This is Not the Prophet Muhammad

(Update below)

I have to admit I don’t quite understand why some religious people get upset by what they consider to be forbidden images of their gods or other holy beings; Muslims in particular, regarding likenesses of the Prophet Muhammad. Especially in the case of cartoons, how can they be sure who is being depicted? Do they not realize that an image is not the actual thing, or are they just looking for an excuse to vent?

I have recently been enlightened as to Islamic doctrine on the portrayal of images. It seems to be quite simple, at least if you are Sunni Muslim: all pictures of living things are forbidden. It is not outlawed in the Qur’an, but it is spelled out clearly in the hadiths. The creators of images of people, animals or trees will be punished “on the Day of Resurrection.” Apparently, I will be there with them, since my use of a camera makes me a creator of images. By the way, I did not take the following photo, and it has nothing to do with Islam or Muhammad. I just think it’s a cool picture.

Ceci n’est pas Mahomet

If you don’t recognize the allusion in the caption of this image, please see The Treachery of Images for a refresher.

There is no prohibition of images depicting the Prophet Muhammad in the Qur’an, only the prohibition of idols and images of Allah. (How do you make a picture of an invisible being? Yet many have tried.) I haven’t seen any attempts at creating an image of Allah, but Muslims throughout history have shown images of the Prophet, as detailed at the Image Archive.

the prophet Mohammed preaching
Mohammed preaching.

My opinion? It would be great if moderate Muslims could get these radical expressions of Islam under control. It won’t be easy or quick. It took a long, long time to get Christians to stop warring against heretic and heathen nations, and refrain from burning apostates and witches. I would venture that those who are Muslim culturally but lack faith in the supernatural are best suited to fight those battles on an intellectual level. The problem is that the radicals tend to fight it with swords and bombs.

Meanwhile, I sit in relative safety, far from the Muslim strongholds. I offer my cerebral support, but lack the power to take direct action. I do what I can to elect officials who understand the issues involved, but I fear it does little good. I know that we humans have the ability to work together, even in difficult circumstances. Will we?


The Washington Post has published a shot of the new Charlie Hebdo cover for the issue coming out this week, seven days after the vicious attack on the magazine’s headquarters. It seems relevant to mention that, as it features a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad.

Prophet Muhammad - je suis Charlie

Title image credit: Ben Lunsford.

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