Shit is the biggest challenge of Islamic jurisprudence (“Feqh”). The toilet in Islamic jurisprudence is in fact a touchstone in contact with which the depth, boldness, mastery, prominence and quality of the Muslim intellectual thought is revealed. A look at the glorious Shiite literature from Al-Muttaqin Allameh Majlisi to the “explanation of the issues” books and treatises written by today’s Grand Ayatollahs’ chapter on toilet and the issues directly and indirectly related to the dignity of this room is a clear proof of the metaphysical importance of shit in Islamic thought. The reason for the importance of shit in religions in general and in Islam in particular is that sanctity and shit are in eternal conflict. The war to which Islam constantly sends surahs and verses throughout its literature is not the war of truth against falsehood, against evil, against infidelity and darkness, but the war of sanctity against excrement, against feces, and against shit. The eternal contradiction is due to the fact that shit is an undeniable, everyday and indelible reality of human life; As long as there is a human being, there is also shit. Holiness does not go with shit. It is enough to imagine “Imam Hossein” in Karbala desert, how with a halo, on the morning of Tasoa raises his long skirt somewhere hidden behind the tents and defecates some shit from his anus on the holy soil of Karbala, then uses a piece of that soil to clean himself, the same soil which now could be a prayer “mohr” a Shiite Muslim rubs it on his forehead dozens of times a day. There is nothing left of holiness: the challenge of ewer and the one-handed Khamenei, the diarrhea of the Prophet – holiness does not go with shit. It is also not possible to remove the shit; At least from the lives of ordinary and unholy people. This is where the “Faqih” (jurisprudence expert) rushes to manage shit in the lives of the common people. In case of the Messenger of God and the Imams, “purification” is a much more fundamental issue. The removal of shit is applied to these people in a much more radical way, along with the removal of their physical reality, which is reflected in Islamic aniconism.
The Islamic society today, beheads a mother with a knife in front of Notre Dame’s basilica because of Mohammad’s caricature, shoots passers-by aimlessly in Vienna, Khamenei refers to these terrorist attacks as a sign of “Islamic society’s vitality ” and if Muhammad in that drawing was not a caricature but a realistic image, it would have made no difference: the physical reality of Muhammad and the Imams has been removed by jurists and scholars, and their redesign is a war against God.
Milan Kundera’s “Unbearable Lightness of Being” has been published several times in Persian. In its most crucial part, this philosophical novel deals with the “metaphysical problem of shit” and its relation to theology, and from within this subject, a concept of “kitsch” is drawn. Almost all of this section in the Persian translation has either been forged or completely removed. For this reason, and on the occasion of the birth of Muhammad and the Islamist terrorist attacks in European cities due to the publication of a cartoon of Muhammad in Charlie Hebdo magazine, we read the Persian translation of these omissions:
Not until 1980 were we able to read in the Sunday Times how Stalin’s son, Yakov, died. Captured by the Germans during the Second World War, he was placed in a camp together with a group of British officers. They shared a latrine. Stalin’s son habitually left a foul mess. The British officers resented having their latrine smeared with shit, even if it was the shit of the son of the most powerful man in the world. They brought the matter to his attention. He took offense. They brought it to his attention again and again, and tried to make him clean the latrine. He raged, argued, and fought. Finally, he demanded a hearing with the camp commander. He wanted the commander to act as arbiter. But the arrogant German refused to talk about shit. Stalin’s son could not stand the humiliation. Crying out to heaven in the most terrifying of Russian curses, he took a running jump into the electrified barbed-wire fence that surrounded the camp. He hit the target. His body, which would never again make a mess of the Britishers’ latrine, was pinned to the wire.
Stalin’s son had a hard time of it. All evidence points to the conclusion that his father killed the woman by whom he had the boy. Young Stalin was therefore both the Son of God (because his father was revered like God) and His cast-off. People feared him twofold: he could injure them by both his wrath (he was, after all, Stalin’s son) and his favor (his father might punish his cast-off son’s friends in order to punish him).
Rejection and privilege, happiness and woe—no one felt more concretely than Yakov how interchangeable opposites are, how short the step from one pole of human existence to the other.
Then, at the very outset of the war, he fell prisoner to the Germans, and other prisoners, belonging to an incomprehensible, standoffish nation that had always been intrinsically repulsive to him, accused him of being dirty. Was he, who bore on his shoulders a drama of the highest order (as fallen angel and Son of God), to undergo judgment not for something sublime (in the realm of God and the angels) but for shit? Were the very highest of drama and the very lowest so vertiginously close?
Vertiginously close? Can proximity cause vertigo?
It can. When the north pole comes so close as to touch the south pole, the earth disappears and man finds himself in a void that makes his head spin and beckons him to fall.
