Forbidden Images of the Prophet : The Issue Is Not What Islam Forbids but What International Secular Law Says

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Muhammad’s Cartoons | 

It is a big article, took me full  hour to read it, but it is worth it. It is thoroughly researched and sure will increase one’s knowledge. I have written several pieces on it.

Mike Ghouse

 Courtesy of New Age Islam

By Jytte Klausen
11 May, 2015
SINCE the 2006 protests against the publication in a Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, of twelve cartoons – caricatures may be a more apt description – portraying Muhammad, depiction of the Muslim Prophet has become a matter of life and death. Anti-Muslim and extremist Islamist groups are locked in a dangerous dialectic of mutual provocation. Each side in the clash propagates essentially the same message, namely that Muslims must (or will) live only regulated by the Sharia and therefore cannot become fully integrated in western society.
Working in tandem, as ‘best enemies’, the anti-Muslim groups and Islamist extremists often repost each other’s incendiary material online.1 Online social media networking platforms have helped make crude picture-making of Muhammad a kind of virtual global stone throwing with violent real life repercussions. Manipulated ‘insults’ to the Muslim Prophet and, by extension, to all Muslims are used to mobilize supporters to the point of each side encouraging supporters to turn up for street fights at each other’s meetings and spin narratives about ‘what Islam permits’ or ‘disallows’.
The capacity of politically motivated manipulations of representations of Muhammad was dramatically and tragically illustrated by the events that led to the scaling of the US embassy in Cairo and the death in Benghazi of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, on 11 September 2012. The Benghazi attack was initially attributed – an oversimplification, as it turned out – to local protests against an American-made film uploaded on YouTube, titled ‘Innocence of Muslims’.
It is fair to conclude that the producers of the You Tube clip hoped that it would stimulate violent demonstrations, following the precedent of the cartoon protest and using the anniversary of September 11 for the purpose of achieving coordination with protests planned by Islamist extremists. The You Tube clip has been inaccurately described as ‘a film’ but is in fact an amateur production made up of poorly staged enactments of sophomoric sacrilegious sketches purporting to represent incidents in the life of the Muslim Prophet. The scenes in the You Tube clip re-enact a storyline about Muhammad as a paedophile sex maniac that is a recurrent theme in the Islamophobic rants proliferating on the Internet and in far-right narratives about ‘what the problem is’ with Muslims.
 Paradoxically, the relaxed grip of state censors in Egypt in the aftermath of the ‘Arab Spring’ played a role in the trail of events culminating in the violent protests against ‘The Innocence of Muslims’. A trailer for the production was posted on You Tube months before violence occurred in Egypt and elsewhere. Lacking the quality of the cat videos that routinely attract millions of viewers on You Tube, the clip gained few viewers until excerpts were broadcast on the Cairo based ultraconservative religious al-Nas television. It then came to the attention of the Egyptian authorities. Not wanting be seen as lax in defence of the honour of the Prophet, Muhammad Morsi, the newly elected President from Muslim Brotherhood, told Egyptians to join in the demonstrations. The TV station was alerted to the existence of the You Tube clips by a Twitter campaign, promoted by a U.S. based Coptic Christian activist and a pastor in Gainesville, Florida, Terry Jones. Jones had got everyone’s attention in 2010, and then again in 2011, for his plans to burn copies of the Koran in a bonfire.
The 2012 film protests failed to capture global popular imagination the way the cartoons did. The cartoon affair unfolded like a soap opera with many actors and a complex storyline of missed opportunities and mixed intentions. This was a thin farce. The producer of the film, Nakoula BasseleyNakoula, also known as Sam Bacile, claimed that he was an Israeli-American, and that he had raised $5 million from about 100 Jewish donors to fund the film. Untrue, but the deception was widely broadcast in Middle East media. A Coptic Christian based in the U.S. named Morris Sadek dubbed an excerpt into Arabic and began advertising it on his Arabic-language blog during the first week of September.2The promotion included, among other items, a picture of Pastor Jones in front of the White House and a bloody cartoon purporting to show the Muslim Prophet. The ‘screening’ of the video was announced to coincide with ‘The International Judge Muhammad Day’, scheduled for 11 September 2012, in Gainesville, Florida. Pastor Jones had at various times been urged by Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defence, and General Martin E. Dempsey, the Chairman of the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, and possibly other federal officials, to not proceed with Koran-burning demonstrations.
 The federal government’s desire to make the Pastor desist was understandable but carried the risk that Muslims would be saddled with the blame for limiting what many Americans regard as an essential aspect of American civil liberties.
In 2009, Yale University removed several illustrations from a book I had written about the global controversy over the Danish cartoons. The redacted illustrations included the cartoons as also other pictures featuring Muhammad, including an Ottoman print of Muhammad going into battle with Ali at his side and an illustration of Dante’s Divine Comedy made by Gustave Doré. The publisher was Yale University Press. The university argued that the images could be considered offensive by Muslims and lead to violence, including attacks on Yale and other American institutions. In an Orwellian twist, Yale University cited my own book as evidence that reproduction of the cartoons was dangerous. The press defended its decision with reference to the advice of an expert panel (of which more later) ‘that there existed a substantial likelihood of violence that might take the lives of innocent victims.’
 The charter of Yale University states that causing offense and ‘shock, hurt, and anger’ are not sufficient grounds for compromising ‘the free access to information’.3 The president’s office was, therefore, compelled to defend its decision to censor my book on the grounds that the images would cause such offense in the Middle East that there would be a risk of violence. Thus it was established, without any threats ever having been received, that certain images famous in the art history of both western and Islamic art had become too dangerous to be published in an academic book because they might incite the violent anger of unnamed Muslims.
It has become increasingly difficult to see the cartoons, and any other representation of Muhammad. Celebrated Persian or Ottoman manuscripts have been removed from public display and placed in storage, out of harm’s way. Reproductions of the Danish cartoons are available on the Internet but in contexts connoting danger or violation. Wikipedia has an entry where they can be viewed and so does an online archive, the Mohammed Image Archive, which was created by free speech activists to protest the widespread censorship of the cartoons. The site mixes reproductions of illustrated Islamic manuscript portraying Muhammad with unimaginably lurid and crude caricatures compiled from anti-Muslim sites.
Writing about how this state of affairs has come about can be likened to embarking upon a hermeneutic archaeology of narratives and images. Layer upon layer of distortion must be removed before a real appreciation of the history of pictorial portrayal of Muhammad emerges. What follows is a study of how the world at-large arrived at the erroneous conclusions that ‘Muslims do not allow depictions of their Prophet’, or variations of the do-not-publish-pictures-of-Muhammad dictum.
 The twelve caricatures or cartoons were published on 30 September 2005 by Jyllands-Posten, a Danish broadsheet. Two weeks after the publication, the Danish Prime Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, was presented letters of complaint from a group of ambassadors representing eleven Islamic countries in Denmark and from the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), an inter-governmental organization of fifty-six Muslim countries. Three thousand Danish Muslims demonstrated in Copenhagen, demanding an apology from the newspaper for insulting Muslims by printing pictures of the Prophet. A furious debate broke out in Denmark about whether or not the paper was justified in soliciting and printing the caricatures. Five months later, violent demonstrations broke out across a swath of countries stretching from Nepal to Nigeria.
