Sunday, February 05, 2006

Images of Muhammad: A Response

My original post on this issue has generated more discussion than any other entry that I've posted here, but my follow-up post has -- so far -- received only a single comment.

This comment was posted by a Muslim who goes by the name "Muslim" and who has his own blog, Beconvinced. Muslim is not an especially active blogger, for he posted his most recent entry about a year ago, on April 01, 2005. From quickly scanning his posts, I see that most if not all consist of reprints from various online documents that proselytize for Islam.

Not -- as Seinfeld would say -- that there's anything wrong with that.

Moreover, Muslim's borrowed postings are respectful in tone, as is his own comment on my blog:
Muslim said...

What was the point of making these pictures of our beloved prophet Muhammad peace be upon him?

In Islam we dont make pictures of any other prophets. We respect all prophets, Jesus, Moses, Abraham. In our religion, even if you made pictures of these prophets, it would be considered a big sin.

We respect all religions, yet why dont the people who drawed what they did respect ours?

Moreover, why not write about our prophet peace be upon him from true sources? if you really learn about this Prophet, you will see what a mercy he was to mankind.
Thank you for your post, Muslim. Let me respond to your points.

What was the point of the images? From my reading of the news, the point was to test the freedom of illustrators to draw images of Muhammad. A Danish author named Kare Bluitgen had written a respectful book about Muhammad for children but could find no artist willing to do the illustrations for fear of the Muslim reaction. Their fear came in the wake of Theo Van Gogh's murder in broad daylight upon a crowded street in Amsterdam by the radical Islamist Mohammed Bouyeri. Van Gogh's offense had been his movie Submission, made with lapsed Muslim Ayaan Hirsi Ali, which had criticized the condition of women under Islam and had shocked Muslims by showing the image of a partially naked woman with Qur'anic verses written upon her body. The Jyllands-Posten newspaper, having heard of Bluitgen's difficulty in finding an illustrator and wishing to defend the hard-achieved right of free expression, decided to hold a contest for the best satirical images of Muhammad. Personally, I would not have favored such a competition for satirical images. The same point could have been made more respectfully with nonsatirical illustrations. However, I do support their right to free expression, and that includes the freedom to print the satirical images.

You state that under Islam, Muslims do not make images of Muhammad. Strictly speaking, this is not correct. Many, many such images exist. I posted one of them on my original blog entry and linked to several more (such as the one above from a Persian or central Asian illustration showing Mohammed (on the right) preaching, borrowed from here). Apparently, there does exist a hadith found in Volume 7, Book 62, Nr. 110 of Sahih Bukhari that describes Muhammad condemning depictions of living things, but I wonder if its isnad (chain of transmission) is strong, for Muslims do have images of living things, even images of the Prophet himself. If you -- or somebody -- could explain this to me, I'd appreciate it.

You say that Islam respects all religions. Does it? I don't have the impression that it respects polytheistic religions. Nor do I have the impression that Islam truly respects other monotheistic religions. Jews and Christians are allowed to practice their religions in Muslim lands (except for Saudi Arabia), but does the second-class status of Judaism and Christianity really suggest respect? According to Shariah, the word of a Jew or a Christian has no legal validity against the word of a Muslim. That doesn't seem to confer much respect. Also, I read translations of sermons by imams provided by MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute), and from what I've read, I find not merely a lack of respect but an open hatred of Jews and Christians.

Finally, on your point that Muhammad was "a mercy ... to mankind," I find it hard to agree. Narrowly conceived, I grant that if Allah really expects of people what the Qur'an and the hadith claim, then Muhammad is a "mercy" for showing the right path, for without that path, there would be only damnation. But I don't see why I should accept the if-clause. Moreover, I have read enough of the life of Muhammad to persuade me that "merciful" is not the adjective to choose for describing many of his actions.

Still, I thank you for your comment, which I found respectful, and I hope that my response has been equally respectful even though we do not agree.


At 5:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I continue to appreciate and learn from your posts. I wanted to respectfully ask, though, what it means for a religion like Islam to "respect" another religion. By definition, do not monotheistic religions reject the validity of other gods and religions? Doesn't that make Judaism and Christianity disrespectful of each other and of Islam as well? My understanding of early Islam is that it was far more tolerant of the practitioners of other religions than many Christians were, even if, as you say, this was not always reflected judicially. I'm wondering if it would be more accurate to say that, rather than Islam, it is Muslims, in particular the Islamists who would kill us for our nonbelief, who are less than respectful.

At 6:53 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Roughly speaking (since I lack expertise), it seems to me that Islam treated Jews and Christians rather like Christians treated Jews.

In both cases there has generally been 'tolerance' based on an officially recognized connection between the later and the earlier religions.

Generally, Muslims have affirmed that Allah is the same God as the one worshipped by Jews and Christians. Similarly, Christians have generally affirmed that their own God is the same God as the one worshipped by Jews.

In fact, I think that the Christian use of the Old Testament requires Christians to make this affirmation. The Gnostic Christians in the early Christian period denied this, of course, but they were declared heretics.

In short, there has been 'tolerance' -- but does this imply respect? Maybe it does, officially, imply a degree of respect, compared, at least, to non-tolerated religions, but the respect accorded can be pretty small.

But it can also sometimes be quite large. It's my impression that today's evangelical Christians often give a great deal of respect to Judaism despite their theological differences. Catholicism since Vatican II has greatly increased its respect for Judaism, at least officially.

As for the three monotheisms' views of polytheistic religions, there has been a great deal of official disrespect. In the case of Islam, I think that if one looks at its history of expansion, it has not been very kind to polytheists. The same would probably hold for Christianity.

At the same time, I've noticed in my teaching of literature and history just how much of the pagan past is carried over in Medieval Christianity. I've occasionally noticed similar things in folk Islam and in the Islam of Indonesia.

My problem with "Muslim"'s statement that "We respect all religions" is that, first, this is largely inaccurate with respect to Islam's treatment of polytheism, and that, second, it is debatable with respect to Islam's treatment of Judaism and Christianity.

But I would certainly agree that Islamists are far less respectful than Islam generally.

Jeffery Hodges

At 4:23 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Stickman, thanks for visiting.

Our mutual friend "Muslim" also left his message elsewhere, at A Deeper Look.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:29 AM, Blogger Rob Bradshaw said...

Even if the Isnad of the tradition is strong, if I remember correctly different branches of Islam rely on different Hadith for support.

There are a number of books that support your argument about Islam's active supression of other religions:

Don Richardson, Secrets of the Koran: Revealing Insight into Islam's Holy Book. Regal Press, 2003. Pbk. ISBN: 0830731237.

Bat Ye'or, The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude. London: Associated University Presses, 1996. Pbk. ISBN: 0838636780. pp.522.

All of Bat Ye'or books are recommended reading.

Keep up the good work.


At 6:53 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Rob, thanks. I do have Bat Ye'or's book, which I've not yet read in its entirety.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for your interesting posts. I just want to correct a single mistake. The newspaper Jyllands-Posten did not call out for satirical images, but merely illustrations. The illustrators had free hands. Some of them drew respectful images, some of them made fun of Muhammad, and some of them made fun of the newspaper and the whole discussion.

At 10:28 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, thanks for that.

I hadn't realized that the newspaper hadn't requested satirical images.

That's certainly a nontrivial point and needs to be stated clearly in any future postings that I might compose.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

god will break your hand

At 7:16 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, thanks for your comment, which perfectly illustrates your attitude toward discussion, I presume.

You have expressed your violent opinion and now take refuge in your anonymity.

Jeffery Hodges

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