The 4 Freedoms Library

It takes a nation to protect the nation

This forum is for all attempts to impose the Sharia Law on representations of the warlord Mohammed, on Kuffar and Muslims.  So it includes current cartoon controversies, as well as the attempt to ban images created over the past 1400 years, by both Muslims and Kuffar.  We begin with two articles by Prof. Christiane Gruber on the depiction of Mohammed.

Christiane Gruber is associate professor and director of graduate studies at the University of Michigan. Her primary field of research is Islamic book arts, paintings of the Prophet Muhammad, and Islamic ascension texts and images, about which she has written two books and edited a volume of articles. She also pursues research in Islamic book arts and codicology, having authored the online catalog of Islamic calligraphies in the Library of Congress as well as edited the volume of articles, The Islamic Manuscript Tradition. Her third field of specialization is modern Islamic visual culture and post-revolutionary Iranian visual and material culture, about which she has written several articles. She also has co-edited two volumes on Islamic and crosscultural visual cultures. She is currently writing her next book, titled The Praiseworthy One: The Prophet Muhammad in Islamic Texts and Images.

The Koran Does Not Forbid Images of the Prophet" alt="01_09_Islam_art_opener" title="01_09_Islam_art_opener" style="box-sizing: border-box; border: 0px; list-style: none outside none; margin: 0px; outline: none 0px; padding: 0px; -webkit-font-smoothing: antialiased; vertical-align: middle; max-width: 100%; height: auto;"/>
The Charlie Hebdo killers were operating under a misapprehension. TOPKAPI PALACE LIBRARY

In the wake of the massacre that took place in the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, I have been called upon as a scholar specializing in Islamic paintings of the Prophet to explain whether images of Muhammad are banned in Islam.

The short and simple answer is no. The Koran does not prohibit figural imagery. Rather, it castigates the worship of idols, which are understood as concrete embodiments of the polytheistic beliefs that Islam supplanted when it emerged as a purely monotheistic faith in the Arabian Peninsula during the seventh century.

Moreover, the Hadith, or Sayings of the Prophet, present us with an ambiguous picture at best: At turns we read of artists dared to breathe life into their figures and, at others, of pillows ornamented with figural imagery.

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If we turn to Islamic law, there does not exist a single legal decree, or fatwa, in the historical corpus that explicitly and decisively prohibits figural imagery, including images of the Prophet. While more recent online fatwas can surely be found, the decree that comes closest to articulating this type of ban was published online in 2001 by the Taliban, as they set out to destroy the Buddhas of Bamiyan.

In their fatwa, the Taliban decreed that all non-Islamic statues and shrines in Afghanistan be destroyed. However, this very modern decree remains entirely silent on the issue of figural images and sculptures within Islam, which, conversely, had been praised as beneficial and educational by Muhammad 'Abduh, a prominent jurist in 19th century Egypt.

In sum, a search for a ban on images of Muhammad in pre-modern Islamic textual sources will yield no clear and firm results whatsoever." alt="01_09_Islam_art_01" title="01_09_Islam_art_01" style="box-sizing: border-box; border: 0px; list-style: none outside none; margin: 0px; outline: none 0px; padding: 0px; -webkit-font-smoothing: antialiased; vertical-align: middle; max-width: 100%; height: auto;"/>Figure 1. The Prophet Muhammad enthroned, surmounted by angels, and surrounded by his companions, Firdawsi, Shahnama (Book of Kings), probably Shiraz, Iran, early 14th century. FREER/SACKLER MUSEUM OF ASIAN ART/SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION

While Islam has been described as a faith that is largely aniconic—i.e., that tends to avoid images—figural imagery has nevertheless been a staple of Islamic artistic expression, especially in secular, private contexts (and today, Muslim majority countries are saturated with images, dolls, and other representational arts). Indeed, a variety of Muslim patrons commissioned illustrated manuscripts replete with figural and animal imagery from the 13th century onward.

Over the past seven centuries, a variety of historical and poetic texts largely produced in Turkish and Persian spheres—both Sunni and Shiite—include beautiful depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. These many images were not only meant to praise and commemorate the Prophet; they also served as occasions and centerpieces for Muslim devotional practice, much like celebrations of the Prophet’s birthday (Mawlid) and visitations to his tomb in Medina.

