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Iconoclasm, then and now

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    Posted: 19 Apr 2012 at 01:50
For those not familiar with the term, Iconoclasm means "smashing of ikons" in Greek. It refers to the religious movement in the 8th century promoted in Byzantium which sought to destroy material representations of the divine. The Abrahamic faiths, following Mosiac laws, required their followers to abandon the worship of material objects as proxies for any gods or the one true god. Faith and worship were to be directed towards an abstract concept, rather than a material object.

Islam and Judaism largely follow this rule, Hinduism and Buddhism very clearly do not. Christianity has never seemed able to make up its mind. Concerns in the 8th century that ignorant and superstitious subjects had progressed from mere veneration of holy objects to outright worship of them are what prompted the ikon smashing movement of the newly installed Isaurian dynasty. It took more than a century, but eventually the movement was suppressed and the pageantry of Orthodox worship restored.

But iconoclasm was not to be restricted to 8th-9th century Byzantium. It again reared its head, more triumphantly, from the decadent mire of the Renaissance Roman Catholic Church. While perhaps in some ways milder than the ikon smashing Byzantines, iconography was still destroyed or covered up, and emphasis placed on reading of scripture over veneration of material objects.

Indeed, Christianity can be said to not stand alone in this. Early Islamic art features depictions of Muhammad. Yet today public display of such depictions are met with threats of violence from iconoclastic Muslims. The Wahhabi movement is another sign of the vicissitudes in Islam between veneration of material holy objects and the demand for iconoclasm.

These are only a few of the more prominent and obvious examples of iconoclasm at work, but history holds many more. A great many medieval heresies were also iconoclastic in nature.

With all of this acknowledged, I would posit that iconoclasm may not merely be a result of Abrahamic faith but may be part of the human condition itself. Perhaps it acts as a safety switch, allowing society to react against an overvaluation of material objects. I point to the hippie movement of the mid-20th century. While its aims and causes are varied, there existed within the movement strong iconoclastic tendencies.

Iconoclasm itself, besides being a part of the human condition, is also a powerful action. Symbols have meaning, and when you smash the symbols of prestige and authority which are held by the powerful you are also challenging their authority.

With all that said, let's consider how iconoclasm has a place in an increasingly irreligious world. We see groups such as the internet hacker fraternity 'Anonymous', who deface the websites of organisations and even government websites with whom they have a disagreement. But surely there are more iconoclastic movements to come. The ubiquitous nature of corporate logos and labels, the overconcentration of wealth and power in corporate hands and a media culture which is so focused on base titillation and superficiality, are surely fertile ground for further iconoclastic movements to develop in our society.

Thoughts, ideas, opinions?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Srinath Naivaruni Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 Apr 2012 at 11:17

The term Iconoclasm in its modern usage has lost  its  Byzantine and  Reformation associations. However if we were to accept the meaning attributed  to it  by the Byzantines and the protestant reformers,  it can only be summarily dismissed as a misadventure  in religious reformation.

It is a well accepted  fact that the  average human mind is incapable of dealing with abstractions and hence the need for religious symbols and of all the abstractions that humanity has been confronted with the concept of " God" has been the most difficult to deal with.  The need for symbols in religion is  a  necessity , nay an  inevitablity given the  incapablity of the  average human mind to   contemplate on an abstract Godhead. 

Indepth philosophical insights are required to contemplate  the Godhead in the abstract, which is clearly beyond the reach of the common run of mankind.  Therefore religious symbols have been, are , and will be always a  necessity in  mankind's pursuit of religion .  Any attempt to demolish these symbols can only be seen as a misadventure and a misenterprise which  does not take cognisance  of the limitations of human understanding. 

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Omar al Hashim Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 Apr 2012 at 11:38
I'm impressed. That is a very well thought out Hindu answer. I disagree of course, but that is to be expected.
 
I identify as an iconoclast.
I definitely see the destruction of idols as a moral virtue, and while this is primarily directed at religious idols, I also agree with Constantine that this applies to other form of idols as well. Both the material veneration of brand names, and the idolation of certain people or ideologies.
 