 During those months, diplomats from the Islamic countries, Egypt in particular, and from the OIC and the Arab League, carried out a coordinated effort to get the Danish government to engage in inter-governmental conflict resolution. The Danish government, however, refused to recognize the legitimacy of the complaints, and did not even disclose the existence of the OIC’s letter until February 2006, four months into the conflict. The diplomatic protests aimed to use international disapproval to sanction the newspaper – and the Danes – for Islamophobia, which for lack of a better definition here is used to connote hateful stereotyping of Muslims. Human rights law recognizes the rights of individual believers but not faiths or religions, and the diplomatic protests dead-ended in a muddled appeal to ‘responsible’ speech and lives on to this day in an acrimonious UN debate on the addition of ‘respect for religious figures’ to the catalogue of UN-sponsored human rights.
The angrier protests started in early 2006, when Middle Eastern religious leaders started weighing in. The International Union for Muslim Scholars, of which Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a leading figure in the Islamist movement, is the president, issued a statement on 29 January. The statement expressed disappointment that diplomatic channels had failed to elicit an apology from the Danish government, and appealed to all Arab and Muslim governments to support ‘Muslim people’s anger at this direct insult of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) by the publishing of these offensive cartoons. Arab and Muslim governments should also exercise all possible political and diplomatic pressure on the Danish and Norwegian governments so as to halt all such organized anti-Islam campaigns that aim at spreading hatred of and contempt for Islam, its sanctities, and its believers.’ It concluded by recommending a trade boycott.
The following Friday, Al-Qaradawi delivered a fiery sermon on Qatar TV, a satellite station, and told Muslims across the world to stage a ‘day of rage’. Qaradawi is an Egyptian Muslim scholar and a TV preacher. He is more than eighty years old and is regarded as a spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood.
 The Ummah(nation) must rage in anger. It is told that Imam Al-Shafi’i said: ‘Whoever was angered and did not rage is a jackass. We are not a nation of jackasses. We are not jackasses for riding, but lions that roar. We are lions that zealously protect their dens, and avenge affronts to their sanctities. We are a nation that should rage for the sake of Allah, His Prophet, and His book. We are the nation of Muhammad, and we must never accept the degradation of our religion.’
The site always translates the term ‘Ummah’ as the ‘nation’. Al-Qaradawi turned the cartoon protests against ‘our feeble governments’, meaning the Islamic countries’ governments, whom he accused of toeing the US’s line, and warned not to ‘split from their peoples.’ A second warning was directed against the western governments for being silent about ‘crimes’ offending the Prophet and for creating terrorism because Muslims feel they must take the defence of the Prophet in their own hands. The sermon was transmitted by al-Jazeera and transcribed on Islam Online, a website created by al-Qaradawi in 1997.
The weekend of Qaradawi’s speech and the following weekend, demonstrations against the cartoons turned increasingly violent, and Danish embassies and offices were attacked in Beirut, Damascus, Teheran, Lahore, the West Bank and Jakarta. The protests coincided with the beginning of the Ashura, when Shiites mark the death of the Third Imam, Husein ibn Ali, the grandson of the Prophet, whom Shiites regard as the rightful successor. In Lebanon, where five hundred thousand people turned out for the commemoration, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, blamed George W. Bush and Zionists for the insult to the Prophet committed by the Danes and turned the procession into a demonstration against the cartoons.4
 Sunni radicals and extreme Salafists similarly linked the cartoons to attacks by ‘crusader-nations’ on the Muslims and their Prophet. Mohammed Yousaf Qureshi, a Pakistani religious leader from Peshawar, announced a fatwa offering a reward of twenty-five thousand dollars to anyone who killed one of the cartoonists. Al Qaeda did not pick up on the cartoon protests until 5 March, when Ayman al-Zawahiri issued a statement blaming the US for the cartoons. Osama bin Laden released a tape with the same message in April. In June 2008, two and half years after protest against the cartoons began in Denmark, Al Qaeda claimed ownership of the complaint by bombing the Danish embassy in Islamabad.
Debates on what to do about the cartoons exposed the deep rifts in contemporary political Islamism. Moderates and the Muslim Brotherhood appealed to European laws and norms for protection. The radicals had no reason to bother with lawsuits and arguments about permissible and prohibited depictions; secular societies are flush with forbidden images and the legal system that Muslims turned to for help against the cartoonists is seen as illegitimate.5 If you reject western democracy, why ask for legal action against cartoons?
 The cartoons commanded global attention. Eighty per cent of the individuals included in a thirteen-country public opinion survey conducted by the Pew Global Attitudes Project in 2006 had heard about the cartoons, a number that rose to ninety per cent in Jordan and Egypt and in the four European countries surveyed. The survey also showed an overwhelming inclination to attribute fault to the other side. Muslims thought western arrogance was at fault; ‘westerners’ thought that Muslims were at fault.6The cartoons are still available on many Internet sites.7
During the conflict, writers in the western press often argued that Muslims are pious iconoclasts, who want to restrict non-Muslims’ use of images for their own religious and political reasons. Evidence in case of point is that Muslims too have engaged in pictorial representation – paintings, posters, and other images – including of the Prophet, and thus Christians cannot be expected to observe norms that Muslims do not observe. Muslims in turn complained about double standards with respect to how the press treats Muslims as compared to Christians and Jews, and decried the cartoons as yet another instance of spreading Islamophobia, the irrational fear of Muslims and Islam. The charge of double standards has merit. Blasphemy laws are common in Europe, and in most countries where no such laws exist the media nonetheless often refrain from printing things that are perceived as injurious to religious people.
Islam is not a Church and no unified religious authority exists to tell the believers what to think. The difference between Christianity and Islam in this respect can be overstated, but it is important to note that no canonical agreement exists about what the problem with the cartoons was. For this reason, the cartoons were an occasion for Muslims to consider the boundaries between the sacred and the secular, and the relationship between religious law and public norms, legal as well as private. The Koran is the constitutive scripture for Islamic religious law, but it is ambiguous with respect to figurative representation. Religious scholars were reluctant to issue edicts about the sins of a newspaper in a small western country with a generally positive reputation. The escalation of the conflict eventually provoked respected scholars to issue Fatwas (religious statements explicating religious law) but by that time the scholars had become more concerned about ending the spreading violence than explaining why the cartoons were offensive to Muslims.
