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FW: [agade] FEATURES: Representations of the prophet

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  • Judith Lerner
    List members who recall our discussions about representations of the Prophet--and the decision by Yale U Press to exclude from The Cartoons That Shook the
    Message 1 of 7 , Nov 1, 2009
      List members who recall our discussions about representations of the
      Prophet--and the decision by Yale U Press to exclude from The Cartoons That
      Shook the World, the very images that "shook the world"--may be interested
      in this article in The New Republic by Oleg Grabar, forwarded from the Agade


      From <http://www.tnr.com/article/books-and-arts/seeing-and-believing>

      The New Republic
      October 30, 2009 | 12:00 am

      Seeing and Believing
      The image of the prophet in Islam: the real story.

      Oleg Grabar

      Are representations of the Prophet Muhammad permitted in Islam? To make
      or not to make images of the Prophet: that is the question I will try to
      answer. It is an unexpectedly burning question, as the newspapers
      regularly demonstrate. But both the answer to the question and the
      reasons for raising it require a broader introduction.

      There have been many times in recent years when one bemoaned the
      explosion of media that have provided public forums for so much
      incompetence and ignorance, not to speak of prejudice. Matters became
      worse after September 11, for two additional reasons. The first is the
      propagation of a climate of fear, of ever-present danger from
      ill-defined foes, which led in the West, and especially in the United
      States, to a plethora of security measures ranging from reasonable and
      useful to ridiculous and demeaning. Penetrating and perverting
      institutions and individuals, this fear collided in the Muslim world
      with a complex ideological and psychological evolution that led many
      people in Muslim countries and communities to a reflexive and often
      self-destructive brutality in reaction to the slightest whiff of verbal
      or visual provocation.

      The second reason is the exacerbation of a mode of judgment that is not
      new by itself but has in recent years acquired frightening dimensions.
      It consists in identifying the country--or religion, ethnicity, race, or
      any other general category of human association--of anyone responsible
      for a crime or misdeed, and then condemning the whole group for the
      action of a single person. The crimes and misdeeds, I should add, need
      not be recent ones. They can be--and often are--events of many years and
      even centuries ago. A cult of past and present horrors surrounds us. The
      paradoxical analysis of past evils according to contemporary norms has
      the effect of denying history, which has its own explanation of events.

      Recently Yale University Press, one of the most distinguished university
      presses in America, agreed to publish The Cartoons That Shook the World
      by Jytte Klausen, an academically acceptable and well-researched study
      of the publication by a Danish newspaper, in 2005, of cartoons willfully
      showing the Prophet Muhammad in vulgar and politically charged ways, and
      of the turbulent aftermath of their publication. As is well known,
      several weeks after their appearance these drawings--which should be
      called caricatures rather than cartoons: a first example of the
      technical ignorance in the media's accounts of the story--were shown,
      and sometimes simply mentioned without being shown, in Muslim
      communities in Europe, and then in various parts of the Muslim world.
      This led to riots, with losses of life, in a few cities, and to the
      destruction and the boycott of Danish products.

      Klausen, who provides a careful chronology of the events, is a Danish
      political scientist who teaches at Brandeis University. Her book was
      meant to include the images themselves (which are available on the
      Internet) as well as earlier, mostly Western, illustrations of the
      Prophet Muhammad in a variety of contexts, usually not in a terribly
      favorable light. But at the last minute, and in accordance with opinions
      provided by a wide variety of people, Yale University Press decided to
      drop all representations of the Prophet from a book whose subject is
      their impact. The argument of the press was that the images could be
      considered offensive by Muslims and lead to violence, to attacks on Yale
      and other American institutions.

