Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Muslim Aniconism

Frequenting many different atheist and secular sites it's hard not to spot someone in a predominantly Muslim country condemning someone for disrespecting Mohammed or producing images of him. This is interesting to me because taken at a particular level of the Islamic faith this acts against the faith.

I'll start with imagery - there is no prohibition of depicting Mohammed within the Qur'an. There does seem however to be a prohibition of idolatry (21:52-54). However if taken with the passage in 5:90 it could be read to be a prohibition on worshipping anyone or thing other than Allah. That is a difference between worshipping to Allah at stones and worshipping stones themselves.

But even if we accept idolatry as a prohibition, and given the Abrahamic routes that's certainly acceptable, that's a prohibition of worshipping 'graven images' rather than the creation of such. The ire aimed at depictions of Mohammed stems from the Hadith.

Now this is where things get interesting to me. Now without getting into two much detail the Hadith may be compared to the Christian gospels in that they relate the doings and sayings of Mohammed. For Christians the gospels are important because Jesus was the son of God (or God himself  if one wants to get into deeper theological waters) but Mohammed wasn't. To Muslims he was the Prophet. So why am I making the distinction?

According to the Islamic faith the Qur'an is the Word of Allah dictated to Mohammed by the angel Jibril (Gabriel) therefore faith-wise saying that Mohammed wrote the Qur'an would be as correct as stating that Mohammed's pen wrote it.

Therefore the Hadith is simply how Mohammed himself interpreted the Qur'an and while that may hold significant sway is not in itself the Word of Allah and to treat it as may in fact be considered idolatrous.

This connects with accusations of disrespect to Mohammed. Now while Muslims may be offended by disrespect to the Qur'an itself; if you hold to the faith that it was dictated by an angel from God then showing disrespect to Mohammed (or even to the Hadith) is not disrespect to the Qur'an and holding both of these in the same regard as the actual Word of Allah may once again be determined as idolatrous.

However let us consider the Hadith as if not being the actual Word of Allah, but perhaps the Way of Allah what does that say about imagery? Well it's quite clear and almost consistent- pictures of animate objects (note not living objects as this would include trees; which are fine) will result in punishment by Allah.

So that's not a prohibition per se of pictures; but is instead a promise of punishment for creating them. Likewise it's a punishment from and by Allah and not the people. As such choosing to take on the punishment of the painters of such for oneself is to usurp the position of Allah.

In the same manner there is no prohibition on a Muslim owning or displaying such; the Hadith states that angels will not enter a place where such exists. This means that Muslims should not have such; and in theory should not enter any place that has such in order to remain 'in contact' with angels; but there is no punishment for such from Allah and as such should be none from his people either.

But why did I say that it was only relatively consistent? Well because it seems Mohammed had no problem with pictures of Mary or Jesus or other religious figures provided they were depicted correctly i.e. not performing actions they would not have done. In this instance Mohammed is unlikely to have had any problems with images of himself provided they were of him doing things he would have done. If they were otherwise (say a 'scandalous' cartoon) he would have then torn down or simply refused to visit any site that displayed them as stated in the Hadith. He did not punish those who created them; he did not punish those who displayed them.

To summarise - it is not up to the people to punish the creators of such imagery; such is reserved for Allah. Disrespect to Mohammed is not disrespect to God and to treat it as such is blasphemous.

Not that this will make a blind bit of difference; but at least when you next see or hear some report about a group wanting to stone; burn or otherwise kill someone for performing either of these two actions you can contradict anyone who says they're doing it because of their faith.