Two weeks after the outbreak of violence, forty Muslim scholars, including the American Hamza Yusuf Hansson, issued a fatwa on the cartoons. The list of signatories included Deobandi, Shiite, and Sunni authorities, and grand muftis and professors from Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The tele-evangelist Amr Khaled, who advocates ‘faith-based development’, also signed. The Turkish religious establishment was conspicuously missing. The forty scholars declared the cartoons ‘an unacceptable crime’ and called upon ‘the Danish government and the Danish people to apologize.’ The statement included a vague threat that an apology was required ‘to ensure that Denmark is not isolated from the international community.’ Although presented as a religious edict on the cartoons, the statement allocated more space to cite Quranic directives to be courteous in disagreement and not react with violence to a provocation.8
 The blasphemy argument was a direct response to the Islamist radicals’ attempt to link the protests to the anti-western agenda. In a curious way, the cartoons replayed within the ranks of contemporary Islamism the old split between revolutionary Marxism and reformist socialism over what to do with the institutions of liberal democracy.9 Once the decision to work within the ‘institutions’ is made, claim-making becomes a matter of piecemeal reform and seeking recognition. Religious recognition gets transformed into a claim for protection under existing blasphemy laws, when such exists. In the United Kingdom, the blasphemy complaint was not appropriate because the British media did not publish the cartoons and in any case the demand complicated by the fact that existing law protects only the Church of England.
 How can Muslims expect Christians to observe their religious rules? And why consider the cartoons blasphemous if Muslims have drawn images of Muhammad? These were the frequent counter-arguments made to Muslim complaints about the cartoons. The answer to the first question is that blasphemy law today in most countries is not specific to Christianity, and, where it is only Christianity that is protected; other laws exist granting Jews and other religious groups protection against collective defamation. It is not unreasonable to want to test the laws but, as the courts’ dismissals of the claims showed, it is unlikely that the cartoons qualified for sanctioning under those laws. We shall return to the blasphemy question after a discussion of the second counter-charge.
The diplomats preferred to speak of Islamophobia. The issue is not what Islam forbids but what international secular law says states should do to guarantee equal treatment to Muslims. The argument shifted the burden of action away from the newspaper to the Danish government. The implied criticism of the Danes is not that they failed to respond to Muslim pieties, but that they failed to observe a shared commitment to equal treatment – an essentially Kantian argument about reciprocal rights and equal treatment. The inherent difficulty with proposing that all faiths are equal, however, is that most faiths regard the others as heretical, so the best that human rights can do is to assume a position of neutrality vis-a-vis all faiths and assert the right of believers but not their faiths to be treated equally. It is a novel experience for Europeans to be asked to recognize different conceptualizations of the sacred as equally deserving of protection. Put plainly, the cartoons looked blasphemous to Muslims but ordinary to Christians.
 Was it hypocritical for Muslims to expect a Danish newspaper to observe a taboo that is not even observed by Muslims? The first part of the charge has already been proven false; not all Muslims thought depiction was the problem. But many Muslims did believe (and say) that a taboo – or a close equivalent – exists. So before we try to answer the charge, it is incumbent upon us to find out why there was disagreement about what was sometimes presented as a matter of doctrine.
Islam contains religious prohibitions on various issues, but interpretations vary between the different religious schools. Pious Muslims believe that their faith compels them to reflect self-consciously on the obligations of faith but that there is no ready-made answer to what those obligations are. Most Muslims are not particularly pious and have a casual attitude to religious law. Perhaps only one in five European Muslim men attend Friday prayers with some regularity, yet many people who are not observant of religious law still considered the cartoons unacceptably insulting. There were religious reasons and not so religious reasons for the protests.
Haroon Siddique, a columnist at the Toronto Star, writes that the lesson Muslims drew from the cartoon episode was that in the West freedom of speech means freedom to malign Muslims. Pretty drawings of the Prophet can be seen in the Topaki Palace (the Ottoman place that is now a museum) in Istanbul, he writes, but ‘some centuries ago Muslims came to a consensus against depicting the Prophet, lest it lead to idolatry, a sin in Islam. That consensus holds. Non-Muslims can no more mock that belief than Muslims can question some article of Christian or Jewish or Hindu faith.’10 Siddique’s pithy description of ‘what Muslims do’ – the title of his book is Being Muslim – is interesting also for what it does not say. He describes a consensus that is experienced and customary but cites no chapter and verse detailing the forbidden behaviour. If an immutable law existed it would be written, and there would be no question of a consensus emerging at some time after the revelation.
But how do Muslims explain the miniatures in Islamic art collections and the many pictures that suddenly appeared on the Internet, where the debate over the cartoons raged?11 ‘Only Shiites do that,’ said RachidNekkaz, a French self-made millionaire, who grew up poor and Muslim in one of the banlieues.12Nakkaz ran as a candidate in the 2007 presidential election on a multicultural platform to show young Muslims what is possible to achieve in France. He had no patience with ideas about expanding blasphemy laws or other laws to protect Muslims against the kind of insult hurled by the cartoonists: ‘You need not look, if they offend you.’ He nonetheless did not for a minute doubt that the cartoons would be deeply offensive to all Muslims because they violated core religious commandment.
 I turned to Tim Winter, a lecturer of Islamic Studies at Cambridge University, for help with how to reconcile the art collections with the customary view that it ‘is not done.’13 ‘Yes, among the courts and the elite these things were popular, but among the common people it was hardly ever done.’ What we see in the museums is not public art but examples of the conspicuous consumption, even corruption, of the courts. The expensive gilded works commissioned by the courts and wealthy traders among the Ottoman Turks, the Safavid Persians, the Uzbeks, and Indian Muslim, were for private enjoyment. The courts sustained an artistic class of musicians, poets and illustrators by commissioning works of poetry, music and beautifully illustrated manuscripts. This output of exquisite art had nothing to do with what went on in mosques. Winter likens it to pornography. Siddiqui’s claim that a consensus emerged among ordinary Muslim not to ‘do that’ is consistent with Winter’s view that the pictures we see in museums are examples of the suspect and conspicuous consumption of the courts.
Art historians disagree. ‘It is often said’, write Sheila Blair and Jonathan Bloom, ‘that the depiction of living things is forbidden in Islamic art, but this is simply not true.’14 Does it make sense to even speak of ‘Islamic art’, if what we have before us is art made by Muslims but not devotional art? We would not presume to do so with Christian artists. The argument has intuitive appeal but faith matters. Perhaps the answer is to recognize the ‘Christian’ (or ‘Islamic’) part of our iconographic language, rather than divorce devotional art from ‘secular’ art? Artists use religious imagery to make allegoric statements about human life and feeling, and about pain, love, and anxiety and many other things. Faith leaches into art imagery behind our backs. When Christians make pictures or sculptures of Muhammad, as has occasionally happened, the sentiments expressed are very different from those generally expressed by Muslim artists.
 It is hard to test who is right, the art historians or the social scientists, because very little figurative art is actually on display in Islamic art collections. So I had to turn to art books and online image archives for my personal art survey. Syrian Umayyad caliphs had sculptures in the Greco-Roman style adorning their palaces, including some that depicted women with naked breasts. It is hard to locate images of human figures – much less of the Prophet and his family – until the fifteenth and sixteenth century. Most of the material available comes from a limited number of books.
