamophobe. So disturbing and divisive are Spencer’s views on Muslims that even the Home Secretary Theresa May denied him entry into the UK [1]. He and his fellow hate preacher, Pamela Geller, were prevented from coming to the Britain to speak at an EDL march in Woolwich, where Lee Rigby was killed.

Like most members of the Islamophobia industry, Spencer is not Jewish. However, some of the most prolific funders of the Islamophobia industry are Jewish, and Spencer’s financiers are no exception. It has been reported that Spencer was paid $132,537 for writing his blog Jihadwatch, by David Horowitz, the anti-Muslim movement’s self-proclaimed premier promoter [2].

Spencer recently posted an article entitled “Islamic Outreach in Syria: Islamic Jihadists Desecrate Church, Smash Icons and Statues” [3]. This article caught my attention because it kept appearing on my timeline on Facebook, posted there by Muslims. The motivation for posting the article was for some Muslims to illustrate how other Muslims are “barbaric”. This narrative is one pushed by the West to polarise opinion and divide Muslims over what started off in Syria as a genuine desire to rid a people of an oppressive dictator, al-Assad, but has been manipulated by outside interests into a faux sectarian conflict.

The mainstream media coverage of Syria has flipped 180 degrees from a description of an oppressed people protesting against their oppressor and being massacred by him, to one of Muslim barbarity towards icons and statues. No longer the photographs of human suffering and death but one of smashed idols and an attempt to elevate people’s fear against the Muslims returning from Jihad in Syria.

Is it true that Westerners have become more distressed seeing destroyed statues than seeing destroyed human lives? I think so. Minds have been manipulated this way. The Western mind is shocked at the sight of a toppled and broken statue in the media but does not reflect on the plight of the refugees or the bereaved. Why does the media not show people the dead children in Syria (or Palestine)? Are we seeing an attempt to remove the human suffering aspect parallel to escalating the notion that Muslims are destructive savages who have no value for “history” or “art”? Is a broken statue more shocking than a destroyed village with all its broken homes and families?

This narrative has been repeated many times, from the Buddahs of Bamiyan in Afghanistan [4] to the shrines of (so-called) Muslim saints in Timbuktu [5] and the destruction of the gold dome of the al-Askari mosque in Iraq. One thing common to these incidents is that bodies such as UNESCO and the International Council on Monuments and Sites (mentioned in [3]) will find money and expertise to rebuild such sites [6], even whilst the people of those countries are still living with the remnants of the great destruction and long-term poisoning caused by Western “intervention”.

How can it be that the people of the West put so much value on icons and statues whilst so much human suffering is evident? Are the roots of this in the teachings of present day Christianity, where statues are revered in churches? Jesus (‘alayhi al-Salām) lived a very simple life and nowhere in his teachings do I find other than his servitude to his Lord and his great care for the downtrodden and oppressed. Jesus’ (‘alayhi al-Salām) ministry was to care for the hungry and poor and spread the message of tawhīd, but the religion named after him as it is practised today unfortunately involve reverence to statues.

Growing up as a Christian, I was accustomed to seeing statues in the church. However, I was never honestly comfortable when a priest would make a curtsey in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary. It wasn’t until I accepted Islām that I learned that my natural instincts to reject rituals involving idols were correct. In fact, the Commandments given to Moses (‘alayhi al-Salām) on Mount Sinai make it clear that modern day Christianity is very far from the Message given to the Prophets.

The 1st Commandment given to Moses (‘alayhi al-Salām) still present in the previous scriptures was:

“Hear O Israel thy Lord God is ONE.  – The 2nd is “you shallt have no other god before me”.

So the very first thing that God gave Moses (‘alayhi al-Salām) to teach to his followers, Bani Isrā’īl, was tawhīd [7], and his understanding of tawhīd was what led him to be so infuriated by their making of the golden calf.  This message is entirely in keeping with what God taught about idolatry to Abraham (‘alayhi al-Salām) and all of the Prophets. The Jews have stuck to this commandment and do not have statues in their places of worship, nor do they use images of living things.

