Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Aisha's Cushion: Religious Art, Perception, and Practice in Islam

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Aisha's Cushion: Religious Art, Perception, and Practice in Islam

Article excerpt

Aisha's Cushion: Religious Art, Perception, and Practice in Islam BY JAMAL J. ELIAS HARVARD, 432 PAGES, $35

The latest book by Jamal J. Elias, religious studies professor at the University of Pennsylvania, takes its name from an early Islamic account in which the Prophet Muhammad censured one use of images but permitted another. The relationship to images and visual art asked of Muslims, then, must be more complicated than the iconoclasm it is presumed to be in this age of cartoon protests and statue bombings.

But Elias goes beyond simply complicating a stereotype, a relatively simple task for which readers could instead wander the Metropolitan Museum's new wing of Islamic art, filled as it is with marvelous arabesques and depictions galore. Rather than searching for a defining doctrine of images in Islam, an attempt that, Elias suggests, reflects the influence of Christian debates on theologies of the image, he reframes the study of visual culture to involve active processes of perception and interpretation, not just aesthetic appreciation. …

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