The taboo of drawing Mohammed
A. R. Mirza is a Canadian ex-muslim interested in exploring the history of religious traditions and how they influence today’s world especially Islam in the modern world.
Drawing Mohammed has always been a controversial issue, in school we were taught that it was “haram” of forbidden. But as of late there have been several incidents related to drawing Mohammed, the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the Texas shootings, the Danish cartoon incident, to name a few. But what is the true reason behind such volatile reactions to cartoons, or at least what is the theological explanation as to why they are forbidden.
Talking to Muslims you hear them often say that drawing Mohammed is forbidden because idolatry is forbidden in Islam and Mohammed did not want his image to be worshiped as an idol. While that is understandable, is not the will to kill another human being over a cartoon much more in line with worshiping Mohammed or “idolatry” than just depicting him through a cartoon?
Asides from the issue of idolatry, another issue that I can identify with drawing Mohammed, the holiest figure in Islam, is the fact the cartoons are typically negative depictions. They depict Mohammed in an unflattering light, which will no doubt prompt Muslims to be offended. However, what would happen if instead of a cartoon, people drew stunning artistic depictions akin to the religious art associated with Christianity, would that still be unacceptable to Muslims? Drawing upon history, the film “The Message” which was largely in favor of Islam and careful not to make any depictions of Mohammed resulted in the film director getting killed for objections over the movie and so it seems that even positive depictions would not be received well.
It seems the taboo is not rooted in any sound theological basis because the Quran itself is unclear about the issue and so the question is where from this taboo come from? Since we have no idea what Mohammed looked like, how can we truly depict him in anyway (or anyway meaningful at least)? If I drew a circle and claimed it to be Mohammed would that make it so? Would it still prompt anger from the Muslim community? We must face these questions rather than hide behind the guise of “being offended” or “Islamophobia”.
Cartoonists and artists draw holy figures from all religions without fear and yet they still stop to consider doing so when it comes to Islam for fear that Muslims will respond with violence and death threats. That is what true Islamophobia is, a fear of what Muslims are willing to do in the name of Islam. It is not a simple cartoon (despite how apparently offensive it may seem).
I could easily draw Mohammed should I choose to do so, but I think it is far more important to try and prompt people to question the taboo of drawing him as opposed to trying to provoke an inflammatory response, that will get us nowhere in the debate to break down this taboo. In conclusion, I urge everyone reading this to question this prohibition and to understand that no one deserves any repercussions from simply drawing Mohammed or any one else for that matter.