As a result, this visual evidence clearly undermines the premise that images of Muhammad are banned in Islamic law and practice, thereby providing us with a less ideologically divisive and more fact-based way to speak about a subject that has grown increasingly contentious ever since 2005." alt="01_09_Islam_art_02" title="01_09_Islam_art_02" style="box-sizing: border-box; border: 0px; list-style: none outside none; margin: 0px; outline: none 0px; padding: 0px; -webkit-font-smoothing: antialiased; vertical-align: middle; max-width: 100%; height: auto;"/>Figure 2. Black ink sketch of the Prophet Muhammad enthroned, Iran, 14th century. STAATSBIBLIOTHEK ZU BERLIN

Representations of the Prophet in Islamic traditions have varied over time, and they have catered to different needs and desires. During the fourteenth century, a number of Persian drawings and paintings depict Muhammad as an enthroned leader surmounted by angels and surrounded by his companions (figures 1-2). These images show the Prophet as a human messenger entrusted with divine revelation through the angelic figures that protect and accompany him.

At other times, medieval paintings depict Muhammad alongside other Abrahamic prophets, the latter frequently represented in 16th century illustrated copies of popular texts concerned with explaining the lives and tales of the prophets (qisas al-anbiya). In some instances, Muhammad is accompanied by Jesus Christ—revered as the Prophet ‘Isa in Islamic traditions—both of whom are said to have been seen in an apocalyptic vision by Isaiah (figure 3)." alt="01_09_Islam_art_03" title="01_09_Islam_art_03" style="box-sizing: border-box; border: 0px; list-style: none outside none; margin: 0px; outline: none 0px; padding: 0px; -webkit-font-smoothing: antialiased; vertical-align: middle; max-width: 100%; height: auto;"/>Figure 3. Isaiah’s vision of Jesus riding a donkey and Muhammad riding a camel, al-Biruni, al-Athar al-Baqiyya ‘an al-Qurun al-Khaliyya (Chronology of Ancient Nations), Tabriz, Iran, 1307-8. Edinburgh University Library. EDINBURGH UNIVERSITY LIBRARY

In other tales, especially those dedicated to narrating and illustrating the Prophet’s heavenly ascension (mi‘raj) from Mecca to Jerusalem and onward through the celestial spheres, Muhammad is depicted surrounded by the Abrahamic prophets as he sits in the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem (figure 4). In these medieval paintings, some of which were commissioned by a Sunni ruler in Iran, Muhammad is praised as the leader of his faith community, as the bearer of divine revelation, and as a messenger belonging to a long and respected line of monotheistic prophets." alt="01_09_Islam_art_04" title="01_09_Islam_art_04" style="box-sizing: border-box; border: 0px; list-style: none outside none; margin: 0px; outline: none 0px; padding: 0px; -webkit-font-smoothing: antialiased; vertical-align: middle; max-width: 100%; height: auto;"/>Figure 4. The Prophet Muhammad sits with the Abrahamic prophets in Jerusalem, anonymous, Mi‘rajnama (Book of Ascension), Tabriz, ca. 1317-1330. TOPKAPI PALACE LIBRARY

After 1500, a major shift in representations of the Prophet occurs in both Persian-Shiite and Ottoman-Sunni lands. Muhammad’s facial features become covered by a white facial veil while his body is engulfed by a large gold aureole, visual devices that doubly stress his unseen, numinous qualities (figure 5)." alt="01_09_Islam_art_06" title="01_09_Islam_art_06" style="box-sizing: border-box; border: 0px; list-style: none outside none; margin: 0px; outline: none 0px; padding: 0px; -webkit-font-smoothing: antialiased; vertical-align: middle; max-width: 100%; height: auto;"/>Figure 5. The Prophet Muhammad receives revelations at Mount Hira, al-Darir, Siyer-i Nebi (The Biography of the Prophet), Istanbul, Ottoman lands, 1595-1596. TOPKAPI PALACE LIBRARY

While these more abstract depictions of the Prophet certainly show an emerging tendency to shy away from figural representation, they also praise the Prophet according to a metaphorical language that is a hallmark of Sufi (mystical) traditions found in both Sunni and Shiite spheres. Particularly interesting is a series of late 16th-century Sunni-Ottoman paintings of the Prophet’s biography (sira), in which Muhammad is shown confronting the very issue of idolatry as he approaches the Ka‘ba in Mecca (figure 6)." alt="01_09_Islam_art_07" title="01_09_Islam_art_07" style="box-sizing: border-box; border: 0px; list-style: none outside none; margin: 0px; outline: none 0px; padding: 0px; -webkit-font-smoothing: antialiased; vertical-align: middle; max-width: 100%; height: auto;"/>Figure 6. Ka‘ba, al-Darir, Siyer-i Nebi (The Biography of the Prophet), Istanbul, Ottoman lands, 1595-96. TOPKAPI PALACE LIBRARY

In this and other cases, the image of Muhammad is preserved in a pristine state, while the gold idol and its prostrating idolater have been rubbed away by the painting’s viewers. Here then, the problem is not so much the depiction of the Prophet, but rather paganism and polytheism, which are here visually excised in order to make symbolic way for a strictly monotheistic world order.