Two important sources of figurative representations of the Prophet are Siyer-iNebi, The Life of the Prophet, from 1595, and Khamseh of Nizami from India, a 16th century manuscript.15 The first is a book of illustrations to a poem that was completed two hundred years after the poem was written. It was commissioned by an Ottoman ruler, Murad III (1574-1595), and is housed in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. In this book, Muhammad’s face is obscured but it is otherwise a full-figure representation.
The second book uses full-face representation. Another collection is a fifteenth century illustrated history of the Journey of the Prophet Muhammad created by Timurid, an artist from what is today Azerbaijan. Some themes in Muhammad’s life have been particular favourites. Among the more common depictions are of Muhammad riding between heaven and earth on the back of the Angel Gabriel or on his horse, al-Burqa.
 Two miles away from my home, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts has several miniatures from Persian manuscripts. One illustration in particular attracted my attention, a beautiful 16th century miniature of Muhammad ascending to heaven from Persia (Iran).16 It is currently not on view and is available only in the catalogue.
None of it is what we think of as ‘religious’ or devotional representations. There are battle scenes and picnics featuring Muhammad and his family. The clothing, the scenery, the food and the weapons, are drawn in contemporary styles, which creates an oddly anachronistic effect. The Muhammad depicted in Ottoman gilded manuscripts is depicted as a sixteenth century sultan. The miniatures show off the splendour of the courts in the narration of Muhammad’s exploits as well as but showcasing the artist abilities of the courts’ artists and the richness of the material. The Prophet is drawn as a statesman, a warrior, and a family man.
The manuscripts and miniatures contradict any ideas that Muslims do not draw pictures of the Prophet, but these are not caricatures. The pictures extol the virtue or the bravery of the Prophet. Often the faces of the Muhammad and his family are obscured by a little veil or simply left as a white blotch, but full-figure representations with the facial features fully drawn can also be found.
What then about the posters and wall hangings for sale in the bazaars of Teheran and Istanbul? Shiites, it is agreed, are avid consumers of religious knickknack of the Imam Ali, Fatima, and other members of the Prophet’s family.17This stuff is very different from what one might find in the Islamic art collections housing the Ottoman and Persian miniatures. The style resembles Catholic folk art and Protestant Bible study illustration. The colour is livid or pastels dominate. Fatima’s beauty evokes piety. Imam Ali too is beautiful with a groomed beard and the hand clasping a menacing sword tells about courage and strength. An aura can sometimes be seen illuminating the body from behind. The Shiah take great pains to stress the physical beauty of God’s Messenger and his family.
 We need not go far to find such things for sale. An American website, catering to students one imagines, has a poster showing Muhammad being escorted to paradise by the Angel Gabriel for sale. One poster is a full facial depiction and without the veil covering the face of Muhammad.18
Shiah and Sunni differences are evident, but it will nonetheless not do to say that only the Shiahs ‘do it’, as did some of my Sunni friends in Paris and London. The many Ottoman (Sunni) manuscripts speak against the claim, but it is also misleading because there is no ‘schism’ in Islam comparable to the creation of the separate ‘churches’ of Christianity. Sunni and Shiah Muslims share the same living space, inter-marry, and have generally coexisted across swaths of the Middle East and the Caucasus. In European cities where migration put them in the same poorly served neighbourhoods, Shiahs and Sunnis mingle in mosques. The prayer style varies as do the holidays in the two traditions, but where the Shiah and the Sunni Muslims live together, the commonalities are far greater that the divisions. The shrill denunciations of Shiahs as ‘infidels’ coming from today’s Sunni radicals are a battle cry to make true what is today not true.
 Is it instead a matter of class and division within Sunni Islam, as implied by Winter and Siddiqui? If so, the ‘high’ culture of the extended Ottoman court practiced one set of values and Muslims everywhere else practiced a more severe set of rules that looked askance at image-making as idolatry? But it is not only the decadent Ottomans and Persians who have engaged in religiously questionable pictorial representation. Frescos and mosaics in the Roman Empire’s occupation zone in the Middle East are often redacted or paved over but, nonetheless, in Jordan’s desert, off an ancient road to Mecca, sits a cluster of eighth century lodges built by a Umayyad caliph. Across the lavishly decorated interior walls and ceilings dance men and women in stages of undress. I searched the catalogues of art museums for representations that I imagined might have been in the possession of commoners. Artifacts predating the 10th century aside, which one can only with difficulty describe as ‘Islamic,’ I found only an Iznik tile from the 16th century. Iznik is a Turkish town south of Istanbul, also known as Nicea in Byzantine times, with great clay works. Iznik tile is not cheap today and likely was not cheap five centuries ago, but perhaps a wealthy provincial tradesman might have bought and used such tile for decoration much like the Burghers of Pompeii put up wall paintings with titillating sexual motifs? It proves nothing. This is a matter for anthropologists, historians, and archaeologists. The truth is, we do not know.
One thing everyone agrees on is that figurative depictions are never found in mosques. Let us also be clear about one thing: The Taliban’s absolutist injunction against film, music, family snapshots, and paintings and sculptures, even non-Islamic art, is the mad iconoclasm of a reform movement with political ambitions. Eighth century Umayyad caliphs, 15th century Afghan sheikhs and Mughal rulers, 16th century Ottoman sultans all commissioned great paintings and illustrated books, and occasionally even sculptures, populated by people and animals, and sometimes even Muhammad and his family. Religious injunctions applied one way in mosques and what people do when they revere their prophets, saints and angels outside the realm of clerical concern is another matter.
My amateur sleuthing leads me to conclude that figurative representation for secular purposes has never been ‘common’ but has been practiced widely and always to represent Muhammad the statesman and the messenger but never the message. As for secular figurative depiction, well, everybody does it. The Danish caricatures of Muhammad did not violate a generalized prohibition on figurative representation. They – or rather one drawing in particular, which showed Muhammad with a bomb in the turban – violated a specific prohibition against depicting the godly Muhammad, and made matters worse by depicting the belief as violent and its messenger as ugly.
Inevitably the question arises of the role of the Internet in bringing together people – Muslim or Christian – with no shared history of ‘forbidden’ speech in one global communicative orgy. Christians have drawn pictures and made sculptures of Muhammad for centuries. Safely cordoned off in separate geographical spaces, Muslims and Christians developed their own semi-separate histories. Medieval paintings often found in churches show Christianity’s triumph over Islam in the wake of the expulsion from Spain. The Victorians depicted the Prophet as a ‘Mohammedan’ wearing Turkish style clothing. Books and instructional material for Bible study tend to portray Muhammad as an exotic looking Prophet. Mormons have produced many illustrations in the respectful vein, because Joseph Smith, the founder of the religion, presented himself as a Prophet in the tradition of Muhammad.19 Christian and Mormon textbooks portray Muhammad as religious figure in the Biblical tradition.
