Opinion: "Visions of Mohammed"

February 26, 2006

Source: Toronto Star


On February 26, 2006 the Toronto Star ran an opinion piece by Lynda Hurst in which she examines various attitudes toward representations of the Prophet Muhammad in artistic form. Hurst writes, "The exquisite painting shown in part on this page is a 15th-century 'illumination.' It shows the Prophet Mohammed in the course of his visionary night journey from Mecca to Jerusalem, then guided by the angel Gabriel through the seven spheres of heaven to the throne of God... It is one of 61 paintings, each featuring a depiction of Mohammed, created by unknown Islamic artists in the workshops of Herat, in what is now western Afghanistan, in the early 1400s... By any standard, this painted depiction of Mohammed is hugely different in context from the controversial Danish cartoons. Yet could it still be deemed offensive � when no offence is intended? Some would say yes, others a vehement no, among them Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi, an Iranian-born U of T professor of Islam and modern Middle East history. 'It is good for non-Muslims to see such art, and good for Muslims in Canada to get their education from other than fundamentalists,' he says. A former librarian, he mourns the fact that so many Muslims are unaware of the 'fantastic archive of images' that trace their Islamic heritage, specifically citing the 'ascension genre' of paintings. Many are in museums and libraries in the West, but they're also plentiful in the Muslim world, with the largest collection held by Istanbul's Topkapi Museum, in Turkey, an Islamic country with a secular government... Perhaps Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan, of London's Lokahi Foundation, which studies religious diversity, should have the last word. 'We are at a crossroads,' he recently wrote in The Guardian. 'The time has come for (people) to reject this dangerous division of people into two worlds, to start building bridges based on common values. They must assert the inalienable right to freedom of expression and, at the same time, demand measured exercise of it.'"