      The assumption that the masses in Karachi and Jakarta would have seen,
      or otherwise taken note of, a book from Yale is a bit
      presumptuous--unless, of course, they were prodded by the media's
      sensationalism, and its interest in stories of riots by uncouth youths
      worked up in their anti-American feelings (by this point Yale and its
      actual book would be long forgotten) by local purveyors of hate and
      destruction. Yale's decision is certainly a denial of free speech,
      though of course the argument can be made that a possible danger to
      people may compel restrictions in the expression of opinions and of
      facts. I am not persuaded by this argument about this book. And the
      deletion of the images is also--a far more important criticism in this
      instance--a gratuitous betrayal of scholarship, since many other books
      (including at least four published by Yale, two of them by me) do show
      images of the Prophet.

      Here I must make a disclosure. Several years ago, in a book on the Dome
      of the Rock in Jerusalem that was published by Harvard University Press,
      I included a representation of a fourteenth-century Persian painting
      showing the archangel Gabriel bringing the city of Jerusalem to the
      Prophet Muhammad. The press requested that the section of the painting
      representing the Prophet be removed. First I objected and then I agreed,
      because its presence was not essential to my argument; but the episode
      left a bad taste in my mouth, a feeling of regret, especially in light
      of the fact that many learned books or journals, and even some popular
      ones, especially in Europe, publish pictures of the Prophet when such
      images are required by the text or proposed by their authors.

      Generalities and disclosures aside, the substance of the dispute lies in
      the allegation made by Muslims, or at least some Muslims, and often
      repeated by the Western media, that representations of the Prophet are
      forbidden in Islam, and therefore that such representations as do exist,
      or have existed, within the Muslim world or beyond its borders are
      either sins or provocations. The conclusions to be drawn from such a
      view are obvious. Sins must be punished, and their repetition avoided;
      and provocations must be answered with vigor.

      In reality, however, things are not so simple. In the past, and still
      today, pictures of the Prophet Muhammad have been produced, and are
      still produced, by Muslim artists for Muslim patrons. How do these
      images fit with the presumed existence within the Islamic world of a
      doctrine prohibiting all representations of living beings? To answer
      this last question, it is essential to understand the nature of a legal
      system that operates in the absence of an organization such as the
      church or of formal written codes of law accepted by the vast majority
      of those who claim to be Muslims.

       From the very beginning of its existence, the Muslim world practiced
      and developed an elaborate legal system meant to control and to judge
      all aspects of life, but its totalistic ambition was often frustrated by
      its own sophistication and diversity. This system, known as sharia, was
      based on the Qur'an, an immutable divine revelation, and the hadith, a
      huge body of actions and statements attributed to the Prophet, whose
      authenticity--and reliability for believers--was discussed for
      centuries. The words of the Qur'an and the stories of the hadith were
      interpreted and re-interpreted for centuries by learned scholars and
      practicing judges, known respectively as fuqaha and qudat (the plural of
      qadi). Although a consensus was established on many issues, and was
      often adopted by the legal systems of Muslim states in our times, this
      consensus was not total or universal. With variations that arouse the
      passions of modern historians and politicians, the opinions and
      judgments of this tradition of legal interpretation can, in theory at
      least, range from absolute and constant to near-anarchical and open-ended.

      The issue of the visual representation of human beings, and therefore of
      the Prophet too, belongs to the latter category. The Qur'an itself is
      silent on the subject. Only a single passage is usually quoted in
      discussions of the matter. This passage (3:43) relates the words spoken
      by God to Mary, the mother of Jesus, saying that her son will proclaim:
      "I come to you with a sign from your Lord. I will make for you out of
      clay the likeness of a bird, then I will breathe into it and it will
      become a bird, by the leave of God." This was understood by the majority
      of interpreters to mean that God alone can create life, and to imply
      that there is no point in representations other than to make them alive.
      Other passages that are sometimes adduced in discussions of
      representation refer to them as real or potential idols--which is to
      say, sinful less for what they are than for the behavior that they may

      The fear of idolatry permeates the formative centuries (essentially the
      seventh and eighth of the common era) of Islamic culture, which is
      perfectly understandable when one recalls the importance of images in
      Christianity, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, and whatever pagan
      traces had remained in the vast territory, from the Atlantic Ocean to
      the frontiers of China, taken over by a relatively small army of Arab
      Muslim conquerors and missionaries. The result of these contacts with a
      world replete with religious and other imagery was a refusal by Muslims
      to make images--what scholars now call aniconism; and the frequent
      substitution of writing for representation. There are occasional
      examples of the destruction of images, though in early times such
      iconoclasm is much rarer in Islamic lands than in Christian lands.
      Eventually--possibly as early as the end of the eighth century,
      according to a shaky scholarly consensus--the condemnation of all those
      who make images became the view of the majority of legal scholars. And
      yet a minority kept on maintaining that beauty pleases God and does not
      necessarily lead to idolatry.