While images of the Prophet have waned since 1800, there nevertheless exist a number of modern and contemporary representations that reveal a rather unsteady, and thus not cohesive or uniform, approach to the production of Muhammad-centered imagery. While “blessed icons” of the Prophet made in Iran during the 19th and 20th centuries show Muhammad in his full corporeal form and touched by God through the symbol of the golden halo, depictions in Sunni and especially Arab lands remain largely abstract and show a clear preference for textual representations describing his physical attributes. Known as hilyas, these aniconic icons most recently have been printed in Turkey in the format of a state ID card.

As portable icons, these cards give details about Muhammad’s birth date and place as well as the date of his endowment with prophecy. Moreover, they depict the Prophet through three metaphors: the rose (known as the “rose of Muhammad”), his seal impression (reading “Muhammad is the Messenger of God”), and calligraphic renderings of his name in Arabic script.

The contemporary ID card of the Prophet highlights a number of issues that are of particular concern today. First, just last week these laminated hilyas were used as invitation cards for celebrations of the Prophet’s birthday in Turkey. At exactly the same time, ISIS suppressed all Mawlid celebrations in Iraq, and recently a document has revealed that Saudi Arabia has discussed plans to exhume the Prophet’s remains from his tomb in Medina, supposedly in order to prevent his worship.

Taken altogether, these images, sites and celebrations have one thing in common: namely, a very contemporary urge to erase various forms of devotion to the Prophet within discourses emanating from extremist and Salafi spheres. Such discourses, which present themselves as representing a “true Islam,” have been loudly present in the public sphere.

Couched as normative and thus representing a general consensus, they have the net effect of turning images of the Prophet into items that should not, in principle, exist. Theory and practice, along with fact and belief, find themselves at odds here, to say the least.

When one speaks of a “ban” of images of the Prophet in Islam, the negative repercussions are many. First, all doors to constructive dialogue on the topic are closed a priori, thus precluding a nuanced and apolitical discussion of historical Islamic images freed from the polarizing narratives of today. In addition, such images effectively become further endangered as a form of artistic heritage if merely speaking of and illustrating them is seen as a subversive, rather than a productive and reconstructive, act.

And so we must pose ourselves yet another question: why not celebrate this global artistic patrimony by flooding our eyes with beautiful images instead of unseemly cartoons? In so doing, such images will invite us to ponder, at least to a small degree, all that connects us as visual human beings, regardless of creed and conviction.

How the “Ban” on Images of Muhammad Came to Be" alt="01_19_Muhammad_03-hort" title="01_19_Muhammad_03-hort" style="box-sizing: border-box; border: 0px; list-style: none outside none; margin: 0px; outline: none 0px; padding: 0px; -webkit-font-smoothing: antialiased; vertical-align: middle; max-width: 100%; height: auto;"/>
FILED UNDER: OpinionIslamKoranCharlie Hebdo

In the wake of the attack on Charlie Hebdo, a flurry of articles have explored whether images of the Prophet Muhammad are “banned” in Islam. While some Muslim voices are adamant that this is strictly the case in Islamic law, others (both Muslim and non-Muslim) have cautioned that it is not so.

Most public discussions of this so-called ban have explored verses in the Koran and Sayings by the Prophet, neither of which yield decisive results. What has been lost in the mix, however, is an exploration of the evidence found within Islamic law. Indeed, if one is to speak of a “ban,” then one must canvas a variety of Islamic jurisprudential sources in order to determine the legality or illegality of representing the Prophet in Islamic traditions. And if one carefully mines the sources, the results become much clearer — and much more nuanced and complex than one might anticipate.

