A Stupid Stone?

As reported yesterday, an art gallery in Berlin decided to close after being threatened by Muslims. The casus belli for the “youths” was a poster showing a photo of the Kaaba under the caption Dummer Stein, or “Stupid Stone”.

Dummer SteinSteen of Snaphanen was, as usual, first on the scene. He searched for photos of the display at the gallery — they were very hard to find — and posted the Stupid Stone on his blog. Today Steen wrote me and said that the Dummer Stein story is in every major European newspaper today, except for Sweden — not a single mention of it is to be found in online Swedish news sites.

Henrik of Europe News has translated Steen’s original post along with some other material on the same topic, and follows it with an essay of his own.

A stupid stone?

Translated from Snaphanen.dk:

“Muslims in Europe have to accept that they cannot censor art exhibitions”

Though so far they’re doing pretty decently. The art society Kunstverein Tiergarten have removed all documents from the Internet; no German newspaper has any pictures; everyone’s in hiding. Instant terror.

An exhibition in Berlin showing political satire, cartoons and posters created by the Danish art group Surrend has been closed “for security reasons”, according to German authorities Thursday. According to Kunstverein Tiergarten, “upset Muslims” caused a disturbance at the exhibition last Tuesday, where they demanded one of the 21 posters to be removed. “This was followed by actual threats of violence in the event that the poster was not removed,” states the art society.

The object of anger was a poster showing the Kaaba, the holy stone in Mecca. The poster has the inscription “Stupid Stone”. Beside it was another poster with a man with typical Jewish headwear, with the inscription “Stupid hat”. The exhibition was opened last Friday by the head of the Berlin Academy of Arts, Klaus Staeck. He calls the threats against the Danish exhibition “completely unacceptable”.

“Muslims in Europe must accept that they cannot censor an art exhibition in a gallery,” states Kunstverein Tiergarten in a press release.

German bloggers discuss the event at Politically Incorrect.

The Danish daily Berlingske Tidende has an interview with the art group Surrend.

Key quotes:

“There is no doubt that what we do is ‘heavy satire’. This is our trademark activity, and we have no intentions of stopping,” states Jan Egesborg, who believes that democracy in Europe is currently being weakened because more and more persons, not least artists, do not dare to speak freely on matters related to Islam.

“It must not be possible for a group of aggressive and threatening individuals to enforce censorship, as we saw it in Germany during the 30’s, where the Nazis took to the streets and scared everyone. This must not happen again,” says Jan Egesborg, who sees an obvious similarity between the behavior of the Nazis and that of extremist Muslims. “The Nazis were the strongest in the streets and scared all resistance away. The radical Muslim groups are trying to do the same,” he states.

On Friday Surrend will open another art exhibition in the Austrian capital Vienna along with a group of other hard-hitting cartoonists. The title of the exhibition is: “Nothing is holy”.

“In a democratic society everything must be debatable. A democracy is known by discussion and satire. Muslims have to accept that they live in a Europe which through many years fought for its rights to become enlightened democracies,” states Jan Egesborg.

And now Henrik’s own thoughts on the subject:
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What about that stone…

In all the fuss about the exhibit, aggressive Muslims, fear and censorship, people tend to forget about the stone at the center of attention here. First a correction: The stone is not the same as the Kaaba. The Kaaba is a building erected over the stone, renovated several times throughout history. According to Islamic tradition (Al-Tabari), Muhammad himself took part in one of these reconstructions in the time before Islam, when the stone was part of the general Arabic tradition for stone worship. It might be hagiographical, but Muhammad is said to have lifted the stone into place in the Kaaba after the reconstruction.

The black stone itself, which has the characteristics of a meteorite, is broken into several pieces. According to Muhammad the stone is black due to having been handled by menstruating women, but there is no historical evidence to back up this claim, to say the least.

The best source for knowledge about the stone is the Sirat, in which Ibn Ishaq and al-Tabari reports on the origin of the stone. It was, according to these sources, brought from Syria by Muhammad’s 9th generation grandfather Luhayy, whom Muhammad states is dragging his intestines openly over the floor of Hell for providing this favor to Islam. It might sound a little gross, but this is Islam, and intense suffering is, as is widely known, an integral part of The Religion of Peace.

The actual worship taking place around the stone and the Kaaba was institutionalized by Muhammad’s 5th generation grandfather Qusayy, who ruled unopposed over Mecca and set rules for the Hajj, Umrah, Ramadan, the holy well of Zamzam, the holy mount Arafat, running between hills, prayer, and most other rituals that now form the core of Islam.

Now, one may wonder what all of this old stuff is doing in Islam? It is instructive to follow the Sirat in figuring out how this happened:

In the Sirat, it is fairly clear how Muhammad adopted these elements bit by bit. In AH-3, at the “Satanic verses” incident, Muhammad committed himself to the worship of Allah and to perform the traditional prayer at the Kaaba, in return for various benefits from the Quraeysh tribe. This deal, however, collapsed three years later, leading to Muhammad being chased out of Mecca and escaping to Medina, entering into the pivotal second pledge of Al-Aqabah in this process. After quite a few battles, peace was declared at Hudaibaya, and Muhammad accepted the oneness of Allah. Finally, when he conquered Mecca two years later, he declared the rituals there to be religious sacraments that were not to be changed.

Common objections to these rituals and their ‘holiness’ include:

  • How can all these items be holy? According to Islamic tradition, only Allah is to be worshipped, not meteorite stones, hills, wells or buildings.
  • What benefit does it bring? Allah cannot, according to Islamic tradition, be influence by prayer.
  • Isn’t this just a hodge-podge of arcane rituals that Muhammad happened to know, rather than a new religion?
  • Why use a stone god in the first place? Isn’t Allah supposed to be absolutely transcendent?

These questions are classical challenges of religion by rationalism. Each of them can — and did — trigger centuries worth of discussions and dissertations. Rationalist would claim that everything in there is hogwash designed to empty the pockets of naïve superstitious believers, while religious leaders would reject any such criticism as “blasphemy”.

A core problem for Muslims is of course that if any or all of these rituals were to be deemed meaningless, they would not have that much of a religion left to practice, which would not be good.

History aside, that stone..?

Oh, yes, the stone… The conflict between the artists of Surrend and the Muslims seem to concern the stupidity/cleverness of said stone, not so much the actual holiness of it. Actually, the matter could be solved in a very straightforward manner:

Let the stone speak for itself.

If the Muslims can make the stone say something intelligent, the artists are wrong and owe the Muslims an apology.

Conversely, if the stone happens to say something stupid, or remains dumb — as would seem most plausible, given its past history of absolute silence — the Muslims owe the artists an apology.

As a corollary, if the stone fails to utter anything intelligent, Muslims risk looking stupid for worshipping it and telling others to do likewise. But that’s probably incidental to the whole story.

Any further conclusions are left as exercises for the intelligent reader.

4 thoughts on “A Stupid Stone?


    Emperor has no clothes.

    Of course. The stone is thick as a brick.

    I’ve seen quite a few articles titled something with ‘stupid stone’. That’s bad for Islam. It is, after all, somewhat embarrasing to worship stupid stones. Clever ones, now that’d be useful…

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