Sana was the master idol maker of a large community of Bedouins who inhabited & dotted along the long stretch of oasis in the Arabian Desert. The Bedouins didn’t have cohesiveness, centrality & uniformity in their worshiping practices of any particular God or God’s image. Strong pre-historic roots of animism running through their entire cultural edifice had made them venerate every object in human & non human form in the universe which they were superstitiously devoted to. They carved their images out of stones or clay or on wood or casted them into metal. The idol makers of the community had inherited the art from their elders & ancestors since times immemorial. Sana was a kenning for any & every idol-making of his community. His masterly skills of making idols, mostly ugly looking & scaring, out of abstract were trusted as Godly by the Bedouins in general. He had an insatiable passion for making idols but not for idolizing or objectifying the adulation, in juxtaposition with other Bedouin idol makers. He treated it as his inherited legacy of forefathers. He had an innate feeling that what he had been making with his own hands & tools can’t be peers, at all, in common perception, with the One who had created him all Homo sapiens. Doubtlessly, it was a unique feeling unknown to the Bedouins that nestled in his bosom as a priceless pearl inside a shell which awaited right touch by right time to dawn into a shining discovery of Reality.
As camel & sheep herders, in their nomadic culture, the main sources of living of the Bedouins though, as such, was camel & sheep rearing & bearing, they were staunch idolaters and good idol-worshippers, too. They were invariably, by birth, idolaters of multiple self-assumed images of “God”. Every one among them had an image of God at his home & workplace according to his own perceptions about quantities & qualities of God. Every image held of God was very near to the soul & body of every holder. In every home, there were half a dozen idols of as many Gods as the family members thought to be sufficient to stand as their protectors & defenders in their good & bad times.
Sana carried on with his work of idol-making in open compound of his frugal muddy, thatched hut made of non-fired-clay-bricks & stones. In the compound, on its right side, he had erected a big rectangular hay-barrack on strong wooden uprights. It was walled on three sides with wooden planks as shelves fixed to the walls inside & a worktable fitted in its middle. The idols made by him for sale either on orders or no-orders of buyers were stored & displayed on the plank-shelves of the walls.
One day a rich Bedouin buyer came to his workplace. Glancing through the items of several idols exhibited for sale did not persuade him to buy any one. He had some different image in his mind of which he couldn’t find expression in any of the objects placed for sale. He gave a description of his mental-icon to Sana & wanted him to make an idol corresponding to the narration about his deity-icon since he greatly revered what he was asking Sana to sketch out from his imaginary structure & express it on a stone or wood or something else like that of clay. Sana agreed & told him to come on a given day to pick his ordered object. The Bedouin was about to leave the workplace when his steps got a sudden halt by a curious gaze at his work of art which didn’t exhibit a single idol separated by him from saleable lot on the shelves for his personal adoration. He addressed him:
“Yes..”, replied Sana, the idol maker.
“I don’t see a single image of any deity in your work here retained by you for veneration by you. I fear there is not a single venerated one idol or image inside your hut either. I mean you haven’t put a diya or flower near to any idol for sale. Nor garlanded anyone. ….Is it that you don’t believe in daemonic power of these images?” asked he.
“Ahem…will talk about it some other time…..”, Sana returned with spreading smile on his face & pensive look on that of the Bedouin. Prevaricating, ostensibly, Sana asked the Bedouin: “….. Not to forget to take your item on the date…..”.
The Bedouin seemed in a hurry & left Sana’s workplace without putting him to any further query about idols & their worshipping by him.
That night when Sana went to bed inside his hut, he was restlessly sleepless by racing thoughts. He tossed & turned all night by endless occurrence of silent-resounding-words of the Bedouin,” Is it that you don’t believe in daemonic power of these images…” Every time, to every recurrence of one & the same thought, he had only a counter-query: “how could creation be the Creator?” The moon-rays were beaming on his muddy abode when a giant beam of moonlit night opened vista of his mind enabling him to find answer to his self-posed question. After ruminating the complete length of the still moonlit night, he reached to the destination of his thinking [boat] out loud that he would make an idol of God of something that was the purest and quintessential for all humans for their very existence. More so, the Bedouin community was faced with onslaught of drought those days. So, “why not to “create” idol of food-providing-deity to defend myself against likely approaching famine to the Bedouins”, he soliloquized while lying on his bed. Failing to have shuteye, he in his sleeping-soliloquy found that an idol of dough of wheat flour would be the purest & safest as everyone respects & eats the roti made of it. He needed it as a “protector” during possible famine, he thought. Even though feeling dysanic that morning due to the night’s hangover by over-thinking on the same track of mind, he awoke to find expanding first sunrays that had already illuminated his muddy hut.
