Draw Mohammed Day


(Miniature illustration on vellum from the book Jami’ al-Tawarikh (literally “Compendium of Chronicles” but often referred to as The Universal History or History of the World), by Rashid al-Din, published in Tabriz, Persia, 1307 A.D)

I thought hard about whether to participate in this.

On one hand, there are pious Muslims who will be offended by what I and others do today; for that personal offense I do personally apologize. I chose an image drawn by a pious Muslim deliberately to minimize your hurt.

But politically, and socially, we live in a society where there is no right to be free from offense. And the recent reactions of the few irate Muslims, and the fewer violent ones, means simply that I can’t stand by. I owe them no apology, and simply want to say that their behavior is what makes this necessary.

I’m disinterested in living in a world where people try and kill cartoonists for what they draw. When that stops, I’ll be happy to be more polite. Until then, I’ll point out that we live in a society where we take our most holy icons and dip them in piss.

Why should any icons be entitled to anything different?

10 thoughts on “Draw Mohammed Day”

  1. I think this is nicely done. The ban on depicting the Prophet has not been historically universal. This picture represents a recognition of Muslim diversity, which is something both extreme ends of the spectrum wish to eliminate.

  2. Given Western civilization’s struggles with “iconoclasm”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iconoclasm , it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that other cultures and religions have similar strains. As the saying goes, history may not repeat itself, but it certainly seems to rhyme.

    As an outsider not raised in the religion, I do perceive something of an inconsistency in the edict not to worship Mohammad, as he is considered in Islam first among all prophets in respect but still but a man (AFAIK), yet it is then forbidden to depict him, even in respectful/honorable ways such as that in AL’s post. That’s a difficult circle to square…but then, coming back to our own experiences in the Reformation, often conflicts that seemed rooted in theology were mixed in with other issues only tangentially having to do with religion. May well be that this isn’t about a detailed theological point, and more about who gets to say exactly what is and isn’t “true” Islamic conduct. Again, though, I’m not Muslim so that’s just speculation on my part.

  3. Tagryn,

    I don’t think it’s that hard to square the circle– Abrahamic religions all have injunctions against worshipping anything other than God. The iconoclasm, in any degree, is theologically motivated by a notion of removing any and all temptation to do that.

    In Islam, the intensity of the iconoclasm has varied– no images of any living creature inside mosques was acceptable for quite some time. It’s understandable to me that the most tempting historical object to turn into an idol within Islam would be Mohammed, and thus, that special conventions would grow up around him.

    Understandable, I say, but not really defensible. I don’t think that maniacally trying to extinguish all temptations from the world is a good policy; I think it is impossible, and leads to a certain weakness. I also think it often turns the world into a very unpleasant place– look no farther than the Puritans (a truly screwed up group of people) to convince yourself of that.

    And completely indefensible when you start trying to apply those special conventions to everyone else in the world, whether they believe in your religion or not.

  4. My understanding of the terms is that:

    _*Iconoclast*: one opposed to the use of icons (images), destroyer of said images; more generally, one opposed to conventional ideas or institutions._
    _*Iconolator*: one in support of the use of icons (images); antithesis of iconoclast._

    The ones opposed to depicting Mohammad would be the iconoclasts, while those in favor of depicting him (including the J-P proponents) would be iconolators.

  5. Same understanding of the term. I think it’s application is interesting linguistically.

    According to my Webster’s (9th Collegiate) an “Icon” is: 1) a pictorial representation, 2) a conventional religious image, typically painted in a small wooden panel and used in the devotions of Eastern Christians; 3) an object of uncritical devotion: idol; 4) emblem, symbol.

    An “iconoclast” is: 1) one who destroys religious images or opposes their veneration; 2) one who attacks establised beliefs or institutions.

    The image posted by AL is clearly an Icon; so is Mohammed the idea, or word, as an object of devotion. The question is for whom. One opposed to the devotional representation in AL’s picture might be considered “opposed to the veneration” of this image and thus an iconoclast per (1) above. But it fails to get at the essence of the term because for the Muslim, the pictorial representation is not an icon. The icon is the concept or word “Mohammad” in the sense of Icon (3) above.

    Take the cartoon of Mohammad with a bomb in his turban: that tears at the image of Mohammad as a holy figure. Clearly iconoclastic. Similarly, posting an overtly devotional image on this website, acknowledging that it will offend, and with the overt intention to offend in order to make a (valid) point, you are tearing at the icon of Mohammad as a word “that must not be represented in image under penalty of death.” In this case, posting the devotional image is iconoclastic–the objection to it is the opposite. The objection is that the image somehow belittles, or demeans, or detracts from Mohammad as an object of uncritical devotion [Icon (3)] The concern of the Muslim in this case is to protect the icon of Mohammad. Thus the Muslim who would take down Facebook to protect the idea of Mohammad, or who would issue a Fatwah regarding it is an iconolator, not an iconoclast.

  6. I meant “iconoclasm” and I stand by it.

    The mindset develops as:
    1) “We should not worship anything but God.”
    2) “Mohammed will be a tempting object to worship.”
    3) “We should therefore not tempt ourselves by putting icons or images of Mohammed in mosques.”
    4) “We therefore should not tempt ourselves by putting icons or images of Mohammed anywhere.”
    5) “We therefore should not allow anyone to put icons of images of Mohammed anywhere.”

    So in theological context (as my original comment noted) going murderoulsy crazy
    is an outgrowth of iconoclasm.

    Intentionally printing images of Mohammed which would likely be offensive even without the general ban is political iconoclasm. That doesn’t make its targets or those who oppose it iconolaters. The words don’t necessarily work that way.

    (And frankly, if my very Christian family could grit their teeth and get over the Piss Christ exhibit, members of other faiths can deal with some rather pointed cartoons.)

  7. tagryn,

    Part of the answer to your question is that Mohammad is believed to be perfect, sinless and infallible. He was sent to be a model for mankind to emulate. This raises problems of depiction from a theological and practical p.o.v. Use of symbolic flames around the Prophet’s head would be appropriate and communicates the religious point.

    The theology of Islam, commanding right and forbidding wrong, also encourages adopting better practices to merely acceptable. Muslims are charged not merely with doing good, but in certain circumstances they are expected to smash offending objects owned by others, not just graven images, but musical instruments and wine containers. I assume over time better practice is to avoid controversy and make depictions that would be acceptable to everyone.

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