God’s Commandments go on to warn about making Shirk.

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them.

Now to look at Islām. We as Muslims know that central to our faith is tawhīd, and although sūrah al-Ikhlās is a very short sūrah it is one which encompasses tawhīd and is given a value of one third of the Qur’ān in the value and importance of its message [8].

Can we therefore call those who break statues backward savages? Other than the clear message of tawhīd in the Bible and the Qur’ān, we Muslims also have ahādīth that explain how statues were dealt with:

Alī b. Abī Tālib said: “Shall I not send you with the same instructions as the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) sent me? Do not leave any image without defacing it or any built-up grave without levelling it.”

‘Urwah b. ‘Abasah that he said to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him): “With what were you sent?” He said, “I was sent to uphold the ties of kinship, to break the idols, and so that Allāh would be worshipped alone with no partner or associate.” [9]

My own personal understanding is very simple and instinctive, I do not hold any Islamic qualification. Personally however, I can say that I wish for all my Christian friends, family and others that they would understand their scripture with the same clarity that the Prophets understood it. I really wish that my former priest would leave his curtseying to the statue of the Virgin Mary and his worship of the creation and dedicate all his devotion to the Creator. I wish that Western people, Christian, Atheist or otherwise, would have their eyes and hearts opened to the suffering of real children and families in Syria and other lands where there is injustice. Human life is worth so much more than a statue.




[2] (also available here: )






[8] Recorded in Sahīh al-Bukhāri

[9] Recorded in Sahīh Muslim

About Laura Stuart

Housewife, Human rights activist & revert to Islam


  1. I just noticed today that this article of mine had been published. I missed replying to the comments. If you come from a Christian background like me and you lived through years of seeing your priest and congregation bow to statues you might think like I do. The prevention of the ability to make shirk is important and though I am not a scholar at all nor do I claim to have any knowledge it seems the hadith about destroying the statues is very strong.

  2. All the messengers and prophets came with one message and that was the message of Tawheed.
    Ibrahim (AS) smashed the idols and statues of his own father and people as this the biggest of all sins in Islam – polytheism!
    We need to stop apologising for the fundamentals of our faith and start supporting our brothers & sisters who are being butchered out there; like sister Laura says human life is worth more than a statue!

    • Whilst the value of flesh and blood is at a totally different level to bricks and mortar, in general the Islamic state didn’t go around the world (and it covered most of the developed world at the time) smashing statues and destroying pictures. Only those places of worship which were turned into mosques were altered to remove statues and pictures of life forms. Also the Islamic state had a surplus of funds and it was common practice for the state to fund repairs to non Islamic places of worship.

      The battle in Syria started as a local uprising against a dictatorship, but has now turned into a power struggle between many other external but neighbouring forces – not to save lives but to exert regional influence.

  3. As much as the article makes important points about being cautious of the architects of the islamophobia industry, and the distortion of the Syrian conflict in the press, I am concerned about its conclusions regarding smashing statues specifically.

    Regardless of how much we may have (legitimate) disagreement with other religions who worship idols, or even those within our own ranks who venerate tombs and the like, I feel that the destruction of these monuments should never be applauded, or even looked at with apathy, as appears to be the case here.

    Leaving jurisprudence aside, purely from a pragmatic approach, do we honestly think that we are in any way making people more likely to adopt tawhid through the destruction of a statue that they venerated. On the contrary, the consequent association of “tawhid” with mindless destruction is far more likely to push people away from the principles we harbour than bring them any closer.

    We need to be wary of simplifying our discourse, particularly internally amongst ourselves. Just because someone who hates you has said something about you, should not be a reason to discard it, rather see if their words have merit, internalise them and take action as necessary. I think in this instance we could benefit from this approach, and Allah knows best.

    • “Leaving jurisprudence aside” leads to oversimplifying this into a matter of “mindless destruction” when it is about something else altogether. Your points would be relevant in another context but we should be careful not to brush all nuance and subtlety with the same broad strokes.

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