Cartoon Controversy

Like many people, I've been watching the developments in the Muhammad cartoon controversy with great interest. Yesterday on the CBC I saw an interview with an imam who explained the Islamic prohibition of depicting the prophet visually, and a few things occurred to me that I thought I might share.

First of all, the depiction of Muhammad is not quite as absolute as the media has often suggested. I've seen at least one Islamic image from the Middle Ages of the prophet riding a horse, with his face left blank.

Secondly, as the imam on TV explained, the purpose of the prohibition is to prevent idolatry. Presumably this was a reaction to the perceived link between Christian art and Christian idolatry, which is certainly understandable.

But when this rationale is understood, the protests concerning the Muhammad cartoons becomes less understandable. Non-Muslims do a lot of things that are prohibited by Islamic law, but you don't see thousands of Muslims fly off the handle whenever it happens. And it is very hard to imagine how the offending cartoons would lead anyone to idolatry.

If anything, the cartoons are insulting and unfair towards Islam, and should be denounced for that reason. And freedom of expression is not an adequate defense -- just because one has the legal right to do something doesn't mean that doing it is necessarily moral, or wise. But the position taken by a small minority of Muslims -- that this is such a grievous offense that it is worth killing for -- is entirely inconsistent with the traditional rationale for the prohibition of visually depicting Muhammad.

For a good article about this by Robert Fisk, read this.


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