      The result of all these opinions and feelings was complicated: religious
      art, in mosques in particular, avoided and rejected images, while the
      secular art of princes, and later of wealthy city dwellers, ornamented
      their abodes and the things in their possession with all sorts of
      representations. In other words, and in perfect harmony with the rich
      legal culture of the time, a range of possible attitudes toward
      religious imagery was maintained. Abstinence dominated, but it never
      became the only Muslim attitude or practice.

      On the whole, especially when compared to the contemporary Eastern
      Christian world, which was rocked by the crisis of iconoclasm, the
      question of images was secondary within the thinking of the legal
      scholars, largely because neither the bases on which Islamic thought
      rests nor the specific needs of the Muslim faithful gave it much
      consideration. Although I am not familiar with the legal or theological
      literature of later centuries, or with the jurisprudential discourse in
      legal and theological schools in our own day, I suspect that the same
      comparative absence of extended reflection on the subject of iconography
      remained the case until the twentieth century, when technology made
      visual images ubiquitous. And even then the subject provoked relatively
      few comments. The one exception may be the milieu of Saudi Arabian
      wahhabism, where a doctrine of aniconic prohibition in official and
      public circumstances co-existed with the relatively open practice of
      displaying images in the privacy of homes or as homages to ruling
      princes. A sort of "don't ask, don't tell" policy seemed acceptable to
      the ruling classes, although rumbles for change could easily be felt in
      the few countries with forceful restrictions.

      Did the pictures of the Prophet Muhammad exist within this double
      system? The historical evidence is very curious. During the first six
      centuries of Islam's existence, there is one very early coin type, an
      example of which is kept at the American Numismatic Society in New York,
      which may have represented the Prophet Muhammad; but this interpretation
      is far from being accepted by all scholars. And then, in the tenth
      century, there developed a fascinating story. It was said that there was
      an image of the Prophet in the possession of the Byzantine Christian
      emperor, which was shown by him to early Muslim ambassadors who came to
      convert him to Islam. The alleged image was in a collection of images of
      prophets from Adam to Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. It served to
      demonstrate that Muhammad was indeed the last of the messengers sent by
      God for the salvation of man. One account of this image is that it was
      made by a Christian monk named Bahirah, who recognized prophecy in the
      youthful Muhammad accompanying a caravan of merchants from Mecca.

      Until very recently, the sensuous representation of young Muhammad, as
      allegedly painted by Bahirah, could be acquired in Iran. It had been
      copied and reproduced in the many ways in which the commercial society
      of today distributes its most valued symbols. The image has undergone
      recent changes, and it no longer exhibits the slightly risqué sensuality
      of its early versions--whose original, according to the Persian
      inscription at the bottom of the image, was kept in a "western or
      Christian museum" (muze-i rum), a mysterious and perhaps mythical
      location which deserves its own philological and psychological analysis.
      The casuistic explanation by Islamic scholars for the existence of this
      image was that it belonged to a time that preceded the assumption of
      prophethood by Muhammad, and that therefore "Islamic" rules did not
      apply to it.

      The alleged existence of such early images of the Prophet was
      fascinatingly developed among Chinese Muslims of later times. There is a
      story, told in various texts, that a Chinese emperor had heard of
      Muhammad and wanted to know more about him and his new beliefs. He
      invited Muhammad to visit China and to convert its people, but Muhammad
      thought the trip too complicated, and instead he sent a picture of
      himself. The Chinese emperor set it on his bed, and once the country had
      been converted, the picture disappeared. There are several variants to
      this story, which serves simply to show that, even when there is no sign
      of the existence of actual portraits, the idea of such portraits of holy
      figures existed, and was usually associated with others rather than
      Muslims, in this case with Western Christians or Chinese. As so often in
      every cultural system, foreigners are responsible for things that seem
      wrong or embarrassing.