 The long reach of the Crusades into secular art is illustrated by the depiction of Muhammad in Hell in Dante’s The Divine Comedy. Dante confined Muhammad to the Eight Circle of Hell in the Inferno section, and a 1491 illustrated version features a picture of the tormented Muhammad.20 It is one of Europe’s most popular illustrated works, and artists from William Blake (1757-1827) to Salvador Dali (1904-1989) reworked the illustration of Mohammad’s torment as God’s punishment of sinners. The religious reference in the depiction wore off with time. Dali’s otherworldly painting of the suffering Muhammad stands apart as a rendering of human pain, mental and physical. It is unlikely that Dali ever read the Koran (I cannot say about Blake) or knew much about Islam, but he knew a lot about both Dante and Blake. But as for the argument that the western press should feel free to make pictures of Muhammad today because (a) Muslims have done it in the past, and (b) Christians have done it and Muslims never minded, it is difficult to see how the fact that Christians have a history of depicting Muslims’ Prophet as a sinner in Christian Hell can be a positive precedence for the right to make images of Muhammad today.
 The meaning of images is constructed through memory and overt or covert references to other familiar images. The Danish cartoons were accompanied by interpretative texts – the two essays by the editors and a short caption accompanying most of the cartoons providing clues to the interpretation of the image – though these were never translated. And even if they were translated they had little meaning to non-Danish viewers. One cartoon had no interpretative text, and its iconographic meaning appeared to be universal but was not. Kurt Westergaard, who drew the bomb in the turban caricature, says he did not for a minute consider that Muslims would interpret his drawing to mean that Islam is the source of extremist violence. On the contrary, he meant to show that radicals wrap themselves in Muhammad’s clothing to justify their agenda. The distinction is conceptual and cannot be inferred from the drawing. Danish readers used to Protestant criticisms of Roman Catholic substitution of clerical law for God’s judgment would recognize the drawing as a classical anti-clerical statement. Ironically, Muslims too argue that God’s judgment alone is absolute and resists efforts to put God’s message at the service of political agendas, but they nevertheless saw the cartoons as an effort to drag God down to the level of humankind’s squabbles.
The cartoons are an eclectic mix of illustrations in the style of Bible study textbooks (Muhammad in the desert wearing hippie sandals and holding a walking stick) and racialist caricature (Muhammad with a Semitic nose and a blood-dripping sword). They were pictorial editorials and reflect present-day Danish preoccupations with Islamic radicalism. They were published together with an editorial on the culture pages of the paper. Muslims’ insistence on special regard for their religious feelings is incompatible, said Rose, with a secular democracy and free speech, ‘where everybody must be willing to put up with sarcasm, mockery, and ridicule.’21 American readers are likely to be more familiar with the argument that civility is a basic requirement of democracy, but in northern Europe rudeness is sometimes regarded as a mark of political virtue.22
 The bomb in the turban caricature, which was the one most newspapers chose to reproduce, uses an exaggeration of what is presumed to be the physiognomic features of an Arab. These are in fact essentially Semitic features, which explain why so many people felt the cartoon was anti-Semitic. This particular cartoon was the prime subject of Muslim anger also because the turban was imprinted with the Shahada, the Muslim declaration of faith: ‘There is no god except God.’ It was lost in the brouhaha over this incendiary depiction that other cartoons used different stylistic reference terms, and several made fun of the newspaper and took the side of Muslims against the barrage of negative commentary prevailing in Danish political debate.
 We speak today of Islamophobia to designate the stereotyping of Muslims in the media but an earlier conceptual framework was proposed by Edward Said, who introduced the concept of ‘Orientalism’ to describe the creation of unitary and alien picture of Muslims and Islam in the western public imagination. In response to Huntington’s ‘clash of civilizations’, which followed later, Said wrote, ‘Why do you pinion civilizations into so unyielding an embrace, and why do you then go on to describe their relationship as one of basic conflict, as if the borrowing and overlapping between them is not a much more interesting and significant feature?’23
Said has been evoked to explain the cartoon crisis, but the description of the cartoons as exercises in ‘Orientalism’ simply transposes the Huntingtonian paradigm’s perception of a culture war with Islam by attributing the aggressive intent to the West. It is true that the diversity and complexity of Muslim life and history is compressed and staged into a morality play with the western fear and loathing of Islamist radicalism as the narrative subtext in Hollywood productions and the cartoonists’ distorted universe. But that is what caricatures and sitcoms do, and it is hardly a uniquely Muslim experience to become ‘things to think with.’24 Blacks, women, Jews, take turns in the pictorial history of stereotyping. The dramatic exploitation of stereotype is the raw material for popular culture, and fortunately tastes are as fickle as the concentration span is short.
 The western media had settled into a curious state of non-engagement with Islam prior to the wave of anti-Muslim sentiment that has washed over us since the Rushdie affair in 1988. The cartoons conflict provided an opportunity for social actors to update old axioms about the meaning of Islam. The cartoonists and the their defenders unwittingly reiterated old Christian tropes about Muhammad as a tormented sinner, and the protests asserted a contested interpretation of a scriptural prohibition upon representation of the Prophet and his family. The sentiments propelled global conflict because they drew new meaning from the political context. Europe’s secular values collided with the self-conscious assertion of Islamic values that dominates the current political discourse in many Muslim countries. Samuel P. Huntington’s remark about Islam’s ‘bloody borders’, a reference to the idea that Islam and Christendom are separate civilizations, perpetually rubbing against each other, was invoked repeatedly in the cartoon conflict to explain the angry demonstrations and the avalanche of death threats delivered by email and fax.
The eagerness for simple explanations overlooked not only that the very contemporary – and ‘western’ – medium for the delivery of obscurant threats but also that the bloodiness put Muslim against Muslim. The exact location of the proper balance between religious feelings and free speech is a universal source of disagreement and negotiation. The cartoons were republished in Arab and South Asian papers, where the editors often faced stiff penalties.25 In Russia and South Africa, the courts stepped in and banned the cartoons. In contrast, few British and American papers and weeklies published the cartoons.26
 Fatima Mernissi, a Moroccan feminist and sociology professor, writes that the progress of Islamicism (her translator’s choice of word) has obscured the secularization of Muslim societies promoted by Arab nationalism in the 1930s and ’40s.27 Arab nationalism was ‘proudly modernistic’ and pushed an intellectual renaissance that was linked to rather than separate from western political thought. So it is today. ‘We do not live in separate worlds, but in highly interconnected ones’, she writes with reference to the decline of Arab modernism and the ascendancy of fundamentalism, which she defines as a political project that ‘sacralizes hierarchy and denies pluralism.’
But what do contemporary Muslim religious scholars think about depiction? Europeans widely think that the Koran ‘forbids’ depiction, and Muslims have to ‘throw half of the book away’, to use a phrase used by a Dutch politician, Geert Wilders, in order to live peacefully with western values. The Koran is ambiguous on the question of the permissibility of figurative representation, and there are only a few passages relevant to the issue.
