Muhammad’s Picture

Posted by on May 20th, 2010 at 9:12 AM

Today, May 20, is Everybody Draw Muhammad Day, an invention of a Seattle cartoonist named Mollie Norris, who was understandably outraged at the continuing idiocy of stepping gingerly around Muhammad because of the feral fulminations and brutish tirades of Islamic hooligans.

The so-called Muslim protest against cartoon versions of the Prophet began, you’ll remember, in early 2006 when the Danish Dozen, twelve cartoons published in the fall of 2005 by a Danish newspaper to test the viability of freedom of expression in a Muslim-menaced world, sparked violent protest (resulting in deaths) in various countries. The twelve Danish cartoonists received death threats and went into hiding. The protests did not end with the worldwide outbursts of 2006. They have continued ever since, albeit in somewhat less raging manner. Recent instances:

* Comedy Central edited a “South Park” episode showing Mohammed in a bear suit in response to veiled e-mail threats by a self-proclaimed Muslim group in New York.

* A Swedish artist, Lars Vilks, who had attracted Islamic ire and a death sentence by drawing Muhammad with the body of a dog, was attacked while lecturing about freedom of speech at a Swedish university.

*The Metropolitan Museum of Art pulled a collection of art of Muhammad to avoid offending Muslims, some of whom believe that the depiction of any of the prophets (including Moses and Jesus) is a form of idolatry.

*Idiotically, Yale University Press excised several of the 2005 Danish newspaper cartoons depicting Muhammad in Brandeis University professor Jytte Klausen’s book, The Cartoons That Shook the World.

Norris, incensed by these and other shenanigans of the same witless sort, resorted to her Facebook page and declared May 20 “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day,” claiming the project was sponsored by Citizens Against Citizens Against Humor, or CACAH (pronounced, of course, ca-ca). The idea, apparently, was to ridicule the protests by overwhelming them with pictures of the Prophet.

Almost at once, Norris removed herself from the exercise, disgusted by a deluge of repulsive and wholly unfunny cartoons that seeped up from gutters everywhere.

I share the opinion voiced by author Klausen: “When it comes to depicting the Prophet, this has nothing to do with social issues or integration,” said Klausen. “This is about a political movement by sectarian groups where [depicting Muhammad] has now become a primary trigger for political contention. The Swedish university pretty much told [Vilks] to shut up and go talk somewhere else, and I find that reaction very dangerous and problematic. It means that the extremists have achieved what they wanted.”

Many, however, see the Muslim point of view. “By deliberately insulting Muslims in this already-charged climate, the artist [Vilks] placed himself in danger,” writes Robert on Stockholm News, an English-language news site in Sweden. “Insulting people’s deep-felt religious beliefs is not free speech: it’s hate speech.”

But a chorus of others think otherwise: “We either have free speech or we do not,” they say. “There’s NO reason why any religion should be privileged, or given special immunity from ‘insult.’”

Klausen is right: rampant Islamic hooliganism is polemic not religious. The supposed prohibition that inspires the protest is not supported by either history or scripture.

In his booklet Muhammad: The Banned Images (48 6×9-inch pages, color; paperback, Voltaire Press; $15 from Amazon), Gary Hull recently published numerous pictures (paintings, drawings, engravings) that have depicted Muhammad from 1143 CE to 2005. Hull’s book is intended in part to refute the popularly cited notion that Muslims forbid pictures of Muhammad because they might lead to idolatry. In fact, as the book vividly demonstrates, Muslims (and non-Muslims) have been making pictures of the Prophet for centuries, most of the time without causing ire or incident.

As for the origin of the prohibition: although the Koran does not specifically forbid pictures of the Prophet, many Muslims follow a tradition that regards such images as blasphemous. The Koran contains a general reference to the worshiping of idols being a “manifest error” without referring to pictures of Muhammad, but ancient oral traditions, called Hadith, quote Allah as saying it is “unjust” to “try to create the likeness of My creation” [i.e., anything in the world, I assume].

Islamic scholars are divided over whether it is ever permissible to depict the Prophet, but the controversies of recent years have been inspired by depictions that are mocking or disrespectful (as, ipso facto, all cartoons must perforce be).

Wikipedia sheds additional light on the subject, and I quote virtually all of the rest of this diatribe from the “Mecca” entry.

Fundamental in the history of Islam was the Prophet’s turning of his followers away from the idol worship that characterized Arabia in the Seventh Century. For this reason, for many (but not all) of the Islamic faithful, any depiction of any of the prophets—in either a positive or negative light—is strictly forbidden.

Our difficulty in the West in understanding such a view is compounded by the Muslim tradition of making a pilgrimage at least once in a lifetime to Mecca in order to parade around an ancient Arabian shrine, a low square edifice called the Ka’ba (“the cube”), which at one time housed 360 idols representing every god recognized in the Arabian peninsula, including Awf, the great bird, Hubal the Nabatean god, the three celestial goddesses Manat, al-Uzza and al-Lat, and statues of Mary and Jesus.

The most important of all these deities, and chief of the Meccan pantheon, was known as Allah (meaning “the god”). Worshipped throughout southern Syria and northern Arabia, and the only deity not represented by an idol in the Ka’ba, Allah would later become the sole god of the Muslims.

In 630 Muhammad took control of Mecca and destroyed the 360 pagan idols, with the notable exception of the statues of Mary and Jesus. Muhammad did not, however, destroy the Ka’ba and the sacred stone it housed. Rather, he made them a centerpiece of the Muslim religion.

The Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca is the fifth of the fundamental Muslim practices known as the Five Pillars of Islam. Entering the great Mosque in Mecca, the pilgrim first walks seven times around the Ka’ba shrine in a counterclockwise direction; this ritual is called turning, or tawaf. Next, entering into the shrine, the pilgrim kisses the sacred stone.

Sounds like idol worship to me, but then, so does kneeling before a cross in a Christian sanctuary.

But that’s enough blasphemy for one day. For anyone planning to participate in “Everyone Draw Mohammed Day”, Ruben Bolling has some advice for you at boingboing.net, his website. Look for “How to Draw God-Man.”

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3 Responses to “Muhammad’s Picture”

  1. R. Fiore says:

    I don’t draw myself (or anyone else), but I can contribute this:

    A blasphemous fiend from Tikrit
    Made a bust of the Prophet in shit
    One Ramadan day, he put the thing on display
    And the whole Muslim world threw a fit.

  2. Tom Dougherty says:

    If you have any appreciation for internet memes, this might interest you: http://i.imgur.com/spuiE.jpg

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