      What is more important, for our purposes, is that these stories--written
      by and for Muslims about non-Muslims--employed images to demonstrate the
      point of Muhammad's uniqueness within a divine revelation through a
      series of prophets that began with Adam. In a paradox that permeates
      much of early Islamic thought on this subject, this visual and
      theological uniqueness co-existed with the very human reality of a
      particular person's life and demeanor, which were described (and of
      course praised) in many accounts. As we shall see, this paradox affected
      the further history of images of Muhammad.

      A major transformation took place in Islamic culture from around 1200
      onward. The old centers of science and culture were profoundly affected
      by ethnic change (mass immigration of Turks), territorial change (the
      conquest of Anatolia and of northern India), social change (the growth
      of a feudal order and of an urban middle class), religious change (a
      complex symbiosis of Sunnism and Shiism, and the growth of mystical Sufi
      movements), and intellectual change (the emergence of a brilliant new
      Persian literature, and of vast theological and philosophical
      syntheses). In the Arab world, and especially in Iran, there was born a
      new art of book illustration. One of its earliest examples is the
      Persian manuscript of a mystical romance known by the name of Warqa wa
      Gulshah, now kept in an Istanbul museum, usually dated to the early
      thirteenth century and probably executed in Anatolia or in Iranian

      In one of the miniatures in Warqa wa Gulshah, the Prophet Muhammad is
      seated on a princely throne and is surrounded by the first four caliphs,
      the so-called orthodox caliphs who succeeded the Prophet at the head of
      the Muslim community, who are shown like members of a feudal court, some
      carrying military symbols, others bureaucratic ones. Nothing
      distinguishes the Prophet from the other personages in the miniature.
      They all have a halo, a sign of honor probably picked up from Christian
      art. In another miniature, the Prophet is shown accomplishing the unique
      task of resurrecting two lovers who had already been buried. He is
      smaller than all the other figures in the painting, and is making a
      simple gesture of the hand to accomplish his task. Similar secondary
      appearances occur a few more times in fourteenth-century chronicles or
      romances, but not very frequently.

      More interesting representations of the Prophet appear in two other
      manuscripts, both of which happen to be housed in Edinburgh. One is a
      copy of a celebrated History of Ancient Times by the great polymath
      Al-Biruni, who died around 1050. The manuscript dates from around 1300.
      One striking miniature in the manuscript shows Muhammad surrounded by
      his daughter Fatimah, her husband Ali, and their two children Hasan and
      Husayn--the first family of Shiism--greeting a Christian delegation from
      Najran in southwestern Arabia, an illustration of a well-known
      half-legendary event in the Islamization of the Arabian peninsula. All
      these personages are dressed in fancy clothes modeled on courtly
      vestments of the time, without any distinguishing or sacralizing sign.

      The same is true of an even more remarkable series of representations of
      the Prophet found in the other manuscript of the time, dated 1314-1315,
      also in Edinburgh. It is a copy (only fragments remain from it) made in
      Tabriz of a world history, a Compendium of Histories, gathered by Rashid
      al-Din, the great vizier of the Mongol regime. There are no less than
      six preserved illustrations of the life of Muhammad, including his
      birth, his dramatic visit to Mecca as a young adult, the archangel
      Gabriel informing him of his vocation as a Prophet of God, and a
      stunning representation of his ascension into heaven, about which more
      will be said below. None of these images are given any formal,
      codicological, or iconographic features that would separate them from
      standard illustrations of historical texts.