A verse that is sometimes interpreted to contain an injunction reads, ‘Creator of the Heavens and the earth, he has given you spouses from among yourselves, and cattle male and female; by this means He multiplies His creatures. Nothing can be compared with Him. He alone hears and sees all’ (42:11, N.J. Dawood’s translation). This verse and another that prohibits worship of false gods (21:52-54) are similar to the Christian prohibition on idol worship contained in the Ten Commandments. ‘Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.’
Iconoclasm prohibits the display of icons and derives from prohibitions against the worship of false gods or idols, which are essential to both Christianity and Islam. By posting icons before the worshippers you imply that the image of God can be worshipped in place of the idea of God. The Protestant Reformation gave birth to iconoclastic movements, and even the moderate Danish Lutherans I knew in my childhood painted over the rich decorations of the pre-Reformation village churches.
 Fatwas are religious edicts detailing the how Islamic religious law pertains to a particular situation. The fiqh, the corpus of religious opinion, was primarily concerned with matters of personal behaviour and has little to say about public ethic and even less guidance for the affairs of Muslim minorities. The cartoons elicited strong emotions, and the religious establishments felt compelled to act. But what could they say? The scholarly statements were condemnatory or invoked a religious duty to boycott Danish goods as a religious duty. The statements provided little guidance for what religious law had to say in cases such as the cartoons.28 We may turn instead to a fatwa produced in 2000 concerning a sixty-year old frieze depicting Muhammad in the United States Supreme Court as a source for how Islamic law regards figurative depiction of the Prophet in a non- sacred and non-Muslim contemporary context.
 The author is TahaJaber al-Alwani, a professor at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, who is member of the OIC’s Fiqh Council and Chairman of the Fiqh Council of North America, and a highly respected authority on Islamic law.29 The edict notes that the concrete problem at hand is a sculpture praising the Prophet for his contribution to humanity and it is placed in a location of great authority outside the Islamic realm. Al-Alwani observes that the Koran is ambiguous on the issue of figurative depiction in general, and it is necessary to turn to the ahadith, the Prophetic sayings of Muhammad as narrated by his followers, for guidance. There are several such hadiths, thirteen in all. One relates the story of Aisha, the Prophet’s wife, who told about how the Prophet one day tore a curtain she had put up, which she then made into pillows. Another says, ‘Angels do not enter the house in which there are portrayals or pictures.’ A hadith that says ‘the people who will receive the severest punishment from Allah will be the picture makers’ has been used by the Taliban and other groups to support an absolute prohibition – even on movies and cameras – but it is generally regarded as referring to the tribal idol-worshippers that Muhammad fought against and not pertinent to the question of representation.
 The interpretation of legal propriety is, al-Alwani argues, invariably tied to the intention of image making. Figurative representation that aims to depict God is disallowed when it aims to emulate divine power or God directly, or alternatively is done in the pursuit of worship of other gods. Islam looks askance at lavish decoration but figurative representation for ordinary decorative purposes, such as Aisha’s cushions, are a different matter and not relevant to questions about the permissibility of the Supreme Court frieze (nor to the cartoons). The question of angels entering into houses with pictures is also not relevant, because angels would in any case not enter into the Supreme Court as it is not a house of revelation. Worship aims to contemplate the abstractness of God and the interference of images with worship is clearly prohibited. The frieze does not attempt to emulate divine power but praises Muhammad as a statesman.
Caricatures are suspect. Al-Alwani notes that Islam has revered the Prophet for his physical beauty, and some of these descriptions have inspired Persian and Ottoman artists, who came from cultures more prone to image making than the original Arab tribes. The tradition for hagiography lives on in popular culture in the preference for posters and wall hangings depicting the Prophet, Fatima, and Imam Ali as supernaturally beautiful. The Prophet’s personal biography is a model for all Muslims. The emphasis on biography, al-Alwani argues, helps ‘believers achieve a balance between his Prophethood and message, which belongs to the transcendental, and his humanity and human-ness, which belongs to this world.’30
Al-Alwani concludes that Muslims should be proud to have their Prophet pictured on the walls of the Supreme Court among other lawmakers. For Muslims, Muhammad is not just one lawmaker among others but in an age ‘replete with disdainful images of the Prophet Muhammad (SAAS), it is comforting to note that those in the highest Court in the United States were able to surmount these prejudices.’
The statement preceded the cartoons by five years but speaks clearly to what the problem was with the cartoons. They did not intend to honour the Prophet’s contribution to humanity, as did the frieze. They did not extol the Prophet’s magnificence as did the Ottoman artists and contemporary posters for sale in bazaars. They aimed to make the abstract concrete and likened the message to petty – or violent – politics. They made ugly what to Muslims is beautiful. The reasons that the Supreme Court frieze is a matter to be proud of are exactly the reasons so many Muslims reacted angrily to the cartoons.
 A great deal about the cartoon crisis can be explained by the fact that Jyllands-Posten used to be sensitive to Christians’ concerns but shifted position on the general issue of the role of religion in society at the same time as the religious feelings most likely to be injured started to belong to Muslims. It is an epistemological shift that most of Europe has undergone in the past twenty years. During the exact same time, Muslims have dismissed the ‘myth of return’ and decided that Europe must recognize Islam as one of the ‘Abrahamic faiths’ and provide equal public and legal space for Muslims. We are faced with a ‘clash of agendas’ rather than one of civilizations. In fact, Christians have long demanded and been given the consideration that Muslims demanded, except that the particulars are different.
In his intellectual history of iconoclasm, Alain Besançon points out that the Abrahamic faiths – Christianity, Judaism, Islam – have shared histories of ‘forbidden images’ but exactly what is forbidden varies and how it is forbidden does too: ‘Different religious regimes do not favour the image in equal measure.’31 A Christian editor (or a non-Christian editor who has grown up with Christian education) readily recognizes Jesus on the cross with an erection as a ‘forbidden’ image, but Muhammad with a bomb in his turban and the Shadada imprinted on the turban is just an image of an angry radical.
In contrast to the US, Europe has a copious catalogue of hate speech laws, prohibitions on Holocaust denial, on incitement to political violence or hatred, and the old blasphemy laws. Arguably Europe is already overly committed to the regulation of speech, and more regulation is not the way go. The Council of Europe recommended in 2007 that blasphemy should not be regarded as a criminal offense out of consideration for religious freedom and stressed instead the importance of penalizing expressions about religious matters that intentionally aim to disturb the public peace.32 European Muslims increasingly agree that increasing restrictions is not the way to go, and point out that it is ironic that four cartoon demonstrators in London were convicted to six years in prison while all the blasphemy suits against newspaper printing the cartoons failed, including the Danish suits against Jyllands-Posten.
