So here’s a question

It’s a general (although perhaps not canonical) idea in Islam that there should be no representations of the human form.

OK. Art, paintings, there’s some historical examples but it’s generally accepted in Muslim societies.

How far does that go? Are photographs OK? I would assume obviously so, given that Arab newspapers carry photos.

But where’s the dividing line? Is a picture from a camera OK while one manipulated with photoshop (or Instagram’s filters say) not OK? Where is the dividing line between the allowable and not allowable representation of that human figure?

21 thoughts on “So here’s a question”

  1. Broadly what BiW says. There is a distinction between secular and religious art in Islamic culture with more sensitivity to human and animal images in the latter, although such images clearly do exist in Islamic religious art.

    It’s a bit like the Amish and the Dutch Mennonites, the strictness of interpretation probably varies quite widely.

  2. Given that an Iranian film-maker has just released a film of Mohammed’s life and it’s hugely popular and has state backing and no-one’s threatened so much as a picket outside a cinema, let alone the death penalty, I’m pretty sure the whole thing’s just a handy excuse that may be deployed as and when one feels like killing some infidels.

  3. Squander Two – “Given that an Iranian film-maker has just released a film of Mohammed’s life”

    The Lebanese made a film of the bearded paedophile’s life in the 1970s. It was hampered a little by the fact that they could never show his face. I believe they could show from his feet to his upper torso. But no more.

  4. They’ll always find an excuse if they want to do something. Like Islamic banking “oooh no interest on my mortgage but I’m paying the bank more than what it was on sale for”.

  5. Logic and reasoning are a not strong points when it comes to religious doctrine and its interpretation, most of which emanate from very few verses, if not only one. The issue of Jewish milk and meat is a good example.

    The picture thing comes from proclamations that angels do not enter houses with dogs or pictures/statues and Mohammed’s general dislike of fancy curtains and cushions. So I’d guess have a newspaper is not a problem but cutting out the picture and hanging in your hallway, or sending it off the Cafe Press for a T-Shirt, is.

    Photography, as regards the whole human depiction premise, was probably a bit beyond the 7th century illiterate tribesman, but for some reason he was fine with his wives and daughters playing with dolls. Even his all-knowing sky-fairy friend didn’t predict posting selfies on social media, or anything as complex as seasonal variation during fasting beyond the equatorial region (because the Earth is round).

  6. There was a film with Anthony Quinn as his sidekick which was made in the same manner as the 1947 “Lady in the Lake” Phillip Marlowe flic. That is the camera took the viewpoint of the main character’s eyes and stayed that way for the whole shebang while the other characters addressed their various remarks to camera. Garbage.

    Is this some part of your suck-up to Arabs scheme Tim? You would be better employed thinking up a way to make money while undermining the RoP. Everybody would be better off including your prospective clientele.

  7. The Jewish meat and milk thing is merely ancient elf ‘n’ safety. Just common sense not to store dairy produce on the shelf below meat produce. Especially when there was little in the way of refrigeration

  8. So Much For Subtlety

    Henry Crun – “The Jewish meat and milk thing is merely ancient elf ‘n’ safety.”

    That is likely to be a modern rationalisation. Jews have always insisted that it is related to a ban on idolatory. As the locals were supposed to cook a baby lamb in milk to offer as a sacrifice. Whether this is true or not is hard to tell. As the Bible gives no context whatsoever. Either way, there is unlikely to be any H&S benefit to the ban.

  9. Tim’s error is to suppose that Islam is a monolith, like Catholicism, and that doctrines are absolute.

    Clearly this is not the case. There is no Quranic prohibition of the depiction of the human form. However, like Christianity and Judaism, Islam forbids idolatry, and in some periods and some cultures this has been interpreted as a ban on any representations of the human form (on the grounds that man was made in the image of God). However, this is by no means universally accepted.

    In the same way, Catholics are perfectly happy to fill their churches with representations of God and other transcendental figures, while Protestants generally demur.

    The facts is that Jews, Christians, and Muslims disagree amongst themselves on doctrinal points. So what?

  10. My RE teacher many years ago when challenged on Old Testament rules always claimed that if you consider the context of a small group wandering a desert area trying to survive then they made a lot more sense than they do now. So in some way they are old health and safety regs, just tarted up a little with some extra bits sprinkled on. The rules on getting how quickly and in what manner you dispose of a dead body are an example.

  11. > That is likely to be a modern rationalisation. Jews have always insisted that it is related to a ban on idolatory.

    And it probably is. But the modern rationalisation isn’t that they really did it for health & safety reasons; it is that the religions whose rituals improved health & safety (regardless of whether they were intended to) were more likely to survive than the religions whose rituals involved, I don’t know, smearing yourself with honey and juggling wasps’ nests.

  12. It’s a rationalisation, SQ2. But a more obvious one is religions with dietary restrictions are less likely to assimilate with other cultures. Or “how to keep your people different”, chapter one.

  13. I’ve been working with Somali-American Muslims for 14+ years and here’s the way they approach it:

    1) Muslims cannot represent the form or figure of the Prophet Mohammed in any way. Non-Muslims can (they were adamant that the Mohamed cartoons weren’t offensive because they were drawn by a non-Muslim).

    2) Anybody else is fair game to the Muslim photographer or artist.

    To add to that, it has been noticeable to me that the Somali-American Muslims I’ve been around don’t have photos or artwork with humans in them. No framed family photos on desks. Art on walls tends to be religious in nature and usually involves representing verses from the Koran. Whether this is religious, cultural, or both I do not know. One Iranian-American Muslim I know has artwork with humans throughout his restaurant and I haven’t heard of any objections from the various Muslims I’ve dined with at his place.

  14. Under the Taliban, Afghans were prohibited from drawing or painting any living thing. Including flowers. Anything that smacked of re-creating what their god had created, was forbidden, under pain of death.

  15. BiS is right. Dietary restrictions aren’t health-related. They’re so you can say, “yuk, those Caramelites down the road eat asparagus on Tuesday, the filthy heathens, no way is my daughter marrying one of them” and then you can kill them without feeling bad about it.

  16. Squander Two – “But the modern rationalisation isn’t that they really did it for health & safety reasons; it is that the religions whose rituals improved health & safety (regardless of whether they were intended to) were more likely to survive than the religions whose rituals involved, I don’t know, smearing yourself with honey and juggling wasps’ nests.”

    But there is no logical reason to think rules like these did improve health and safety. Claiming an animal is “clean” because it has had its throat cut properly does not actually make it clean or safe. Pork is perfectly safe in hot and dry climates. There is no logical reason not to eat a cheese burger.

    I agree stoning homosexuals and restricting sex to the most fertile days in a woman’s cycle probably did help. And I also agree that these religions won by out breeding and out persecuting everyone else. Which is why France will be Arabic speaking in a generation or two. But I don’t think the food rules had much to do with it. There being a lot more Christians than Jews for instance.

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