      This sort of inclusion of Muhammad within a broader body of illustrated
      material continued over the centuries, and in the sixteenth century it
      acquired a new vehicle in the Qisas al-Anbiya, or Stories of the
      Prophets, originally written in Arabic, and frequently illustrated in
      Persian or Turkish versions, many copies of which exist in most
      collections of manuscripts. Illustrations dealing with Muhammad are
      usually small in number, when compared with those that depict Moses,
      Joseph, or Jesus and many minor prophets from what is now called the
      "Abrahamic" tradition; and nothing distinguishes them in particular.
      They play a minor role in a genre that itself turned out to be
      relatively secondary in the tradition of painting in Muslim lands, which
      developed so brilliantly in the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries. But
      the important fact is that they existed, and there is no evidence that
      these images were criticized within the presumably religious milieu that
      created them. They must have fulfilled some purpose in the piety and the
      instruction of some faithful, though we do not know what that purpose was.

      Something else also began in the early fourteenth century. In an album
      in Istanbul there is a remarkable series of large and beautiful
      miniatures depicting, without a remaining explanatory text, several
      episodes from a story that developed quite early within the Muslim
      religious system--the story of the Prophet's Night Journey to the masjid
      al-aqsa, the "farthest mosque," usually identified with Jerusalem, and
      then his ascension (mi'raj) to heaven and his encounter with God. At
      roughly the same time, in the early fifteenth century, a text known
      primarily by its Persian name as the Mi'rajnameh, or Book of the
      Ascension, was produced, based on earlier--and mostly Arabic--versions
      that have not been preserved or have not yet been discovered. The
      Persian text exists in several copies. The most spectacular of these, in
      the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, was written in 1436 in chaghatai,
      the Turkic language of the military class of Turks and Mongols who ruled
      over most of the Islamic world east of the Mediterranean. It depicts
      every detail of the Prophet's journey: his meeting with all other
      prophets, his seeing the tortures inflicted in hell as well as the
      rewards of Paradise, and his eventual encounter in a cloud of gold with
      the divine presence. The images are clear and direct, and of very high
      technical quality. The Prophet is consistently depicted with a crown on
      his head and riding the mythical beast Buraq, and he is preceded
      everywhere by the flying archangel Gabriel.

      This manuscript is unique for the quality and the quantity of its
      images, but other "Books of Ascension" exist, some with a few
      illustrations. Yet there was one image created for the Mi'rajnameh that
      appeared in manuscripts of many other texts, sometimes with a minimum of
      inspiration from whatever passage seems to have been illustrated. This
      image shows a brilliantly lit sky, sometimes with clouds and sometimes
      with stars, and against the sky there is the Prophet on his mythical
      beast rising up into the heavens, with a host of angels holding lamps,
      crowns, and various gifts surrounding him. It is a heroic and brilliant
      procession which, owing to the consistent repetition of its details and
      the consistency of composition and colors, comes as close to being an
      icon as can be imagined within the Islamic world, even though it is
      found most of the time within the context of secular or mystical poetry.

      Sometime in the fifteenth century, and certainly by the sixteenth
      century, it became customary to veil the face of the Prophet. The
      reasons for this veiling have not been clarified, but they seem to have
      arisen less from a formal decision by legal scholars than from a piety
      that, while not averse to the representation of human beings, concluded
      that the Prophet's uniqueness could best be expressed by making his face
      invisible. This procedure was then extended to all Shiite leaders, such
      as Ali and Husayn, and occasionally to other figures as well. What all
      of this seems to mean is that the representations of holy figures were
      distinguished from all other representations by the hiding of their
      faces. Again, the decision to do so was certainly not a legal or learned
      one, but the expression of a religious desire to emphasize the
      uniqueness of the person by concealing his physical presence. It was
      only then, in the sixteenth century, that such images of the Prophet
      visually separated him from the rest of mankind.