Truth is, I understand that smashing someone else's idol won't convince them of anything. No Hindu converted to Islam, or Catholic to Protestantism because their statues and pictures got smashed in. However that doesn't really matter to me, nor I think to any iconclast in historical times. Fundamentally I have an intense disgust of idols, and if I ever had the chance I wouldn't hesitate in destroying them for that reason alone.


Edited by Omar al Hashim - 19 Apr 2012 at 11:39
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote Northman Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 Apr 2012 at 14:31
Why are all three of you prior posters speaking of idols as they only are/can be material.
 
Idols can be concepts as well - God and Allah are idols, yet they are not material, and you can go even further to say that we idolise certain concepts of behavior, thoughts, ideas and so on.... abstractions...
 
Idolism is not restricted to material objects....
 
 
 
 
   
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Omar al Hashim Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20 Apr 2012 at 00:12
An idol is the veneration of the representation of a thing or idea rather than the veneration of the thing itself. So praying to god is not idolatry but praying to a picture of god is.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20 Apr 2012 at 00:26
The Greek word "Ikon" means 'image'. To my mind this necessarily means a material creation which is meant to portray an abstract idea. Sculptures, paintings, stained glass windows.... these are all images representing something greater.

I don't think that idols are very different in definition from ikons, except the form they take. I have always considered idols to be an attempt to construct the entire being in physical form - and so this representation typically takes the form of statues and sculpture. Think of the golden bull at Mount Sinai. Ikons don't tend to this so much, but rather seek to create an image. Think of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or personal Orthodox ikons. Interestingly, when the Byzantines finally resolved the Iconoclastic dispute in the 9th century, the restitution of ikons came with one exception: sculpture. Thereafter statues in Byzantium became extremely rare, which is a great shame considering how artistically inclined they were.

Honestly I have always thought of the gods themselves as abstract concepts which exist in peoples' minds, while idols and ikons are distinguished as man's attempt at creating a material representation of the abstract.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote pinguin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20 Apr 2012 at 02:36
In Catholic religion, at least, the figures of saints and the representations of Jesus, the apostle and Mary are believed to be illustrations that represent real people, and that developed mainly during the Middle Ages as a way to teach religion to analphabets. However, the Catholic poors usually asociate those same images with supernatural properties coming from the figures themselves!






Edited by pinguin - 20 Apr 2012 at 02:37
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Northman Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20 Apr 2012 at 07:38
Originally posted by Omar al Hashim Omar al Hashim wrote:

An idol is the veneration of the representation of a thing or idea rather than the veneration of the thing itself. So praying to god is not idolatry but praying to a picture of god is.
 
I think you are confusing icon and idol...  or mistyped....
If I change one word in your first sentence, I can agree with it:
Quote
An idol ICON is the veneration of the representation of a thing or idea rather than the veneration of the thing itself.
 
But that does not exclude that God/Allah is an idol. An icon is merely a representation of an idol.
 
 
 
   
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Northman Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20 Apr 2012 at 07:59
Originally posted by Constantine XI Constantine XI wrote:

The Greek word "Ikon" means 'image'. To my mind this necessarily means a material creation which is meant to portray an abstract idea. Sculptures, paintings, stained glass windows.... these are all images representing something greater.
I agree - you are talking about icon/ikon
Quote I don't think that idols are very different in definition from ikons, except the form they take. I have always considered idols to be an attempt to construct the entire being in physical form - and so this representation typically takes the form of statues and sculpture.
I think there is a distinct difference between an idol and an icon.
An idol is something you worship whether his/her name is Jesus or Liza Minelli.
An icon is a representation of your idol - above sentence still valid in either case.
Quote Think of the golden bull at Mount Sinai. Ikons don't tend to this so much, but rather seek to create an image. Think of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or personal Orthodox ikons. Interestingly, when the Byzantines finally resolved the Iconoclastic dispute in the 9th century, the restitution of ikons came with one exception: sculpture. Thereafter statues in Byzantium became extremely rare, which is a great shame considering how artistically inclined they were.
Indeed sad - likewise the widespread missing noses... Smile
Quote
Honestly I have always thought of the gods themselves as abstract concepts which exist in peoples' minds, while idols and ikons are distinguished as man's attempt at creating a material representation of the abstract.
Yes, the Gods are abstract concepts in peoples minds - and if you worship them, they become idols...
Then you can go ahead and make an image or statue of your idol or God - and thus create an icon.
An idol does not have to be material - an icon IS material...
 
