Religious Art, Perception and Practice in Islam

Last week a French satirical magazine was firebombed for printing a ‘Sharia’ edition. Before that, there was the YouTube video controversy and before that  there were the Swedish cartoons.  There are numerous such cases where there was violence because the image of Prophet Mohammed was depicted. So film makers like Moustapha Akkad, who made the The Message (1976) on the life of Prophet Mohammed,  worked around the issue by not showing him at all. At the beginning of the film, they displayed the statement, “”The makers of this film honour the Islamic tradition which holds that the impersonation of the Prophet offends against the spirituality of his message. Therefore, the person of Mohammad will not be shown.”

In his review of Aisha’s Cushion by Jamal J Elias, David Shariatmadari writes

Anyone who has a more than superficial knowledge of Muslim cultures will be aware of what can seem like a contradictory approach to the issue. There are strong theological precepts against the creation of likenesses of living things, and above all of religious figures, especially Muhammad. And yet lush vegetation in mosaic form garlands the façade of the Umayyad mosque in Damascus, devotional pictures of members of the prophet’s family are common among Shias, and merchants in the Tehran bazaar sell pendants with Muhammad’s portrait on them. Animals prance across carpets, and manuscripts and miniature paintings bustle with human activity. So what’s going on – does Islam prohibit such images or not? How come the bazaaris can carry on plying their trade, while Danish newspapers get picketed?[Aisha’s Cushion: Religious Art, Perception and Practice in Islam by Jamal J Elias – review]

The review page even has a Turkish miniature from the 16th century showing Muhammad and Abu Bakr. The reviewer does not have a good opinion of the book and so need to search for another one to get more clarity on this issue.

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