      The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were also the times when, especially

      in India, mementos of holy figures, especially Shiite ones, increased
      drastically. Images of Muhammad existed among them, but neither in
      number nor in aesthetic quality did they resemble the images of Ali or
      his children. Yet something quite different transpired in the Sunni
      world, especially in the Ottoman empire. Relics of the Prophet were
      collected (and are still kept in the Istanbul museum located in the
      imperial palace), though nothing comparable in size or brilliance to
      Christian or Buddhist relics. There also developed a special genre of
      highly decorated sheets of paper, known as hilyes, which contained
      descriptions of the Prophet's features and qualities, and praises for
      his beauty and his nobility.

      Some of these sheets of paper included, on the upper part of the page, a
      small portrait of the Prophet, usually shown as a distinguished man of
      middle years with a simple turban. These portraits were not the norm,
      but there does not seem to have been anything argued against them.
      Hilyes were hung on walls or kept in private treasuries as signs of
      piety and as ways to recall the unique physical form, personality, and
      character of the Prophet. It is probable that, in our own times,
      contemporary technology has been used to continue the manufacture of
      such souvenirs.

      What, then, can one deduce from all these examples? For a start, there
      can be no doubt that, especially from the thirteenth century onward, the
      Muslim world accepted the existence of representations of the Prophet.
      This iconography was not common, and was usually restricted to the
      accompaniment of a narrative text, or to serve as pious reminders of an
      exemplary life. There seems to have been no judicial ruling approving or
      opposing them, but their relative paucity may reflect the long-standing
      cultural aniconism of a system of faith that was surrounded by religions
      and cultures in which images played a major role. It should be added
      that these images, and the references to them, are far more frequently
      Shiite than Sunni, and very few of them come from the Arab world.

      Two details merit special attention, even though we do not quite
      understand the intellectual and psychological mechanisms that led to
      them. One is the striking development of ascension (mi'raj) images as
      works of art rather than as mere illustrations. It is perhaps not an
      accident that some scholars over a century ago saw in these images of
      the Prophet, and in the story on which they are based, an inspiration
      for Dante's Divine Comedy, although this suggestion is less popular in
      recent scholarship. The other detail is the eventual predominance of
      images in which the Prophet's face is veiled, thereby suggesting that
      images of people are acceptable but that the face of holiness must not
      be shown. This phenomenon is of considerable interest for any general
      theory of ways to represent the holy.

      To the extent that the argument against the so-called cartoons has
      centered on the legal propriety or impropriety of representing the
      Prophet Muhammad, it has been a pointless argument. Of course it is
      possible to question the Danish caricatures on grounds of taste, or
      social or political intent; but the lack of taste is not a legal
      category, and mischievous or even evil intent is difficult to discern in
      the absence of clearly stated moral and philosophical principles. The
      only certain lesson to draw from the sad story of the Danish cartoons is
      the almost universal prevalence of ignorance and incompetence--and that
      everyone, from writers and pundits to the leaders of mobs, should learn
      more before making a judgment or starting a riot.

      Oleg Grabar is professor emeritus at Harvard University and the
      Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. He is the author most
      recently of Masterpieces of Islamic Art: The Decorated Page (Prestel).
    • Dan Lusthaus
      Thanks for the Grabar piece on Mohammed portraits. One wonders how the following will fare. (and if all we ll see is the Prophet s back, like Max von Sydow in
      Message 2 of 7 , Nov 2, 2009
        Thanks for the Grabar piece on Mohammed portraits.

        One wonders how the following will fare. (and if all we'll see is the Prophet's back, like Max von Sydow in his spin as J.C.)


        Qatari firm in talks to make Prophet Mohammad film

        By Tamara Walid
        Sunday, November 1, 2009 12:15 PM

        DOHA (Reuters) - An epic film about Islam's Prophet Mohammad backed by the producer of "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Matrix" is being planned with the aim of "bridging cultures."

        Filming of the $150-million English-language movie is set to start in 2011 with American Barrie Osborne as its producer, Qatari media company Alnoor Holdings said on Sunday.

        The film - in which the Prophet would not be depicted, in accordance with Islamic rules - is in development and talks are being held with studios, talent agencies and distributors in the United States and Britain, Alnoor said.

        Osborne told Reuters the film would be an "international epic production aimed at bridging cultures."