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Edited by Northman - 20 Apr 2012 at 08:45
   
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Srinath Naivaruni Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20 Apr 2012 at 11:17

What we are talking about here is  essentially material representations of concepts within the context of religion, call them what you will. A disgust with, or a liking towards a particular mode of worship is purely a matter of personal preference  and should not be generalised.  For that matter religion itself  is circumscribed within the domain of personal faith.   Therefore  Iconoclasm as  movement smacks of   imposition of  a particular view point much against the wishes of those on whom it was imposed.

However , as as already been mentioned , the term has lost  its orignial meaning in modern usage. Any attempt to  desecrate or destroy symbols ( religious or otherwise) can  only be termed as "Vandalism" and  people who do this are not iconoclasts but " Vandals" within the context of modern usage.
 
It is reiterated that  symbols are inevitable  in man's  search of  the Supreme.  A child has to learn the alphabets  before being able to form sentences , he or she has to learn the numerals before solving complex equations.
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20 Apr 2012 at 15:13
I had to think about it, but in the end I agree with Northman at least in contemporary usage. Would you not call the Fonz a teenage idol? Or the young Werther in his time for that matter?
 
Neither actually existed.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Styrbiorn Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20 Apr 2012 at 17:55
Originally posted by Omar al Hashim Omar al Hashim wrote:

An idol is the veneration of the representation of a thing or idea rather than the veneration of the thing itself. So praying to god is not idolatry but praying to a picture of god is.


Whether the idol is painted on a piece of wood or is an image in your head makes no difference. When one prays to god, or any other religious entitiy, he is praying to its image in his own mind. I see no difference whatsoever. Who are you to say, that when someone prays to an idol, he does not in fact pray to the thing itself, merely using the idol in the same way you are using the virtual idol in you mind?


In general though, I agree with your negative view of idolatry; the major difference which you naturally does not agree with is that I include the Abrahamic religions as well - virtual or real idol, it's all the same to me.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Omar al Hashim Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21 Apr 2012 at 01:23
Originally posted by North North wrote:

An idol is something you worship whether his/her name is Jesus or Liza Minelli.
Originally posted by gcle2003 gcle2003 wrote:

I had to think about it, but in the end I agree with Northman at least in contemporary usage. Would you not call the Fonz a teenage idol? Or the young Werther in his time for that matter?
 
Neither actually existed.
The application of the word in that context is a metaphor.
While the metaphor has become more common than it's true meaning, to be strict, an idol is a subset of an icon, and material.
 
The dictionary says:
1.
   a. An image used as an object of worship.
   b. A false god.
2. One that is adored, often blindly or excessively.
3. Something visible but without substance.
 
I suppose 2 could include the Fonz, but to me, 1a and 3 are axiomatic.


Edited by Omar al Hashim - 21 Apr 2012 at 01:26
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Northman Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21 Apr 2012 at 08:12
Originally posted by Omar al Hashim Omar al Hashim wrote:

Originally posted by North North wrote:

An idol is something you worship whether his/her name is Jesus or Liza Minelli.
Originally posted by gcle2003 gcle2003 wrote:

I had to think about it, but in the end I agree with Northman at least in contemporary usage. Would you not call the Fonz a teenage idol? Or the young Werther in his time for that matter?
 
Neither actually existed.
The application of the word in that context is a metaphor.
While the metaphor has become more common than it's true meaning, to be strict, an idol is a subset of an icon, and material.
 
The dictionary says:
1.
   a. An image used as an object of worship.
   b. A false god.
2. One that is adored, often blindly or excessively.
3. Something visible but without substance.
 
