13 May 2010

Muhammad and Art

The humanities were my first religion. As a child, I loved visting my local library, walking quietly through the art galleries and reading books on history and in fiction that tied my story to other humans. I listened to NPR even in my youth, delighting in symphonies and concertos discreetly, for my parents did not like classical music and complained vigorously if they heard it. I liked being part of the world. I delighted in the human experience -- in poetry, art, music, and our attempt to understand the universe through science. They made life beautiful.

The School of Athens.

This is why I despise authoritative attempts to strangle the humanities by imposing outside directives upon them, particularly the Islamic assault on art that bars depiction of living forms, chiefly human forms.  The human form is beautiful to me, in statuary or in paintings. The form is aesthetically pleasing,  but depictions of humanity can speak to us on a personal basis. We can see shades of ourselves in the depictions of others: we can reflect on our own condition.


I view any attempt to strangle art by imposing directives upon it as hideous: art should be free, vivacious. It should speak of the human spirit, forever free and courageous. Art is ours, to celebrate and contemplate life. The religious attack upon art exemplifies religion's arrogance: it presumes upon the human spirit, aborting beauty in favor of doctrine.

Back Where You Belong, Jack Vettriano

Although fundamentalist Muslims disapprove of art depicting humans, depiction of Muhammad is especially taboo. These Muslims object to the depiction of Muhammad in any sense: one group sued the United States to have his image removed from the Supreme Courthouse, where he is depicted along with other 'bringers of law'.

As I understand the original injunction against depictions of Muhammad and humans in art, the intention was to prevent idol- and founder-worship. This is ironic, for these Muslims do worship Muhammad. They prove it by their outrageous actions when they think he is insulted. They prove it as well when they fetter their tongues, adding "peace be upon him" whenever his name is uttered.

Their actions are disgraceful: they embarrass not only themselves by their knee-jerk violence and hate, but by staining the memory of Muhammad, just as Christians stain the memory of Jesus. Does their behavior speak well of their faith, that it does not prevent them from behaving so savagely -- that it does not give them peace of mind enough to withstand 'insults'?  Does it speak well of them as human beings, who have the capability to know and act better?

The Death of Socrates -- befitting the occasion, for Socrates' death was a victory of principles and the human spirit over religious authority.

I don't think so, which is why I believe  prohibitions against the depiction of the human form and Muhammad in particular ought to be fought, attacked, and defied. Humanity deserves better than those fetters. At the same time, I think that those taking the stand should not dishonor themselves in the way the violently fundamentalist do.  Where "Everyone Draw Muhammad Day" stands there, I do not know.


Baley Petersen said...

Beautiful. Amazing. Huzzah!

Snowbrush said...

I read on someone's blog within just the last couple of days about a group of students at some U.S. university drawing images of Mohammed in public places to protest the prohibition. To their credit the Islamic student group at the university invited these students to come for a dialogue. Since the students hadn't hidden their identities, I don't assume that the invitation was due to an ulterior motive, but I assumed that the Moslem students were going to end by demanding that the drawings stop, and I wondered what might happen if they continued. I would never dismiss violence as a very real possibility when dealing with Moslems because too many of them resort to it too often and for too little reason.