There exist many handbooks of Islamic law that compile opinions on a number of matters. In regard to image making, the earliest and most synthetic source is the medieval law book of Ibn Qudama (died 1223), a towering Sunni theologian of the medieval period. In his handbook, Ibn Qudama discusses the various possible “abominations” that can occur at wedding ceremonies, including the playing of music and backgammon, the consumption of liquor, and the presence of images. As for the legality of images, he notes that the question is complicated because it depends on what the images depict and where they are situated. (See footnote 1.) 

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He thus concludes that images are not prohibited per se; rather, their legality depends on content and context.

A century later, the staunchly Sunni theologian Ibn Taymiyya (died 1328)—who exerted great influence on today’s ultraconservative Wahhabi and Salafi theological movements—penned a hefty number of legal opinions. In his collection of fatwas, Ibn Taymiyya warns that images should not be used as a way to get closer to God, to seek His intercession, or to request a favor from Him. He also notes that Muslim practices must be differentiated from Christian ones, the latter defined by the prolific presence and use of images in churches.

As a consequence, in even this most conservative collection of medieval fatwas, there does not exist a single expressly stated “ban” on images. The crux of the matter, rather, is that “images” of saints should not be used for requests and when seeking intercession, as is the case in Christian religious traditions.

Moving forward through the centuries, the next major summary of legal opinions about images can be found in an essay-long fatwa written by Muhammad ‘Abduh (died 1905), best known as the reformist chief jurist (mufti) of modern Egypt. In his treatise titled Images and Representations: Their Benefits and The Opinions About Them, (see footnote 2) Muhammad ‘Abduh argues that the safeguarding of images and paintings represents a preservation of Islamic cultural heritage and knowledge. In addition, he stresses that, if images are not used in idolatry, then portraying people, plants and trees is not forbidden.

He goes even further, stating that: “None of the legal scholars (‘ulama) has ever opposed it. There is no opposition against the benefits of images in the abovementioned case.” With defiant gusto, he goes on to state that: “You cannot convince a jurist (mufti) that the image has been, in all cases, an object of idolatry!” Thus, he concludes that Islamic law (shari‘a) is “far from calling one of the greatest means of knowledge illegitimate, once it is ensured that it is not a threat to religion in either belief or practice. Indeed, Muslims are not keen to forbid themselves from something with obvious benefit.”

In sum, during the second half of the 19th century, this reputed grand jurist proclaimed in no uncertain terms that images and paintings were both beneficial and educational." alt="01_19_Muhammad_01" title="01_19_Muhammad_01" style="box-sizing: border-box; border: 0px; list-style: none outside none; margin: 0px; outline: none 0px; padding: 0px; -webkit-font-smoothing: antialiased; vertical-align: middle; max-width: 100%; height: auto;"/>Figure 1. Moutapha Akkad's film "The Message" brings to the screen a depiction of Muhammad and the birth the Islam. FILMCO INTERNATIONAL PRODUCTIONS

Muhammad ‘Abduh’s exposé was likely composed as a response to the spread and multiplication of images via the newly emergent printing press in Egypt. By far and large, before the 19th century, images were not publicly available, since they were embedded in rare luxury manuscripts and therefore restricted to a very small elite. With the onset of the mass media, however, new anxieties arose around the production and consumption of images. For these reasons, new forms of legal control over prophetic representations began to emerge in the form of legal decrees.

Among them is a 1926 fatwa that was issued by the Sunni clerics at al-Azhar University in Cairo, which banned a film about Muhammad that was financed by the secular Turkish Republic. Fifty years later, the cinematographer Moustapha Akkad faced similar difficulties when he set out to film his biopic about Muhammad titled The Message (Figure 1). Although he received permission to produce the movie from the Sunni clerics at Al-Azhar, the Muslim World League—which is funded by Saudi Arabia and follows a strict Salafi interpretation of Islam—refused to approve the film even though Muhammad is never shown on screen (the movie is shot from the Prophet’s point of view). In the case of these two 20th-century movies, Egyptian and Saudi Arabian Sunni clerical bodies dissented on the manner in which Muhammad can be portrayed in film. This disagreement evidently did not fall along Sunni-Shi‘i sectarian lines.

Skipping forward a couple decades, the legal landscape and the wrangling over images of Muhammad in particular become much more muddled from the 1990s onward. It appears that the year 1997 was a watershed in this regard.