 In Islam and the West from 1993, Bernard Lewis puzzled over the irreconcilable pulls on Europe’s Muslim migrants. Describing his encounter with a young French Muslim, he reports how the young man described his father as ‘a Muslim’ and himself as ‘a Parisian’. Islam is not a place nor Paris a religion, and Lewis implies that the man made a category mistaken but then retracts and concludes that for Muslims it is an appropriate summary ‘not only because they profess a different religion but also because they hold a radically different conception of what religion means, demands, and defines.’ Lewis concluded that Muslims cannot conceive law and religion apart.33
Muslim minorities have faced difficult dilemmas as they have over the past five decades establish mosque communities in societies with no supporting traditions or laws. Most of the challenges have been pedestrian albeit difficult enough witness the protracted fights over religious slaughter, mosque construction and prayer rooms in schools and places of employment. But Lewis’ description of the dilemma caused by role of law has been misread to mean that Muslims are not happy until the Shariah has been made into civil code. In Huntington’s version, Lewis’ dilemma turned into a civilization struggle over the secular state. Political groups that have made it their political project to make the Shariah into the law of the land have further aided misconceptions.
The Christian Church has not shied away from using legal code to safeguard religious precepts. Since the 1960s, the Church is in retreat but enough traces of religious cum civic code exist that one should be careful not to overdraw arguments about the secular nature of European states. Meanwhile, efforts to make Islam the basis of legal code, as conceptualized by the western states, have gained force in the past decades. The 1980 Egyptian Constitution reintroduced quasi-religious jurisprudence. The 1992 Saudi Arabian Basic Law reinforced the reliance on religious law as the source of jurisprudence. The present Pakistani Constitution is the most ‘Islamic’ the country has had.34
 Historically, political and religious authority has been territorially divided since the faiths’ expansion in the 10th century (some would argue earlier) beyond the Arab tribes. Prior to the modern state, religious law was society based customary law addressed to the problems at hand and, therefore, often expressed in utilitarian ways as a guide for what to do and not do under specific circumstances. The decentralized nature of religious authority meant that Islam has been law based yet endlessly flexible and variable.
Haroon Siddiqui’s description of ‘a consensus’ against making pictures of Muhammad harks back to the idea of Islam as a society based faith and presents religious law as customary law. It builds logically from the Koran’s injunction against worship of false gods and references in a practical fashion the biographical accounts of the Prophet’s struggle against the idol worshipping tribes that had taken control of the Ka’ba. Just like the cartoons were ‘things to think with’ for Danes accustomed to anti-clerical derision of the proponents of religious public morals, Muslims call upon the Prophet and his life as a model of life. The increased social stratification of European Muslims and the embourgeoisment of a successful middle class supports self-assertion in religious matters, which in the past were muted by poverty and by the myth of return, the idea that one day you will return to the ‘real home’.
 The anger against the cartoons drew fuel from this mix of increased consumer power, political assertiveness, and ideational reconstruction from migrants to European Muslims. The Hajj, the annual pilgrimage, and the Kaba are symbols of the universal faith that have successfully survived in the diaspora. The Muslim migrant minority in Europe has taken up the obligation to join the Hajj with vigour as it has become wealthier. Millions of worshippers go every year but many more aspire to go or know people who went. Olivier Roy has described the renewed interest in ‘deciding for yourself’ as a project of ‘identity reconstruction’. It is not just identity that is reconstructed; the tenets of belief are also subject to adjustment to accommodate upward mobility and minority status. The biography of the Prophet is also subject to the reconstruction of meaning. The subtitle, ‘A Prophet for our Time’ of Karen Armstrong’s new biography provides a strong clue to the book’s purpose. Tariq Ramadan’s title more subtly hints at ‘Lesson’ for following in the footsteps of Muhammad.35
We are so accustomed to the radical Islamist invocation of the Ummah as a political ploy that it is hard to believe that the community of believers can actually act with a measure of ideational cohesion. The cartoon conflict threw up all the usual divisions between terrorist Jihadis, the merely authoritarian neo-fundamentalists, the reformist Islamists, and the governments and diplomats of various political colouring, but it also activated a groundswell of middle class discontent with the increasingly hostile depictions of Islam and Muslims in the western media by populist politicians and xenophobic publics. Needlessly to say, there were Muslims who wanted nothing to do with the charges of blasphemy and worse, and thought that the clerics who inspired Jyllands-Posten to commission the cartoons deserved what they got. Nor are all Danes xenophobes and even the editors and cartoonists who produced the offending cartoons do not merit the labels that have been thrown at them.
We need only to turn to words of the protesters to realize how dependent the protests were upon the ability of protesters to see the images they denounced as offensive and ‘forbidden’. A hacker by the name of DarkblooD, one of many who attacked and defaced thousands of websites in February 2006, including Jyllands-Posten’s site and several belonging to the government, wrote in his message, ‘On Sept 29th, 2005 issue of Jyllands-Posten, I saw and read dreadful news and cartoons. The news and the cartoons were horrifying and extremely disturbing to me.’ His incorrect attribution of the day of publication gives away that he saw the cartoons on-line and evidently not until February 2006. It would have been implausible for a similar sequence of events to take place in the absence of the Internet.
 The Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Egyptian government demanded in September 2012 that the U.S. criminalizes blasphemous representations of the Muslim prophet, and also that YouTube remove the clip. There is no chance that this will take place. The First Amendment protects Americans against having religious doctrine determine what is permissible expression, and protects the rights of Americans freely to seek out information. Online social media platforms are not bound by such constitutional constraint and have the right to remove content that violates user agreements. YouTube, which is essentially an Internet based public utility guided by private guidelines, may remove material that violates certain norms but decided not to remove the clip.
U.S. media is notably more restrained than European media with respect to the publication of material that may be potentially offensive to religious sensibilities. This became clear when U.S. editors declined to follow the lead of European papers that widely reprinted the Danish cartoons in solidarity with Jyllands-Posten, when the paper was subject to an avalanche of protests and sabotage in 2006.
In the public debate that followed Yale University’s censorship of my book, The Cartoons That Shook The World, it became clear that such acts of censorship were by no means unique. The late Oleg Grabar, a distinguished historian of Islamic Art at Princeton University, revealed in his discussion of what he described as Yale’s ‘gratuitous betrayal of scholarship’ that a few years earlier Harvard University Press had similarly deleted an image from one of his books citing a vague concern about ‘trouble’.36
Censorship has unintended consequences. The censored illustrations accompanied a discussion in my book about iconoclasm and the history of depicting Muhammad in western and Islamic art. I pointed out that only some branches of Islam embraced what scholars now call inconoclasm, the prohibition of human images, and the prohibition was never systematically applied. One of the arguments of my book was that the 2006 cartoon conflict had been misreported as an instance of Muslims spontaneously exploding in riots when confronted with ‘bad’ pictures. In fact, various interest groups, including state actors, exploited the cartoon issue to make the case that democracy and free speech are bad for Muslims. Having yielded to the notion that ‘depiction of the Prophet’ is forbidden to Muslims in the aftermath of the cartoon ‘affair’, western media and cultural institutions contribute to the misrepresentation of Islam as a censorious faith and to a restriction on the opportunities available to both Muslim and non-Muslim readers and students to learn about the diversity of Islam. The motives for this simplification may be well intended or merely risk averse corporate interests. The consequence is an impoverished understanding of Muslim cultural history and pluralism.