If rejection and privilege are one and the same, if there is no difference between the sublime and the paltry, if the Son of God can undergo judgment for shit, then human existence loses its dimensions and becomes unbearably light. When Stalin’s son ran up to the electrified wire and hurled his body at it, the fence was like the pan of a scales sticking pitifully up in the air, lifted by the infinite lightness of a world that has lost its dimensions.
Stalin’s son laid down his life for shit. But a death for shit is not a senseless death. The Germans who sacrificed their lives to expand their country’s territory to the east, the Russians who died to extend their country’s power to the west—yes, they died for something idiotic, and their deaths have no meaning or general validity. Amid the general idiocy of the war, the death of Stalin’s son stands out as the sole metaphysical death.
When I was small and would leaf through the Old Testament retold for children and illustrated in engravings by Gustave Dore, I saw the Lord God standing on a cloud. He was an old man with eyes, nose, and a long beard, and I would say to myself that if He had a mouth, He had to eat. And if He ate, He had intestines. But that thought always gave me a fright, because even though I come from a family that was not particularly religious, I felt the idea of a divine intestine to be sacrilegious.
Spontaneously, without any theological training, I, a child, grasped the incompatibility of God and shit and thus came to question the basic thesis of Christian anthropology, namely, that man was created in God’s image. Either/or: either man was created in God’s image—and God has intestines!—or God lacks intestines and man is not like Him.
The ancient Gnostics felt as I did at the age of five. In the second century, the great Gnostic master Valentinus resolved the damnable dilemma by claiming that Jesus ate and drank, but did not defecate.
Shit is a more onerous theological problem than is evil. Since God gave man freedom, we can, if need be, accept the idea that He is not responsible for man’s crimes. The responsibility for shit, however, rests entirely with Him, the Creator of man.
In the fourth century, Saint Jerome completely rejected the notion that Adam and Eve had sexual intercourse in Paradise. On the other hand, Johannes Scotus Erigena, the great ninth-century theologian, accepted the idea. He believed, moreover, that Adam’s virile member could be made to rise like an arm or a leg, when and as its owner wished. We must not dismiss this fancy as the recurrent dream of a man obsessed with the threat of impotence. Erigena’s idea has a different meaning. If it were possible to raise the penis by means of a simple command, then sexual excitement would have no place in the world. The penis would rise not because we are excited but because we order it to do so. What the great theologian found incompatible with Paradise was not sexual intercourse and the attendant pleasure; what he found incompatible with Paradise was excitement. Bear in mind: There was pleasure in Paradise, but no excitement.
Erigena’s argument holds the key to a theological justification (in other words, a theodicy) of shit. As long as man was allowed to remain in Paradise, either (like Valentinus’ Jesus) he did not defecate at all, or (as would seem more likely) he did not look upon shit as something repellent. Not until after God expelled man from Paradise did He make him feel disgust. Man began to hide what shamed him, and by the time he removed the veil, he was blinded by a great light. Thus, immediately after his introduction to disgust, he was introduced to excitement. Without shit (in both the literal and figurative senses of the word), there would be no sexual love as we know it, accompanied by pounding heart and blinded senses.
In Part Three of this novel I told the tale of Sabina standing half-naked with a bowler hat on her head and the fully dressed Tomas at her side. There is something I failed to mention at the time. While she was looking at herself in the mirror, excited by her self-denigration, she had a fantasy of Tomas seating her on the toilet in her bowler hat and watching her void her bowels. Suddenly her heart began to pound and, on the verge of fainting, she pulled Tomas down to the rug and immediately let out an orgasmic shout.
The dispute between those who believe that the world was created by God and those who think it came into being of its own accord deals with phenomena that go beyond our reason and experience. Much more real is the line separating those who doubt being as it is granted to man (no matter how or by whom) from those who accept it without reservation.
Behind all the European faiths, religious and political, we find the first chapter of Genesis, which tells us that the world was created properly, that human existence is good, and that we are therefore entitled to multiply. Let us call this basic faith a categorical agreement with being.
The fact that until recently the word shit appeared in print as s— has nothing to do with moral considerations. You can’t claim that shit is immoral, after all! The objection to shit is a metaphysical one. The daily defecation session is daily proof of the unacceptability of creation. Either/or: either shit is acceptable (in which case don’t lock yourself in the bathroom!) or we are created in an unacceptable manner.
It follows, then, that the aesthetic ideal of the categorical agreement with being is a world in which shit is denied and everyone acts as though it did not exist. This aesthetic ideal is called kitsch. Kitsch is a German word born in the middle of the sentimental nineteenth century, and from German it entered all Western languages. Repeated use, however, has obliterated its original metaphysical meaning: kitsch is the absolute denial of shit, in both the literal and the figurative senses of the word; kitsch excludes everything from its purview which is essentially unacceptable in human existence.
Translation of this article by Sahar.