At this time, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) wrote to Chief Justice William Rehnquist to request that the sculpted representation of the Prophet Muhammad in the north frieze inside the Supreme Court of the United States be removed or sanded down (Figures 2-3). Included among the great lawgivers of history and standing between Justinian and Charlemagne, the turbaned Muhammad is shown holding the Qur’an—the source of Islamic law—and a sword—a symbol of justice within the Supreme Court’s pictorial program." alt="01_19_Muhammad_02" title="01_19_Muhammad_02" style="box-sizing: border-box; border: 0px; list-style: none outside none; margin: 0px; outline: none 0px; padding: 0px; -webkit-font-smoothing: antialiased; vertical-align: middle; max-width: 100%; height: auto;"/>Figure 2. A frieze, designed by Adolph Weinman, on the north wall of the US Supreme Court depicts great lawgivers of the Middle Ages. US SUPREME COURT

Around the time that Rehnquist rejected CAIR’s request (as physical injury to an architectural feature in the Supreme Court building is unlawful), a fatwa on the matter was issued in 2000 by Taha Jaber al-Alwani, who at the time served as a professor of jurisprudence in Saudi Arabia and as the chairman of theIslamic Jurisprudence (Fiqh) Council of North America. With his bona fides firmly established, al-Alwani sets out to argue through traditional forms of Islamic legal argumentation that, first, there exist no firm prohibitions on images in Islam and, second, that the depiction of Muhammad in the Supreme Court is nothing but praiseworthy. He thus arrives at the following conclusion:

What I have seen in the Supreme Courtroom deserves nothing but appreciation and gratitude from American Muslims. This is a positive gesture toward Islam made by the architect and other architectural decision-makers of the highest Court in America. God willing, it will help ameliorate some of the unfortunate misinformation that has surrounded Islam and Muslims in this country.

Put simply, in the year 2000 one of the highest-ranking legal scholars who was then based in Saudi Arabia and also served as the chairman of the principal council on Islamic law in America judged a sculptural representation of Muhammad in the nation’s capital both permissible and laudable." alt="01_19_Muhammad_03" title="01_19_Muhammad_03" style="box-sizing: border-box; border: 0px; list-style: none outside none; margin: 0px; outline: none 0px; padding: 0px; -webkit-font-smoothing: antialiased; vertical-align: middle; max-width: 100%; height: auto;"/>Figure 3. In a section of Weinman's work, the Prophet Muhammad holds the Qur'an and a sword while standing between Charlemagne and Justinian. US SUPREME COURT

But then 9/11, the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and the Danish cartoons of 2005 happened. Without a doubt, the derogatory Jyllands-Posten caricatures of Muhammad were enmeshed in the complex geopolitics, the shifting European demographic landscape and the Middle Eastern wars of the post-9/11 period. Understood as an attack and an affront to the Islamic faith, these cartoons were denounced by Saudi imams as sacrilegious in 2006. It is at this very moment that we suddenly see the more precise statement that “Islam considers images of prophets disrespectful and caricatures of them blasphemous.” Along with this brand new legal proclamation, Saudi companies and organizations launched a boycott against Danish goods, including medicine, dairy products and Lego toys. Flexing its monetary muscles to the tune of billions of dollars, Saudi Arabia’s counterblow resulted in hefty financial losses for Denmark. Thus, this relatively recent Saudi fatwa against images of Muhammad also shows how loudly money talks.

Since 2005, Islamic law has evolved with contemporary circumstances and further fatwas against images of Muhammad have emerged. A number of these are easily accessible because they are available online as electronic fatwas (or e-fatwas). Two representative examples reveal that the legality or illegality of representing Muhammad remains an unresolved issue within the Islamic world.

For instance, the Salafi position remains utterly uncompromising: Images of the Prophet and his companions are not permissible whatsoever. On the other hand, Ayatollah al-Sistani, the supreme Shi‘i legal authority in Iraq, opines that representations of the Prophet are acceptable as long as they show due deference (ta‘zim) and respect (tabjil) (in English and Arabic). It thus should come as no surprise that today reverential depictions of the Prophet can be found in Shi‘i-majority areas, especially Iraq, Iran and Lebanon (Figure 4). Indeed, there exists a lively market for these kinds of devotional pictures, objects and even rugs, which are purchased by many Muslims who do not tread the Salafi line." alt="01_19_Muhammad_04" title="01_19_Muhammad_04" style="box-sizing: border-box; border: 0px; list-style: none outside none; margin: 0px; outline: none 0px; padding: 0px; -webkit-font-smoothing: antialiased; vertical-align: middle; max-width: 100%; height: auto;"/>Figure 4. The Prophet Muhammad holding the Qur'an, which emits flickers of radiant light, as he points his index finger to the proclamation of the faith (shahada), reading: "There is no god but God and Muhammad is His Messenger," in a post card sold in Tehran, Iran in 2001. ARTIST UNKNOWN

In these latest disagreements between Sunni-Salafi and Shi‘i scholars of Islamic law, it is easy to see how some might argue that the divergence in legal opinion falls along the sectarian divide. While this certainly rings true today, this was not the case before the Danish cartoons of 2005.