I suppose 2 could include the Fonz, but to me, 1a and 3 are axiomatic.
Right Omar - you are using the same dictionary as I am...  Smile
- and if you look ICON up - you get this: 
i·con (kn)
n.
1. also i·kon (kn)
a. An image; a representation.
b. A representation or picture of a sacred or sanctified Christian personage, traditionally used and venerated in the Eastern Church.
2. An important and enduring symbol: "Voyager will take its place ... alongside such icons of airborne adventure as The Spirit of St. Louis and [the] Bell X-1" (William D. Marbach).
3. One who is the object of great attention and devotion; an idol: "He is ... a pop icon designed and manufactured for the video generation" (Harry F. Waters).
4. Computer Science A picture on a screen that represents a specific file, directory, window, option, or program.
 
Comparing the two - I find it obvious ...
- that idol is a term for something you idealise - nomatter what it is
- that icon is a term for a representation of something
 
Quote
........ an idol is a subset of an icon, and material.
 
You got that 180 degrees wrong old friend....  LOL
 
When you have an idol - you make an icon of him...    
and thus, an icon is a subset of an idol, and material
(the idol or what you idealise - does not have to be material - the icon IS material)
 
Sorry CXI, you did not intend this thread to be a discussion of words... and I did not intend to hijack your thread. Just to correct a - to me - obvious misunderstanding.
How is it they put it in court...  No malicious intent... Smile
 


Edited by Northman - 21 Apr 2012 at 08:16
   
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Omar al Hashim Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21 Apr 2012 at 08:19
Alright! I accept defeat.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26 Apr 2012 at 00:49
I must admit that I began the topic with the same definition of icons and idols as Omar.

What I was hoping to explore are the dynamics of iconoclasm as a natural part of the human condition. And also how this part of the human condition is likely to manifest itself in the world we live in today.

Entities use material representations as a demonstration of their power and prestige. One method of combating an entity is to attack those material representations. The Anonymous attacks on Chinese government websites is one example.

I also wanted to explore whether people living in a very materialistic and commercialised world are going to at one point or another revolt against this and attack the symbols of power. For example, an intellectual and social movement emerges in which the members refuse to participate in corporate structures as much as possible, or even go to the effort of vandalising advertisements and websites as a protest against the scale of corporate power.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Panther Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26 Apr 2012 at 01:39
Originally posted by pinguin pinguin wrote:

In Catholic religion, at least, the figures of saints and the representations of Jesus, the apostle and Mary are believed to be illustrations that represent real people, and that developed mainly during the Middle Ages as a way to teach religion to analphabets. However, the Catholic poors usually asociate those same images with supernatural properties coming from the figures themselves!



An example for which he speaks, Jesus and Mary on toast

Jesus Mary Toast

Never could quite understand this degree of veneration. I'm open to anybody trying to explain it to me.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Ramesh V.Naivaruni Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 Apr 2012 at 14:39
The sign and symbols with the context of religion is to make people understand who their God is and why they are worshiping it.  There are thousands muslim brethren who prays and narrates text of koran without understanding them with specific reference to India & Pakistan where majority of them are un-educated working in garages and workshops as such the mullahs spend additional time in making them understand, "Mainly telling them what is good & bad .  Back to the topic vandalism in any form is definetely not  Iconoclasm but Terrorism Ala Talibanism

Edited by Ramesh V.Naivaruni - 30 Apr 2012 at 14:40
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Paradigm of Humanity Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 Apr 2012 at 15:35
Anyone uses the word "terrorism" is definitly sinking into politics. Any government with a serious problem, uses terror methods. So, calling only non-governmental organisations using of terror methods as terrorists means "if you have power, you can use every terror method but we'll never call you as terrorists"... "Also If you are a weak state we can call you as rogue state. But if you are just too strong (like USSR) you will be a legitimate country, even if you were the most dangereous country for me."

For instance... PKK listed as terrorist organisation by Turkey, EU and USA. Yes, PKK uses terror methods, occasionally bombs civilian targets, kidnaps civilians, executes its own members etc... But terror methods are not unfamiliar to Ankara. During 1990's, official, semi-official and non-official government organisations committed far more terror. Including extrajudicial executions of thousands of people allegedly supporting PKK, burning villages that allegedly supporting PKK, torture in prisons etc... (If an ordinary Turkish citizen was heard this, she/he would think I'm a PKK supporter. In fact, being just to someone doesn't mean you are not seeing them as enemies or opponents.)

