Cartoons not the limit for photogenic prophet

By Andrew Maykuth KRT

When the U.S. Supreme Court convenes in Washington, the justices sit in their grand courtroom beneath a carved marble frieze depicting 18 great lawgivers from the ages.

On the south wall are the ancients – Confucius, Octavian and Moses holding the Ten Commandments. And on the north wall, along with Justice John Marshall and Napoleon Bonaparte, standing between Charlemagne and Justinian, is the prophet Muhammad, cradling a sword and a copy of the Holy Koran.

In the furor that has erupted since the publication of controversial Danish cartoons of Muhammad, many claims have circulated in the media about Islam’s prohibitions about artistic depictions of the prophet, or any human figures.

But Muhammad’s image is portrayed far more widely than many believe, and not just in the West, in the highest court in America, where the prophet’s likeness was chiseled in stone about 70 years ago.

In Iran, images of Muhammad are widely circulated among the predominantly Shia population.

The 1994 book “Arab Comic Strips” shows a modern cartoon image of an infant Muhammad in the arms of his nurse, though his face is obscured in a brilliant halo.

In the 15 centuries since Muhammad lived, Islamic artists have portrayed the prophet heroically in paintings now on display in such institutions as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco.

Nor does there appear to be any uniform prohibition against portraying the human figure in Islam.

“Right from the beginning of Islamic history, and in a number of periods since, paintings of figures on walls and in art have been practiced in Islam,” said Renata Holod, curator of the University of Pennsylvania Museum’s Islamic art collection.