Indeed, in the year 2000, the Sunni legal scholar al-Alwani praised and expressed gratitude for the depiction of Muhammad in the Supreme Court while, during the 20th century, Sunni legal bodies disagreed with one another as they turned to tackling the emergence of public images of Muhammad precipitated by the printing press and the motion picture industry.

Before then and stretching back to the 12th century, scholars of Islamic law, among them famous Sunni luminaries, did not expressly forbid images, including representations of Muhammad. So the notion of a long-standing and immutable Islamic “ban” on images of the Prophet is nothing if not a contemporary innovation, catalyzed by the mass media, accelerated by insulting cartoons, and propelled throughout the world via the seismic influence of Saudi petrodollars. 


Footnote 1: Michael Cook, Commanding Right and Forbidding Wrong in Islamic Thought. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 145-146, footnote 2.

Footnote 2: Muhammad ‘Abduh, Ta’rikh al-Ustadh al-Imam al-Shaykh Muhammad ‘Abduh (Cairo: Manar Publisher, 1344/1925), vol. 2, 498-502.

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Replies to This Discussion

Have pictures of Muhammad always been forbidden?

The French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has published an issue which commemorates the victims of last week's shootings in France - using an image of the Prophet Muhammad on the cover. Most Muslims say that pictorial depictions of the founder of Islam are forbidden - but has that always been the case in all of the Muslim world?

(This article contains a historical image of the Prophet Muhammad)

If you set aside for a moment the issue of whether satirical cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad are insulting, there's a separate and complicated debate about whether any depiction - even a respectful one - is forbidden within Islam.

For most Muslims it's an absolute prohibition - Muhammad, or any of the other prophets of Islam, should not be pictured in any way. Pictures - as well as statues - are thought to encourage the worship of idols.

This is uncontroversial in many parts of the Islamic world. Historically, the dominant forms in Islamic art have been geometric, swirling patterns or calligraphic - rather than figurative art.

Muslims point to a verse in the Koran which features Abraham, whom they regard as a prophet:

"[Abraham] said to his father and his people: 'What are these images to whose worship you cleave?' They said: 'We found our fathers worshipping them.' He said: 'Certainly you have been, you and your fathers, in manifest error.'"

Yet there's no ruling in the Koran explicitly forbidding the depiction of the Prophet, according to Prof Mona Siddiqui from Edinburgh University. Instead, the idea arose from the Hadiths - stories about the life and sayings of Muhammad gathered in the years after his death.

Siddiqui points to depictions of Muhammad - drawn by Muslim artists - dating from the Mongol and Ottoman empires. In some of them, Muhammad's facial features are hidden - but it's clear it is him. She says the images were inspired by devotion: "The majority of people drew these pictures out of love and veneration, not intending idolatry."

At what point then, did depictions of Muhammad become haram, or forbidden?

Many of the images of Muhammad which date from the 1300s were intended only to be viewed privately, to avoid idolatry, says Christiane Gruber, associate professor of Islamic Art at Michigan University. "In some ways they were luxury items, perhaps in libraries for the elite."

Such items included miniatures which showed characters from Islam.

Gruber says the advent of mass-circulation print media in the 18th Century posed a challenge. The colonisation of some Muslim lands by European forces and ideas was also significant, she says.

The Islamic response was to emphasise how different their religion was to Christianity, with its history of public iconography, Gruber argues. Pictures of Muhammad started to disappear, and a new rhetoric against depictions emerged.

But Imam Qari Asim, of Leeds Makkah Mosque, one of the largest in the UK, denies there has been a significant change. He maintains that the effect of the Hadiths, with their injunctions against any images of living things, is automatically a prohibition on depictions of Muhammad.

He says the medieval images have to be understood in context. "The majority of these images relate to this particular Night Journey and the ascension to Heaven. There is a ram or a horse. He is on the horse or something like that.