So what... Spain used similar methods against ETA (extrajudicial executions). I don't think USA is any better... My point is, meaning of the word "terrorist" now used as "the person you hate, you don't want to negotiate, the most evil, pure evil, the completely unreasonable, demonic, satanic etc..." So, avoid that political term.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote pinguin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 Apr 2012 at 17:31
Originally posted by Panther Panther wrote:


An example for which he speaks, Jesus and Mary on toast

Jesus Mary Toast

Never could quite understand this degree of veneration. I'm open to anybody trying to explain it to me.


First, let me explain you I am agnostic, but my family roots are catholic, so I understand that religion from inside.

It is very clear that Catholicism is a religion of many beliefs, and that what the poor and ignorant brothers believe is not the same that the beliefs of the more educated catholic peoples. So, you have in one extreme the catholic that get impressed with the toasts of Jesus and Mary, and at the other extreme you get scientists like Pierre Theilhard de Chardin, which are almost agnostic in theirs beliefs. What they all have in common? Jesus, the Our Father pray, and the Credo. And also, a very beautiful ritual tradition.




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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Ramesh V.Naivaruni Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01 May 2012 at 12:08
If one dwell throught the roots of every religion you will still find symbols and Idols : let us take for example the Holy Cross it is symbol and respected by all the Christians, like wise you Dharga's of the Muslims it is nothing but the cemetry of some saints which is being worshipped and in Hindu religion we have many Idols & Symbols and these things have stayed with us for generation after generations from time immorial as such no Iconoclast or Iconoclasm can ever erase these beliefs from the minds of the followers.
I too agree with Pinguin that there is diffinetely a difference between the understanding of a un-educated class to highly literates'. Having said this I think within the context of religion there must be a way to address this disparity and bring in the not so educated one's to understanding.
 
Even in the Hindu religion when one goes into the higher levels of understanding "idols and symbols are not there". it is only self realisation that matters.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Paradigm of Humanity Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01 May 2012 at 13:47
Originally posted by Ramesh V.Naivaruni Ramesh V.Naivaruni wrote:

like wise you Dharga's of the Muslims it is nothing but the cemetry of some saints which is being worshipped

No, ignorant and uneducated is worshipping them. But not directly though... In Islam, you can only make wishes from Allah. But you can also wish from another person who can wish for you from Allah. Anyone thinks that a saint accomplishes his/her wish are falling into serious error.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Buckskins Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01 May 2012 at 20:16
The next thing is gonna be Elvis's stigmata on my blue velvet portrait of him is phony.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Ramesh V.Naivaruni Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02 May 2012 at 13:39
Originally posted by Paradigm of Humanity Paradigm of Humanity wrote:

Originally posted by Ramesh V.Naivaruni Ramesh V.Naivaruni wrote:

like wise you Dharga's of the Muslims it is nothing but the cemetry of some saints which is being worshipped

No, ignorant and uneducated is worshipping them. But not directly though... In Islam, you can only make wishes from Allah. But you can also wish from another person who can wish for you from Allah. Anyone thinks that a saint accomplishes his/her wish are falling into serious error.
It is like saying that a Sanyasin needs not have Idols to worship! Becoz he is an enlightned one for him nature itself is god(PRAKRUTI & PURUSHA) but in reality the mass who worships are not as enlightned as the rishis and munis. Similarly an average Christain or a Muslim knowledge of religion cannot be compared with people like Pastors, Mullahs etc (People who have studied Theology). On the lighter note in India the muslims brothern who are little forward thinking question the rules put in by Mullah and they say "There is rule prescribed by Allah : another one by mullahs'. This reality is not just confined to just one community but at large people in authority tend to bend rules as per the wishes or as time demands.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02 May 2012 at 18:38
"the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath".
 
Mark II: 27 (KJV)

Citizen of Ankh-Morpork.

Never believe anything until it has been officially denied - Sir Humphrey Appleby, 1984.

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