        "The film will educate people about the true meaning of Islam," he said.

        Alnoor said it wanted to attract the "best international talent" to star in the movie.

        Alnoor, which was set up this year to take advantage of opportunities in the entertainment sector, focuses on international film production, Arabic production and animation and wants to acquire distressed assets in the U.S. and British film industries.

        Raja Sharif, vice president of international projects at Alnoor, told Reuters in a telephone interview he expected to conclude deals next year.

        He said the company was not interested in large studios but was targeting distributors, sales agents and possibly post-production and production facilities.

        Qatar, the world's largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, aims to become a cultural hub in the region. Earlier this week, it held the first Tribeca Doha Film Festival attended by regional and international filmmakers, stars, agents and distributors.

        (Editing by Firouz Sedarat and David Cowell)

        [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
      • Judith Lerner
        This recalls the 1976 film, Muhammad, Messenger of Allah, (in the US, The Message ) in which neither showed the Prophet nor even had his voice. See the
        Message 3 of 7 , Nov 2, 2009
          This recalls the 1976 film, "Muhammad, Messenger of Allah," (in the US, "The
          Message") in which neither showed the Prophet nor even had his voice. See
          the Wikipedia entry, "Mohammad, Messenger of God" the story of how it was
          filmed and the ensuing hoop-la.


          Dan Lusthaus wrote:

          Thanks for the Grabar piece on Mohammed portraits.

          One wonders how the following will fare. (and if all we'll see is the
          Prophet's back, like Max von Sydow in his spin as J.C.)
        • JKirkpatrick
          What worries me is their interpretation of the true meaning of Islam. Considering that Islam has no church, no Pope, no accepted final authority to rule on
          Message 4 of 7 , Nov 2, 2009
            What worries me is their interpretation of "the true meaning
            of Islam." Considering that Islam has no church, no Pope, no
            accepted final authority to rule on dogma or orthodoxy, any
            mullah can issue fatwas, how can there be a "true meaning?"
            You can be sure that the vast Shi'a community, their beliefs and
            practices, will be ignored or given short shrift. Considering
            the sponsors, Alnoor Holdings, this film will be simply
            promotion for one viewpoint.

            Yes, all you might see, if anything, is the Prophet's back. My
            guess is he won't appear at all, but we will hear him speak.
            The technique was famously first used in the film
            'Dark Passage' (1947) starring Humphrey Bogart, where
            it begins (and proceeds as such until he gets a plastic face
            job), by our hearing his voice but not seeing his face.

            Joanna K.
          • Trudy Kawami
            I can remember as a child pious films that enlivened Lent at school. Jesus face was never shown. I think this might be a general human response to dealing
            Message 5 of 7 , Nov 2, 2009
              I can remember as a child pious films that enlivened Lent at school.
              Jesus' face was never shown. I think this might be a general human
              response to dealing with a highly revered images at some times & places.
              (Similarly I sometimes mistake very conservative Arab women in my
              neighborhood with old-fashioned Catholic nuns at a distance - the power
              of early imprinting!)

              Trudy Kawami
            • Steve Farmer
              Looking at this another way, Trudy: maybe it makes sense not to show the faces of putative tradition founders who are (at most) half- mythological in the first
              Message 6 of 7 , Nov 2, 2009
                Looking at this another way, Trudy: maybe it makes sense not to show
                the faces of putative tradition founders who are (at most) half-
                mythological in the first place?

                Am I on the wrong planet or century? Didn't
                Hume pretty much take care of this in 1757? :^)

                I'm sure of course that the producers will present this
                point of view. :^)



                On Nov 2, 2009, at 11:01 AM, Trudy Kawami wrote:

                > I can remember as a child pious films that enlivened Lent at school.
                > Jesus' face was never shown. I think this might be a general human
                > response to dealing with a highly revered images at some times &
                > places. (Similarly I sometimes mistake very conservative Arab women
                > in my neighborhood with old-fashioned Catholic nuns at a distance
                > - the power of early imprinting!)
              • JKirkpatrick
                Since Prof. Grabar was writing not only about representation of the Prophet but in general about the prohibition of figuration in art according to Muslim
                Message 7 of 7 , Nov 2, 2009
                  Since Prof. Grabar was writing not only about representation of
                  the Prophet but in general about the prohibition of figuration in
                  art according to Muslim traditions,
                  I'd like to expand a bit on the theme of iconophobia (as I prefer
                  to call it).