"The classical scholars have very strongly condemned those depictions as well. But they do exist."

A key point is that they are not simple portraits of Muhammad. Asim also argues that the subject of many of the images is unclear. There is a question of whether all of these depictions actually intended to portray the Prophet or a close companion involved in the same scene, he suggests.

Prof Hugh Goddard, director of the Alwaleed Centre for the Study of Islam in the Contemporary World in the University of Edinburgh, says that there has been a change.

"There isn't unanimity in either of the foundational sources - the Koran and the Hadiths. The later Muslim community has tended to have different views on this question as on others."

The Arab scholar Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, whose teachings paved the way for Wahhabism, the dominant form of Sunni Islam in Saudi Arabia, was a key figure.

"The debate has become much more vigorous - particularly associated with the movement of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. You had suspicion of veneration of anything other than God. That included the Prophet.

"There has been a significant change over certainly the last 200 years, but probably 300 years."

The situation is different with sculpture or any other kind of three-dimensional representation, notes Goddard, where the prohibition has always been clearer.

Image from a 16th Century Iranian manuscript showing the ascension to HeavenImage from a 16th Century Iranian manuscript showing the ascension to Heaven

For some Muslims, says Siddiqui, the aversion to pictures has even extended to a refusal to have pictures of any live being - human or animal - in their homes.

The prohibition against depiction didn't stretch everywhere though - many Shia Muslims appear to have a slightly different view. Contemporary pictures of Muhammad are still available in some parts of the Muslim world, according to Hassan Yousefi Eshkavari, a former Iranian cleric, now based in Germany. He told the BBC that today, images of Muhammad hang in many Iranian homes: "From a religious point of view there is no prohibition on these pictures. These images exist in shops as well as houses. They aren't seen as insulting, either from a religious or cultural viewpoint."

Differences in approach among Muslims can be seen along traditional Shia/Sunni lines, but Gruber says that those who claim a historical ban has always existed are wrong.

It's an argument that many Muslims would not accept.

"The Koran itself doesn't say anything," Dr Azzam Tamimi, former head of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought told the BBC, "but it is accepted by all Islamic authorities that the Prophet Muhammad and all the other prophets cannot be drawn and cannot be produced in pictures because they are, according to Islamic faith, infallible individuals, role models and therefore should not be presented in any manner that might cause disrespect for them."

He is not convinced by the argument that if there are medieval depictions of Muhammad that suggests there is no absolute prohibition. "Even if it were that would have been condemned by the scholars of Islam."

Dutch MP Geert Wilders to show Muhammad cartoons on TV


It's not going to work doing this "collected articles".

Replies are not long enough to allow all info to be inserted e.g. the reply I just did has had all the (highly relevant) images removed.

Well, correct observation about images removed, but wrong blame allocation, as far as I can see.

I just tried creating a new forum and posting that article into it, and the same thing happened there as well.  I also tried posting the article into this forum, and tried using another browser, to make sure its not browser dependent, and the same thing happened.

This is a problem dependent on Newsweek (and some other sites I guess).  They've embedded photos in their articles in a way which does not allow us to copy and paste them into other places, with nary a care in the world.  It may be possible to do some simple magic on the posted block to embed the images properly, but I haven't time to check that out now :-)

As regards the annoying and ridiculously small limit on posts that Ning has put it place, yes its a total pain.  But for those two articles, since they really define what this discussion is all about, I have put them as the start block of this whole forum, and thereby got around the character limit.

It doesn't matter what we think about images of Mohammed being forbidden. One of the first things on the Muslim list of things to do when they take over America is to pulverize that offensive frieze in the supreme court, and of course burn all American law books. They are not going to stop killing opponents any time soon, at the slightest provocation.


The problems with the images is because Newsweek do not like folks hot linking to their images.

It is quite obvious you have drag and pasted the article including the images. A lot of times this works.

Any-way it is not safe,, should the site you have hot linked to dissapears from the web, the images also dissappear.

What you have to do, is drag the image from the article to your desktop, If you can not "right click to drag, then you must resort to image grab and as you are using MAC (command shift 4)  then use the "insert image tool"  

This way the image is stored with ning

If you do not use the ning image tool then you are at the mercy of whatever sight is hosting the image

Hi Shiva,
I can do that for one image, but if there are a few, it just takes too long. But having said that, i will try do it for this discussion, because the images are crucial to the message.

