On Drawing the Prophet Muhammad

I will never defend, accept, or fail to denounce a depiction of the Prophet by a Westerner, regardless of their excuse, progressive or offensive.

Depicting the Prophet is an injustice, and it is an injustice because the West has a habit of ignoring the copyright-by-virtue-of-existing laws, those which it conveniently affords itself, when regarding the works of ‘foreigners’:

It is an injustice because Picasso is credited and celebrated for inventing ‘cubism’ while his people destroyed the African art from which cubism was inspired. Meanwhile they named it something new–‘cubism’–repackaged it as a white invention and sold it for millions among themselves, while they called the originals “primitive art.”

It is an injustice because Africans were not thought of as Christians until the presence of missionaries in the African continent, when in reality the religion had been practiced in the continent long before Jesus had light hair and blue eyes.

It is an injustice because not only can the works of a people be appropriated, but so can the people themselves, whether in whitewashed depictions of Jesus or in white men invoking the name of MLK Jr. to lecture frustrated people of color about peace.

It is an injustice because conspiracy theorists suggest that aliens built the pyramids of Egypt and Mayan temples instead of each respective native population, because that is more likely; no one would ever think question that the Greeks and Romans built anything.

It is an injustice because the Swastika, once a symbol of peace, eternity, and infinity, is now associated and can only be associated with Nazis.

It is an injustice because contemporary fashion designers derive their inspiration from traditional cultures in Africa and Asia with no mention of the names responsible for originals; the works, arts, cultures, and labor of a people of color are the property of the public as long as that public is white.

It is an injustice because only Western copyright laws when applying to Western ‘creators’ are elevated over the global economy; any culture who does not attribute rights in a way that the West can understand is subjected to the thievery of their creative work and the capital derived from it.

It is an injustice because due to the aforementioned, because Muslims refuse to engage in the depictions of their Prophets, the face of the Prophet becomes grounds for opportunist warfare.

As the West cannot accept the disengagement of Muslims, whether Western or Eastern, from visually ‘claiming’ the physique of the Prophet, the West enforces a dynamic in which Muslims feel pressured to engage in a Western-type practice of depicting religious figures, a pseudo-conversion and abandonment of self-identity, in fear that the Prophet will be caricaturized and misconceived by the interpretations of the West if these interpretations are allowed to stand alone.

It is an injustice because depictors of the Prophet Muhammad believe their approach to religious figures, to anyone or anything, to be the default approach to the world, to trump all other forms of religious or cultural practice, and to believe that the absence of depiction, of the visual, is the concession to be conquered and altered, silence as evidence of compliance.

A non-Muslim drawing the Prophet Muhammad makes the Prophet Muhammad, his image, and his legacy, immediately inaccessible to Muslims who practice Islam by not creating images of him. It successfully privileges the non-Muslim view of him, as a racist caricature, when no imagery from practicing Muslims can exist to combat this view.

11 thoughts on “On Drawing the Prophet Muhammad

    1. Accept? It is not for me to accept or reject how people approach the legacy of those whom they, in all honesty, consider their own. Jesus has been appropriated (in his modified European appearance), but the depiction of him by Christians is something I neither accept nor reject (though the characteristics of his appearance are highly questionable–and I definitely reject that), regardless of whether he is one of my prophets, because of the whole-hearted nature of Christians’ religious incorporation of him. What do I care then if a Muslim non-Westerner decides to depict Muhammad? They are not taking anything from me. They are only engaging in the observance of their religion as I do.

  1. Hello Nahida.

    My comment was because you specified “westerners” in your first sentence, which made me curious about your reaction had it been a non-westerner attempting to paint a different picture of the prophet. I think your stance stems from an anti-colonial position that specifies what is our heritage and what is theirs.. which is understandable.

    A case that comes to mind is the controversy of Hamza Kashgari, the Saudi poet who, although did not “draw” the poet, has painted with poetic words a “human” portrait of him, refusing the halo of sacredness the Muslims usually have of him. Apparently, people in his region weren’t very happy, to the extent they want his head off..

    It’s a little off your topic, but I’m interested in what you think of his case.. Was he white-washed, a traitor, or did he have a right to do so because he was of the same heritage and same land that gave birth to Islam?

    1. Well yes, my answer is still applicable, but I will make it clearer: he had the right.

      His was a case of religious discrimination, of other Muslims demanding that he practice Islam the way they practice Islam, and that is unacceptable. Who is anyone to tell him that he does not believe the Prophet is sacred? (Besides, I don’t believe the Prophet is sacred. We refrain from depicting him to protect ourselves so that we do not succumb to idolatry, not to protect him.) Kashgari was not divorcing something of religious significance from its origin, from the context of its culture, from meaning and spirit; he was not isolating it from life for the mere sake of people to gawk at it as some exotic lifeless figure. That would have been an act of violence. This was not.

      To answer your (original) question, I don’t accept it. I don’t reject it. I just don’t care. It doesn’t matter to me how another Muslim practices Islam when it’s not infringing on how I practice it.

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  3. Reblogged this on Freedom from the Forbidden and commented:
    Depicting the Prophet Muhammad is an injustice because … “It is an injustice because depictors of the Prophet Muhammad believe their approach to religious figures, to anyone or anything, to be the default approach to the world, to trump all other forms of religious or cultural practice, and to believe that the absence of depiction, of the visual, is the concession to be conquered and altered, silence as evidence of compliance.”

  4. Pingback: Irish Times explains why it will not print Charlie Hebdo cartoons - Page 51

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