Monday, February 20, 2006

Iconographication of Muhammad (S.A.W.)

Mohamed: the messenger of Allah
By Paul Vallely
Published: 03 February 2006


Images of the Prophet Mohamed have long been discouraged in Islam. The West has little understanding of why this should be so - nor of the intensity of the feelings aroused by non-believers' attitudes to the founder of Islam.

To historians, Mohamed was a prophet and religious reformer who united the scattered Arabian tribes in the 7th century, founding what went on to become one of the world's five great religions. To Muslims, he was the last in a line of figures which included Abraham, Moses and Jesus, but which found its supreme fulfilment in Mohamed.

They believe that he was visited by the Angel Gabriel who commanded him to memorise and recite the verses sent by God which became the Koran - and that he completed and perfected the teaching of God throughout history.

Because Muslims believe that Mohamed was the messenger of Allah, they extrapolate that all his actions were willed by God. A singular love and veneration thus attaches to the person of Mohamed himself. When speaking or writing, his name is always preceded by the title "Prophet" and followed by the phrase: "Peace be upon him", often abbreviated in English as PBUH.

Attempts to depict him in illustration were therefore an attempt to depict the sublime - and so forbidden.

More than that, to reject and criticise Mohamed is to reject and criticise Allah himself. Criticism of the Prophet is therefore equated with blasphemy, which is punishable by death in some Muslim states. When Salman Rushdie, in his novel The Satanic Verses, depicted Mohamed as a cynical schemer and his wives as prostitutes, the outcome was - to those with any understanding of Islam - predictable.

But understanding of Islam is sorely lacking in the West. The culture gap has its roots in the fact that Christianity - like Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism - is essentially an iconographic religion. In its early years, the Christian world took the statues of the old gods and goddesses of Greece and morphed them into images of the Virgin Mary and the saints, which were worshiped in all the churches. Muslims, like Jews, take a polar opposite view. Islam and Judaism are religions of the word, not the image.

Islam has traditionally prohibited images of humans and animals altogether - which is why much Islamic art is made up of decorative calligraphy or abstract arabesque patterns.Throughout history Muslims have cast out, destroyed or denounced all images, whether carved or painted, as idolatry. Despite that prohibition, hundreds of images of Mohamed have been created over the centuries. Medieval Christian artists created paintings and illuminated manuscripts depicting Mohamed, usually with his face in full view. Muslim artists from the same era depicted Mohamed too, but usually left his face blank or veiled.

Sixteenth-century Persian and Ottoman art frequently represented the Prophet, albeit with his face either veiled, or emanating radiance. One 16th-century Turkish painting, in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, shows Mohamed in very long sleeves so as to avoid showing even his hands.

The ban is not absolute. Today, iconic pictures of Mohamed are sold openly on the street in Iran. The creation, sale or owning of such images is illegal, but the regime turns a blind eye (Muslims in Iran are Shia not Sunni).

Two things are different today. The cartoons published first in Denmark and now more widely across Europe set out not to depict but to ridicule the Prophet. And they do so in a climate in which Muslims across the globe feel alienated, threatened and routinely despised by the world's great powers.

The combination of this with Islam's traditional unhappiness at depictions of any human form, let alone of their most venerated one, was bound to be explosive. The affair is an example of Western ignorance and arrogance combined. We have lit a fire and the wind could take it a long way.

6 Comments:

Blogger RizRahim said...

They say they're merely exercising their freedom of speech, or freedom of the press. They even considered it as being a harmless humour. But they forgot to consider one little small thing: some other billions of people who happen to live in the same planet as they do. What a pity.

10:26 AM, March 09, 2006  
Blogger haya_shiloh said...

exactly. And people always forgot, freedom of speech entails responsibilities, not just an all-out yakfest.

7:48 AM, March 10, 2006  
Blogger brown-eyed girl said...

I know this is very politically incorrect, but I don't feel much sympathy.
Aren't many Muslims in other countries constantly saying that non-believers are infidels? Isn't anti-semitism like institutionalised in some countries? What about burning of churches and destroying of other religions' temples? And what about burning of the American flag?
I don't want to start a fight, but I don't feel any compassion over the affair whatsoever. Maybe that's bound to start a fight.
I think that free speech can be a "yakfest". Free speech is free speech. There are responsibilities that come along with free speech and they're being suffered. That's the way it is. All out yakfests are fine as far as I'm concerned.
I'm sure many of the people who are outraged about the cartoons would have no compunction about disrespecting other religions.

Maybe you hate me now. But it was either say something or say nothing. Maybe it's better to say something , because I was thinking it anyway.

9:23 AM, March 24, 2006  
Blogger haya_shiloh said...

hey, it takes a lot more than that to make me hate you, lady :). burning down my house and spreading stories abt my shamelessly geeky youth on the internet, for starters. and oh, i will also hate you if you don't donate at least 10 bucks to charity every month.

but yes, it is better for you to bring this up than keeping it within yourself, because few things nurtures misunderstandings more than continuous inbreedings of unchecked thoughts.

True, there are Muslims that act in uncivilized ways, but the same applies to people of other faiths. we have bad seeds in our midst as well. throughout history, countless people of different faiths have not only done acts that deviate from the teachings of that faith, but some also have the balls to twist the teachings to fit their own crooked ways.

The fact that Muslims are the frequent highlights of the current media doesn't help much to balance our perspectives either. The more we talk abt something, the more we perceive frequency/commonness of its occurences. availability heuristics is the psych term, if i'm not mistaken.

As for yakfest being ok, maybe i've chosen the wrong word here. maybe "slugfest" is a closer term. i.e., when respect goes out of window, a neutral debate can evolve into shouting match, name-calling, brawling, and World Wars. how much beneficial is freedom of speech now, when matters have deteriorated to that stage? because of the fact that humans are an emotional being, on top of a rational one, and extreme emotions can override one's senses, isn't it better that social intercourses are handled with care for each other's feelings?

Perhaps we can be dispassionate abt this now because it didn't concern matters that are dear to us. but will you feel the same abt it when people are throwing insults at you, when people are digging out your dirty laundry, added some outrageous details to spice it up, and spread the story out to others?

oh yeah, i don't quite get you when you said "There are responsibilities that come along with free speech and they're being suffered."... can you elaborate on that?

peace.

10:17 AM, March 24, 2006  
Blogger RizRahim said...

My comment earlier includes everyone, Muslims or not. It's not necessarily about religion, but more towards global respect and courtesy. If being respectful and courteous could prevent a war, why wouldn't you? If practicing freedom of speech or burning down churches or temples or flags for that matter, can start that war, why would you? Why would any of us?

Those who are ignorant and foolish enough may do as they please. But those able to think, maybe they, we, us, could do something about it, yeah? :-)

2:00 PM, March 24, 2006  
Blogger Myra said...

Interesting thoughts. I never knew that paintings of Muhammad were sold openly in the streets. Perhaps they were the non-Muslims depiction of Muhammad? I've seen quite a few depictions of Muhammad in a number of religious text books written by non-Muslims. I think most Muslims still largely believe that they are not supposed to have Muhammad in pictures, as it might lead to obsession etc.

1:02 AM, May 17, 2009  

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