Magazine article The Spectator

Draw Your Own Conclusion

Magazine article The Spectator

Draw Your Own Conclusion

Article excerpt

I think the presence of the questionmark means I get away with it. The little depiction of mine, you see, might or might not be Mohammed, or Abu alQasim Muhammed Ibn Abd Allah Ibn Abd al-Muttali, to give the chap his full title.

Just as the one next to him might or might not be the presenter of the Today programme, Jim Naughtie -- it's entirely up to you to decide; I absolve myself of all responsibility.

You are the creative reader or, in this case, viewer.

There's another get-out clause. Ancient Islamic art seemed to allow for the depiction of the Prophet if that depiction did not attempt to be life-like. I don't think you could accuse any of my drawings of being life-like, although I suppose the one of Sienna Miller sails a bit close to the wind. Further, there is the context to consider: they are identical.

Emperor Bokassa looks just like Jesus who in turn looks like Jim Naughtie; clearly no attempt has been made to capture a true likeness of any one of the subjects. Certainly not on the scale of Alexander Ross's series of paintings of 1653, entitled A View of All Religions in the World, which shows Mohammed looking slightly uncomfortable in an ominous headdress and possessing the inevitable beard.

So, no Muslim could possibly take offence at my drawing because it doesn't attempt to replicate Mohammed's visage and, in any case, it might not be him at all. If they were to take offence at my drawing, they'd be as likely to take offence at a dot on a piece of paper, or even a blank sheet of A4. And my contribution to what might or might not be religious art is about as far as one can go, I reckon, without inflaming Muslim sentiment and possibly falling foul of any new blasphemy law.

You're not allowed to draw a picture of Mohammed: it is an act of heresy. And so I haven't, or have. One of the two.

Actually, now I look at my sketch, the drawings are not quite identical.

Worryingly, the one which might or might not be Mohammed seems slightly smaller than Jesus and, worse, appears to be gazing longingly towards Jim Naughtie -- or maybe past Jim Naughtie towards Sienna Miller. Believe me, this was not intentional. But that, presumably, encapsulates the objection raised by Islam to such depictions. We are flawed, no matter how pure our intentions, no matter how profound our skill. Whether it be me, Leonardo da Vinci or Rachel Whiteread -- simply, we are not worthy.

Certainly, Mohammed was pretty emphatic about the business. An early Hadith reports him as being well-miffed upon seeing a picture. 'Don't you know that angels do not enter a house wherein there are pictures, ' he asked, presumably rhetorically.

Why bother to draw Mohammed at all if it offends people and doesn't really reveal very much? The Danes are mulling this over at the moment. Their largest circulation daily newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, invited a bunch of cartoonists to depict Mohammed and went ahead and published their efforts. One of the cartoons showed the Prophet with a bomb under his coat, which I suppose one might deem provocative. But this wasn't what led to riots in Aarhus, protests outside the Danish Parliament, demands for an apology from the Prime Minister and a whole bunch of Islamic countries lodging protests through their embassies and even threatening to withdraw diplomatic relations. It was the mere act of depicting Mohammed at all, bomb or no bomb. …

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