Why is a drawing offensive?



The picture above is this week’s cover of the magazine Charlie Hebdo with an image of the prophet Muhammad crying holding the words “Je Suis Charlie” under the headline “All is forgiven”. Some are already calling this a step too far, but many more are pleased to see that the magazine will not stop doing what it does best – challenging authority and questioning those who make the rules.

There is no way that the magazine could have returned with anything less than a full on attack on those who killed their friends, but the surprise comes that the message round the image is a heartfelt one. While the image will offend some Muslims, the message is one that shows a much stronger message than the usual satire the magazine is known for.

So why is it offensive to depict Muhammad anyway? There is nothing mentioned in the Qur’an that it is wrong to do so – in fact many images of the Prophet do exist in the Muslim world from history right up to today. It appears that the different groups that fall under the umbrella of Islam all have differing views and some see it as an abomination while others don’t like it particularly. For the last thousand years Muslims have made and created images for spiritual reasons and sold or given to other Muslims. There are murals in places like Egypt, commissioned by the government, which depict the prophet – although his face is obscured.

Muhammad was a man and it seems that to depict his or to worship or idolize him in any way is disrespectful to Allah. This seems to be the central argument in the case against. If you just do a little research you will find that the banning of the image is a more recent thing and like much in religion it is just taken on faith. Evidence suggests that there were a lot of pictures, drawings and paintings in the early days of the religion. A lot of it was destroyed during invasions and wars involving the countries that held those images.

Lots of individuals have images and icons of the Prophet, so the argument does appear weak. What I would suggest is that it’s the way in which the pictures have been used by satirists and cartoonists is what is causing offence. And that is opinion – not religious belief and therefore is fair game for individuals to do with what they will. We already know that the Sunnis and Shias already disagree on issues in the Qur’an in the same way Christianity has differing views on the bible. This is nothing new and each will continue to add to the “mythology” and “rules” their side reads the text as.

Ask University scholars and experts in the field and they will point to numerous examples within the religion of physical representations of Muhammad that Muslims just don’t know about because it’s not spoken about and the idea it is wrong shields them from it even more. Perhaps this shows that blind faith without any questioning can leave a believer only understanding the part of the religion that they are told to – surely to get the most out of it you should read more, educate yourself in all aspects of your religion.

It seems more and more obvious that this minority who are ignorant to the bigger picture and the true message of love that comes from Allah and the Qur’an are being obscured by issues like this by those who wish to use the religion as a weapon rather than the joy and gift of love it is meant to be. This is where the extremists are finding support – instead of fighting around a drawing or a magazine front page there should be more reaching out to the vulnerable in these communities and ensure they understand the real message of Islam or any other religion.


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