Mohammed on the US Supreme Court?

There exists a marble frieze in the US Supreme Court building that overlooks the bench that contains carvings depicting 18 secular and religious lawgivers of the past. Guess who is included in the pantheon? Yes, it is the prophet Mohammed himself.

We know that Muslims are highly touchy about depictions of their prophet, some of them being willing to even kill those who do so. Hence it must have been quite awkward for all concerned to discover this. After the various controversies involving this issue, the Supreme Court included this explanation in its tourist materials: “The figure is a well-intentioned attempt by the sculptor to honor Muhammad, and it bears no resemblance to Muhammad. Muslims generally have a strong aversion to sculptured or pictured representations of their Prophet.” As Jerry Coyne points out, this of course raises the question of how they would know that the image has no resemblance to Mohammed since we know exactly as much about what he looks like as we know of Jesus and Buddha, which is zero. The whole point is that artist was trying to depict him. But so far as I am aware, there have been no threats against the Supreme Court about this matter.

What is interesting is that the excellent cartoon strip Jesus and Mo recently became the source of yet another dreary case of Muslims throwing a hissy fit in England, although the artist says clearly that the image is merely that of a body double of Mohammed, not the real thing.

I guess touchy Muslims feel brave enough to go after powerless cartoonists but going after the US Supreme Court is another thing altogether. Maryam Namazie says that the One Law For All movement that is sponsoring A Day to Defend Free Expression on February 11, 2102 boldly uses cartoons from Jesus and Mo on its publicity materials.

I have the feeling that this prohibition against depictions of Mohammed will lose steam pretty soon. The internet has plenty of images depicting him and is far too loose a structure to be policed in that way.


  1. oldebabe says

    Well, I suppose threatening/killing the original sculptor/artist, if alive, could be the usual mind-set and actions of the religiously `outraged’, but going after the U. S. Supreme Court must be considered `outrageous’ even by the most radical; but of course, there might still be one kook…

    Who was the troublemaker who discerned the depiction and spread the news? Kind of disturbing that the Court felt it needed to explain and mollify.

  2. jufulu says

    It occurs to me that, instead of saying that Mo is a body double, we just say that it is his twin brother and that any resemblance is coincidental.

  3. Sqrat says

    Perhaps the honorable Court could issue an opinion that the image is not that of Mohammed, but that of some unknown Ceremonial Deist.

  4. eric says

    No, the entire point of the freize is to honor the various historical figures that contributed to the laws of their society. This figure is holding a Quran and represents the person who founded Islam, the person who is Islam’s prophet.

    We shouldn’t pull any punches on this. It depicts THE Mohammed. Claiming its not accurate or we have no way of knowing whether its accurate is beside the point -- it could be a stick figure for all that it matters. If the intent was to draw a stick figure representing Mohammed, its still a violation for these folks. But, most importantly, the point is that the US has every right to stick representations of Mohammed on its buildings if it so desires.

    Free speech is not well defended by saying “that isn’t the figure which offends you.” If you want to defend free speech, be honest about it. It IS that figure, and we think that the ability to write, draw, and sculpt things that offend other people is part of what makes our speech free.

  5. says

    Muslims could go a long way toward mainstream acceptance if they said something like “While we generally frown (OK, scowl) on any depictions of the prophet, in this case we recognize that it is a sincere desire to honor him and his legacy, so we’ll let this one slide.”

    But you know they won’t.

  6. Abd says

    As a muslim I take offence at the statue and hope the government will remove it out of respect for our beliefs.

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