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May 21 2011

Draw Mohammed Day through the ages.

The edict against the portrayal of actual items in islamic art is hard fought through the ages with various different Islamic cultures interpreting the edicts against idolatory in different ways. While the Moors of Spain were liberal in their arts the berber influx during the reconquista destroyed most of their art and statues as the moors didn’t follow the portrayal of human beings as taboo while the berbers were more strict in that aspect.

The traditional guise of islam that we are familiar with is from the middle east where such “frivolities” were eschewed, instead decoration consisted of geometrical pattern and calligraphy. Calligraphy and geometrical patterns were taken to incredible levels and to this day most of the middle east prefers calligraphy as their preferred mode of expression of art. Even the simplest of korans is printed in beautiful script and most homes have phrases from the koran worked into intricate patterns by the human hand. The same effort that went into the paintings of churches has gone into the writing of these phrases.

Young men personalise their number plates and sides of cars with calligraphy and abstract shape rather than pictures. The aesthete continues just applied into new situations. The product of writing Korans is now used to adorn the sides of buildings and beautify plazas.

However there were two big muslim cultures who were famed for their art. The Ottomans and the Mughals. The Mughal invasion of India was done by dour and harsh Babur whose stance on Islam was strong and rigid, yet in just two generations Akbar (his grandson) was born. Akbar was less dour but just as capable a ruler and he was famed for his patronage of miniature paintings, which was an Indian art style.

These were intricately detailed paintings of daily life. Like the early predecessor of photographs. The one on the left showing him meeting an early jesuit mission to India. (the two men in blue are christian monks).

Akbar was extremely multicultural and progressive as soverign emperors go. He is remembered relatively well. His tomb is filled with actual sculpture of flowers and animals unlike that of his grandfather who was a dour man or his father who was regarded as a weak emperor. Akbar’s love of art was continued through his son and grandson (Shah Jahan, he of Taj Mahal fame). However religious extremism of Aurangzeb began to sow the seeds of destruction of the Mughal empire (by alienating the standing armies of Kshatriya who formed the armies and generals of the mughal empire).

The influence of these paintings is best seen in Persia and in the Ottoman empire where illustrated Korans exist. (Or did exist). A few collections of paintings still exist and for your perusal this Draw Mohammed Day, I give to you examples of Mohammed drawn by muslim artists from various cultures.

The Remaining Signs of Past Centuries, by Al-Buruni.
The prophet gives his final sermon on mount Ararat (near Mecca)

Algerian Postcard 1930s
Prophet hiding in a cave during his flight from Mecca
The First Revelation of the Angel Gabriel
From Jami Al-Tawarikh by Rashid al-Din
Persia 1307 AD
Prophet lifting the Black Stone into the Al-Kabah
From Jami Al-Tawarikh by Rashid al-Din
Persia 1307
The prophet in Paradise on his horse Buraq with the angel Gabriel
From Miraj Nama, 15th century afghanistan (Mughal minature)
(Oh yes Samarkhand was once one of the most famous centres for art!)
The Prophet meets Ismail, Ishak (Issac) and Lot
14th century Herat, Afghanistan
The assassination of Ali (Mohammed is veiled)
17th century, Iman Zadah Chah Zaid Mosque
Isafan, Iran 

It’s surprising what you can find out about a culture. The taboo of drawing the prophet was broken before producing stunning art. Yet muslims still worry about portrayal of the prophet? Here’s the thing, art was in itself a way to show devotion. The same devotion of calligraphy was put into the art of chapels and saints. Islam used to be the same way.
When you place restrictions on art you place restrictions on your own thinking. It is a real shame to be seen as less progressive than your ancestors, but sadly that is what Islam is becoming. 
So instead of drawing Mohammed which we are bound to do in insulting parts of his life (Yes I know he married an 8/12 year old. Frankly I don’t give a rat’s arse. The time period was different and no one bothers realising that the virgin Mary was herself 14 and a teenager rather than a grown woman. We cannot apply our morality to the past and we cannot apply past morality now as we have grown as a species and become more mature.) start depicting the good things. Don’t listen to your imams. What do they know? Reading one book doesn’t make you understand the world. They know nothing of the real world. The more muslims draw the more they realise that mere knowledge of an ancient book doesn’t make you a good muslim. Its doing the right things. 
Well what do I know, I just think the art is pretty and makes an interesting counterpoint to all the hate from both sides. As of now Islam has managed to move backwards as a philosophy becoming insular, anti science and against human development. Not what it was a good 200 years ago. It has actually regressed as a whole. 
We can criticise all we want but the real change comes from muslims, maybe more of them drawing will encourage change. 

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