1. Paul Jackson, The EDL: Britain’s ‘New Far Right’ Social Movement. The University of Northhampton’s Radicalism and New Media Research Group. 2011; JytteKlausen et al., ‘Keyboard Jihadism: A Social Network Analysis of Al-Muhajiroun’s YouTube Propaganda Network’, Perspectives on Terrorism, 6(1), 2012. Available at
2. The Daily Kos, ‘From Film to Protests: The Publicization of “Innocence of Muslims” in Egypt’. 25 September. Available at
3. Yale College. Statement on Policies with Respect to Free Expression, Peaceful Dissent, and Demonstrations, available at
4. ‘Massive Cartoon Protest in Beirut. Iran, Syria Deny U.S. Claim they are Inciting Violence,’ CNN World, 9 February 2006. See (accessed 1 December 2007).
5. Olivier Roy,Globalized Islam: The Search for a New Ummah. Columbia University Press, New York, 2004.
6. Pew Global Attitudes Project, Europe’s Muslims More Moderate. The Great Divide: How Westerners and Muslims View Each Other. Released 22 June 2006.
7. The cartoon can be viewed on many different sites. The Brussels Journal copied the cartoons from a Danish site, and many of the captions are poorly translated. http://www.
8. Declaration of Fatwa by World Islamic Scholars About Danish Cartoons, posted 20 February 2006. Available at the website of The American Muslims as part of a collection titled Muslim Voices Against Extremism and Terrorism, Part I, Fatwas, compiled by Sheila Musaji, see
9. Olivier Roy,Globalized Islam: The Search for a New Ummah. Columbia University Press, New York, 2004.
10. Haroon Siddique, Being Muslim: A Groundwork Guide. Groundwork Books, Toronto, House of Anansi Press, 2006, p. 50.
11. The Zombie Image Archive started collecting images of Muhammad and posting them. Michelle Malkin, a blogger, picked up the argument suggested by the pictures and the mainstream media took it from her.
12. Interview with RachidNekkaz, Paris, 13 December 2006.
13. Personal conversation, London, 29 October 2007.
14. Sheila S. Blair and Jonathan M. Bloom, ‘Art and Architecture’, in John L. Esposito (ed.)The Oxford History of Islam. Oxford University Press, New York, 1999, p. 230.
15. A rare exception to the general absence of public exhibitions, the British Library put an illustration from the poem on display in Fall 2007. It can still be viewed on the exhibit’s website, see (accessed 1 December 2007).
16. Manuscript of the MihrvaMushtari (‘Sun and Jupiter’) of Muhammed ‘Assar of Tabriz by the scribe Muridi al-Asta-rabadi, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Denman Waldo Ross Collection, 1906.
17. Reza Aslan, ‘Depicting Mohammed: Why I’m Offended by the Danish Cartoons of the Prophet’, Slate, 8 February 2006. (accessed 5 December 2007).
18. See asp?startat=/getposter.asp&APNum =1874068&CID=AA6B0D3E17D64F06A 474F82AB9BF 7914&PPID=1&search= Muhammad&f=t&FindID=0&P =1&PP=4 &sortby=RD&cname=&SearchID= (Accessed October 20, 2007.)
19. Mormons refer to Smith and Muhammad in the same way, as ‘Prophets’. Joseph Smith is reported to have compared himself to Muhammad in a speech from 1838, ‘I will be to this generation a second Mohammed, whose motto in treating for peace was ‘the Alcoran [Koran] or the Sword.’ So shall it eventually be with us – ‘Joseph Smith or the Sword!’ in Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1971, p. 230-231.
20. Anonymous. Canto XXVIII. Circle 8: Bolgia 9/The Sowers of Religious Discord, Punished by Mutilation (Mahomet), 1491. (Woodcut)
21. A copy of the letter soliciting the illustrations can be found in John Hansen and Kim Hundevadt, ProvoenogProfeten. Jyllands-Postensforlag, Aarhus, 2006, p. 15.
22. Stephen L. Carter, Civility: Manners, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy. Basic Books, New York, 1998.
23. Edward W. Said, ‘The Clash of Definitions’, in EmranQuereshi and Michael A. Shells (eds.), The New Crusaders: Constructing the Muslim Enemy. Columbia University Press, New York, 2003, p. 82.
24. Ibid.
25. An Egyptian paper, El Farg, printed one of the cartoons on its front page already on 17 October 2005. The issue is not missing from the paper’s website, but otherwise the editors apparently faced no reprisals. Jordanian, Moroccan, Yemini, and even a Saudi paper reprinted the cartoons. The Saudi paper was shut down, and the Jordanian editors arrested.
26. Ejour, a Danish website covering journalism news, found that by the end of February 2006 one or more of the cartoons had been reprinted in at least 143 newspapers in 56 countries, see The Associated Press declined to distribute the cartoons to US subscribers. By my count five regional newspapers and some twenty students newspapers and street papers republished the cartoons. Harper’s Magazine printed them all in June 2006, accompanied by a critical essay written by Art Spiegelmann.
27. FatemaMernissi, ‘Place Fundamentalism and Liberal Democracy’, in Quereshi and Shells, (eds.), op.cit., pp. 51-67.
28. Echoing statements made by other high-ranked religious authorities in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Abdel-MoetiBayoumi, a member of Al-Azhar’s Islamic Research Academy, said ‘The boycott is the least Muslims could do to defend their Prophet after the majority of Danish people supported their government for not apologizing for the offensive drawings’, see ‘Cartoon Battle Turns Uglier,’ Al-Ahram Weekly, 2-8 February 2006.
29. Taha Jabir al-Alwani, ‘”Fatwa” Concerning the United States Supreme Courtroom Frieze’, Journal of Law and Religion 15(1/2), 2000-2001, pp. 1-18. I am grateful to my colleague, Joseph Lumbard, for bringing this article to my attention.
30. Ibid., p. 25.
31. Alain Besançon, The Forbidden Image. An Intellectual History of Iconoclasm. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2000, p. 378.
32. The Council of Europe. Recommendation 1805 (2007). Blasphemy, religious insults and hate speech against persons on grounds of their religion. See
33. Bernard Lewis, ‘Legal and Historical Reflections on the Position of Muslim Populations Under Non-Muslim Rule’, in Islam and the West. Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York, 1993, pp. 43 and 57.
34. Section 227 reads, ‘All existing laws shall be brought in conformity with the Injunctions of Islam as laid down in the Holy Quran and Sunnah, in this Part referred to as the Injunctions of Islam, and no law shall be enacted which is repugnant to such Injunctions.’
35. Karen Armstrong, Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time. Harper Collins, New York, 2006; Tariq Ramadan, In the Footsteps of the Prophet: Lessons from the Life of Muhammad. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006.
36. Oleg Grabar, ‘Seeing and Believing. The Image of the Prophet in Islam: The Real Story’, The New Republic, 30 October 2009. Available at:,0.
JytteKlausen is the author of The Cartoons that Shook the World, Yale University Press, 2009.
Courtesy:  SEMINAR Magazine, March 2015

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