He didn’t do any other work that day than concentrating on making of dough-deity. Like a potter, he focused every eye of his brain on the preparation of dough-deity. He craftily made an idol out of malleable dough of wheat flour. Added oil, salt & some herbs as preservatives to the wheat dough to prevent it from decomposition. Once idol was ready on wooden cutting board, Sana moved the idol from inside of his hut & placed it on worktable outside exposing it to sunlight. In the afternoon, the work had shaped into a solid image of a food-providing-deity with limbs, head, face, & body. He used several colours to decorate the image. To enhance its adornment, he polished it with oil till it gleaned in the sunshine. He put cloths on the dough-idol, lit a diya & put some wildflowers near to it on the shelf. It was a mosaic work, he believed, of unique material, design & appearance among few dozens of idols shelved in his workshop. With this novel type of image made of wheat dough, he seemed to have started believing in cult image; though by core he possessed aniconic thoughts & feelings in his body & soul.
Those days a prophet had been descended to the world among the Bedouin community who had earned fame, far & wide, for his message of futility of idolatry & pristine purity of monotheism. His claim that God had no image, as was written in the Bedouins own scriptures but un-followed by them, and that nothing in the cosmos comparable to God had certainly convinced many Bedouins to follow him & his message. In good & bad times, only one God is there worth to be turned to & looked for help. God & His Attributes being Unified & Godly couldn’t be split into self-presumed human or non human images, asserted he. God commanded all control in the cosmos on all things through His Orders only, emphatically said he.
The Bedouin buyer came to receive his order on due date. However, Sana’s new splendid art of food-providing-image caught his attention & he wanted to buy it too which Sana didn’t agree.
“What is the latest of ill-effects of drought among the Bedouins community”, asked Sana.
“No rain for the whole year has made it worse, almost famine like situation. There is a growing scarcity of food found in the community. Many have migrated to other places in search of food…..”, replied Bedouin.
Cutting the buyer off when he was talking to him, Sana said with a pretense of confidence on his face while hiding a definite fear inside his heart:
“I’ll not leave my hut. I’ll stay back as I live under the shadow of my food-providing-deity. She will not disappoint me. Buyers will continue pouring in my workplace to buy my work. I’ll store in my hut sufficient grain & grocery to pass by the temporary famine days, if at all we face”.
Contracting his lips with a frown on Sana’s artificial-confidence, the buyer left his workplace.
With frightful shadows of food-shortage expanding on Bedouin community, fears of famine grew harder. The well populated oasis, which normally it had been, became spotty with few families left her & there who had turned to “Only God” of the prophet who along with them was praying from several days for most awaited desideratum of rain for the dried-canals to fill up & barren-land to grow fecund green, again.
There wasn’t any buyer coming to purchase Sana’s idols as, in search of survival, chances whereof they apprehended were diminishing with passing days, Bedouins had mostly vacated their homes in the oasis for safer places around. Sana had no stock of flour, oil, salt, pepper & herbs left in his hut-store to feed his belly. Water too was short & not available easily. He grew weak. He was hungry. He implored many times before the food-providing-deity for food & water. The object couldn’t listen to his imploration. How could it?
Feeling his body eating away at him by spinning head & empty stomach, and fearing death would soon snatch his hope of living, he started eating, part by part, bit by bit, the food-providing-deity, composed of wheat flour. It quelled his hunger for few days till it lost its existence. The words of the prophet, which he had heard from the Bedouins, came to resound in his mind: “In good & bad times, only One God is there worth to be turned to ……..God & His Attributes can’t be split into self-presumed human or non human images….” Without waiting anymore for those resounding words to gnaw further at mind, he left his hut & attended spartan abode of the prophet who was busy with his followers in prayers to implore God to bring rain to the Bedouin land. He sat silently in a corner watching the prayers with eagerness to join them.
It was cloudy since some days. It began pouring in from the cloudy sky with a touch of joy in the rain drops on all faces of the people who bowed to express their thankfulness to God, Lord of the universe, for enlivening the earth once again for them. The downpour continued for few days. People started returning to their homes in the oasis bringing with them huge food provisions from other places for the community members.
The prophet noticed Sana sitting silently in the corner & asked him who was he & come near to him. He neared, wept & kissed the hands of the prophet. With teary sunken eyes , Sana narrated his tale of spiritual bewilderment & misery it had brought to him by trusting his hand-made object. He said that he was wrong in “creating a God or an image of God” who doesn’t have any image. He realised his mistaken belief that as the image could not provide him “food”, he had no other option to eat it to survive.
Dragging a dignified smile on his face, the prophet humorously returned & asked him: “And, then, you ate your God! “ Sana replied “yes, the prophet of God, I’ll smile & laugh till I live, whenever I’ll be recalling when I ate my God”.
M J Aslam is Author, academician, story-writer & columnist