Sunday, March 09, 2008

In Tehran, an unexpected 'cartoon' of the prophet Muhammad

I've posted this story on harryzzz already last year July. But as the world keeps on talking about the Danish cartoons and the Wilders movie, it would not hurt to check this story out again. (I've added a couple of new lines and click on pictures to enlarge.):

(...) As most of us know by now: It is forbidden in Islamic countries to depict the prophet Muhammad – let alone depict him in an insulting way. Depicting a person, especially the prophet, could lead to worshipping. This is absolutely forbidden in the strictly monotheistic religion of Islam. In other words: You may only worship God (Allah), not anybody else, not even the prophet Muhammad.

But here comes the rather less predictable part of the story.

Some time ago I visited Iran and walked through the capital Tehran and decided to visit the Museum of the Islamic Period, one of the largest museums in town. Located in a beautiful building in the center of Tehran, I went up the stairs and started my tour. On floor one, in front of one of the first pieces of the exhibition, I immediately stopped. Looking at a picture, behind glass, I was flabbergasted. Because, believe it or not, I stood face to face with a picture of the prophet Muhammad.

Hanging on the wall in front of me was a painting of a male person wearing a green scarf and a black beard, some Koranic texts and beautifully made decorations. Under it, in Farsi and in English, the museum had put a little sign. It read: AN ICON OF THE PROPHET (Peace and Blessings be Upon Him), Signed by Sani'Al-Molk, 19th Century A.D.

After about five minutes, I walked up to the front desk of the museum.

"I thought this was forbidden," I asked to a friendly girl, pointing in the direction of the icon of the prophet.

"Well," she said, "If it is done in a respectful way, you may depict the prophet."

But almost every Muslim I talk to, I continued, claims it is strictly forbidden in Islam to depict the prophet - respectfully or disrespectfully.

She shook her head and said: "A lot of people here are kind of ignorant on this topic. I was highly surprised by all these world wide protests, because I see this icon of the prophet every day."

"Still," she said, "There is a huge difference in depicting the prophet as some kind of terrorist or depicting him the way this painter has done. This is just a very beautiful icon, nobody can have anything against it."

Don't tell that to the Wahhabi's in Saudi Arabia - I said. And again, she - a Shi'a Muslim - smiled. "You're probably right," she said.

Harald Doornbos


Riemer Brouwer said...

See also

Anonymous said...

What an eye-opener!
I really didn't know that depictions exist, let alone that's not really forbidden.

I do read my daily newspapers, but never read about it.

Any idea why its not widespread known?

Harald Doornbos said...

@ core

I guess it is not widespread known because mainstream Islam is kind of getting more and more conservative. As you can see, all these pictures of the prophet were made long, long time ago. Nobody really bothered. The Turks have published 10.000's of miniatures of Muhammad, but stopped doing it end of 19th century. Among Iran's crown jewels there are at least two depictions of the prophet (in jade). By now though depiction of the prophet it is a huge taboo among Muslims. I guess this is part of the current problem with islam - instead of progressing it is going backwards in time and thinking. Cheers and thanks for comment.

fakirpena said...

why ? please visit

Harald Doornbos said...


Anonymous said...

I used your (old) page in the discussion going on there...

Anonymous said...

link didnt work proper:

Images of Muhammad in Tehran

Harald Doornbos said...