God and broken pipes

by Modaser Shah

An Egyptian woman activist is quoted as  saying that it is fine to chant Allahu Akbar but it won’t fix the broken pipe. Someone has to repair those broken pipes! What a deep thought this is; one wishes Mullah Nasruddin, the wise fool of the Sufis, had uttered it, as he went searching for his lost items in a place other than where he had lost them. Light had misled him!

A quote attributed to Andrew Lang that I heard on television from James Carville, President Clinton’s adviser, says that a drunk uses a lamppost for support, not illumination. As you may recall, a passerby tried to help Mullah Nasruddin find the said items until, having been somewhat familiar with the latter’s peculiar ways, it occurred to him to  ask where the articles had actually been lost. Upon learning from the hapless Mullah that the actual location was somewhere else,the flabbergasted passer-by had to ask why the Mullah was looking in a different place. Nasruddin, as always, had a ready-made reposte: Why, of course, because that is where the light is! And Nasruddin’s answers always left his interlocutors speechless. So while the Mullah, self-satisfied, busies himself looking wherever there is light to look under, others have to go into the darker regions and fix the broken pipes, so to speak. For Allahu Akbar, InshaAllah and such phrases, while true and reasonable things to utter, are often meant to shut others up, to end conversations and discussion. Indeed, one may venture to say, in some contexts in which these phrases are used as a public display, rather than a private communion with the divine, the purpose seems to be put an end not only to discussion but to thinking itself. For thinking is a dangerous thing with which man has been equipped. However,without indulging in this dangerous activity, it is hard to venture into the dark to look for lost articles, or to repair broken pipes, or broken hearts, or broken bodies, or even perhaps broken souls, or to discover new continents, new species, new planets, new stars, new galaxies, or, coming back to the mundane, clean the dwelling and the streets.

On the other hand, too much thinking can be deadening and paralyze the will to action.

Sen. Lindsay Gaham of South Carolina recently told Fox and Friends that “when somebody yells ‘Allahu Akbar‘ in the Middle East, I duck.” The opposite side of the coin was expressed by Sen. McCain:” For someone to say ‘Allahu Akbar‘ is about as offensive as someone saying ‘Thank God.’ One can shout Allahu Akbar and ignore the plumbing, hoping God would send  someone else to do it. Or one can shout Allahu Akbar, and repair what needs to be repaired. Or one can, in silence, do what needs to be done. This is the  secret of which Confucius and the mystics spoke: becoming one with what needs to be done,without effort and thought; the synthesis of action and inaction; being ethical without exertion and fanfare.

An Urdu saying goes: Do good and toss it (stuff) into the river! What could this mean? I suspect the Mullah is behind this ko-an.

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