What amazes me is that in 1997 CAIR could DEMAND that the face of Mohammed be sanded off the frieze. Then the Supreme Court turns round and says "well, it's not exactly Mohammed, just someone who looks like him".

It was already clear that at the very heart of America, they had surrendered to islamic domination by the mid 1990s. I guess the muslims' massive bomb in the WTC in 1993 had shown America the future, and the elite just capitulated.

The response to CAIR in 1997 should have been to immediately ban the organisation, and block all future immigration by muslims.

Philip Smeeton said:

It doesn't matter what we think about images of Mohammed being forbidden. One of the first things on the Muslim list of things to do when they take over America is to pulverize that offensive frieze in the supreme court, and of course burn all American law books. They are not going to stop killing opponents any time soon, at the slightest provocation.

This is an interesting development. A non-muslim parent and a non-muslim school controller, both not only enforcing principles from islam on non-muslims, but actually extending those principles to apply to religions other than islam.

If is kuffar self-hatred.

A school district superintendent in semi-rural Southern California has completely outlawed all drawings of all religious leaders on campus because a history teacher assigned a vocabulary worksheet that asked students to draw images of Muhammad.

Acton-Agua Dulce Unified School District superintendent Brent Woodard implemented the far-reaching ban after a single parent complainedreports the Los Angeles Daily News.

The seventh-grade history assignment at High Desert School in Acton, Calif. was a worksheet called “Vocabulary Pictures: The Rise of Islam.” It featured several words including Quran, Mecca, Bedouins and Muhammad. There was space for students to sketch their own images representing the various words.

The parent who found the assignment offensive is Melinda Van Stone, a chiropractor in nearby Palmdale.

These two "liberals" are imposing the most fundamentalist principles of Islam upon non-muslims in a secular society. And just like in an islamic society kafirs cannot openly display their religion or its icons, so in California schools, sikhs and christians are banned from depictions of their own religious figures.

Where's the ACLU?  Where's SPLG? Where's the demos by the anit-fascists?

A far greater enemy of kuffar than the muslim, is the so-called progressive liberals, who are in fact liberal fascists.  The extraordinary thing is that these fascists are not even identifiable as such, simply because they clothe themselves as anti-fascists.

What is it with this phenomenon of "being opposed to fascism"?  Already by the 1940s, Orwell was pointing out that the word "fascist" had lost almost all meaning. Yet it clearly performs an extraordinary totemic function in liberal democracy.  Describing oneself as "a liberal democrat" is almost as vacuous as describing onself as "a carbon-based life-form". Yet describing oneself as "an anti-fascist", whilst implementing fascistic principles of a fascistic religion, makes one appear like a highly-principled individual.

These liberals are "holier than thou", pouring petrol on the bonfire of western values.


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Mission Overview

Most Western societies are based on Secular Democracy, which itself is based on the concept that the open marketplace of ideas leads to the optimum government. Whilst that model has been very successful, it has defects. The 4 Freedoms address 4 of the principal vulnerabilities, and gives corrections to them. 

At the moment, one of the main actors exploiting these defects, is Islam, so this site pays particular attention to that threat.

Islam, operating at the micro and macro levels, is unstoppable by individuals, hence: "It takes a nation to protect the nation". There is not enough time to fight all its attacks, nor to read them nor even to record them. So the members of 4F try to curate a representative subset of these events.

We need to capture this information before it is removed.  The site already contains sufficient information to cover most issues, but our members add further updates when possible.

We hope that free nations will wake up to stop the threat, and force the separation of (Islamic) Church and State. This will also allow moderate Muslims to escape from their totalitarian political system.

The 4 Freedoms

These 4 freedoms are designed to close 4 vulnerabilities in Secular Democracy, by making them SP or Self-Protecting (see Hobbes's first law of nature). But Democracy also requires - in addition to the standard divisions of Executive, Legislature & Judiciary - a fourth body, Protector of the Open Society (POS), to monitor all its vulnerabilities (see also Popper). 
1. SP Freedom of Speech
Any speech is allowed - except that advocating the end of these freedoms
2. SP Freedom of Election
Any party is allowed - except one advocating the end of these freedoms
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Immigration is allowed - except where that changes the political demography (this is electoral fraud)
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The Central Bank is allowed to create debt - except where that debt burden can pass across a generation (25 years).

An additional Freedom from Religion is deducible if the law is applied equally to everyone:

  • Religious and cultural activities are exempt from legal oversight except where they intrude into the public sphere (Res Publica)"

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