                  As I wrote about this in my publication on ricksha arts (2003,
                  Indiana U Press), I'd like to quote from the Readings file (on my
                  CD-ROM, an essay titled :"Life is Short..."), on the insightful
                  analysis of the term 'tamaseel' by a Muslim writer in Pakistan,
                  of a crucial difference between the uses of a noun in two
                  different Koranic verses having to do with figurative

                  "The most popular scriptural source for prohibition of graven
                  images in Pakistan and Bangladesh today derives from the hadith,
                  or sayings, of the Prophet, rather than from the Koran. As Nasser
                  Rabbat (1999) wrote: "...quotations vary and many are dug out
                  recently with the polarization of opinion on figural
                  representation...The most famous hadith is from the Sahih
                  al-Bukhari (the most widely used collection of hadith) and it
                  says: 'Among those who will be most punished by God in the
                  Judgement Day are the musawyrun', which today means painters but
                  could have also meant sculptors." ...
                  Besides the generally known prohibition inscribed in the hadith
                  just noted, another interpretation of Koranic language has
                  recently surfaced in an article from an online Pakistani journal,
                  in which Khaled Ahmed wrote:

                  "In the June [2000] issue of Ishraq [an Urdu monthly journal], an
                  excellent research article has been contributed by Muhammad Rafi
                  Mufti, [in which he asks]: Is the creation and display of [the]
                  human image expressly forbidden by the Quran? In Surah Al-Anbia
                  (52-54), the Quran narrates the story of Prophet Abraham in which
                  he condemns the worship of tamaseel (statues) by his tribesmen,
                  including his father. This verse has been at the root of the
                  rejection of the human image by the jurists. Tamaseel means both
                  pictures and statues. The rejection is meant to forestall the
                  setting up of any gods other than Allah. The said verse,
                  according to the author [Mufti], referred to tamaseel of
                  Abraham's father as [a] 'proper' noun (nakra), meaning that
                  pictures and statues made for the express purpose of worshipping
                  are banned by the Quran."

                  ...Ahmed continues Mufti's argument:

                  "There is another verse in the Quran, in Surah Saba (13) which
                  refers to the tamaseel created for Prophet Solomon by his jinns,
                  differently interpreted by commentators as supernatural beings or
                  forest-dwelling tribes. Solomon got the pictures and statues made
                  for his palaces as well as the Temple as part of the new
                  architecture he introduced in his kingdom as a great builder. The
                  Quran, after referring to these tamaseel, actually asks the
                  Children of David to be grateful to the Lord for them. It clearly
                  means that the Quran is not opposed to pictures and statues in
                  general. The author makes it clear that in this verse tamaseel is
                  a common noun (tama), meaning that any tamaseel not meant for
                  worshipping are not only not banned but appreciated. Pictures and
                  statues can therefore be a part of Islamic culture if they are
                  not meant for worshipping in lieu of Allah."

                  Ahmed's conclusion in his article on the status of human images
                  in Islam is:

                  "Pictures and statues of the prophets are common in the Christian
                  West, but the Islamic civilisation has stayed clear of depicting
                  them as well as the Companions of Prophet Muhammad PBUH, barring
                  Iran where the tradition of depicting the latter has always been
                  in vogue. The ban on tamaseel has thus been selectively applied.
                  If Sura Saba allowed both pictures and statues, the Muslims have
                  themselves decided voluntarily not to make statues" (Ahmed,

                  In other words, the proscriptive interpretation according to
                  Muhammad Rafi Mufti revolves around whether the term tamaseel is
                  used as a proper noun or a common noun.

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