Does Islam Really Forbid Images Of Muhammad?

Muslims the world over have strongly condemned the terrorist attack against the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, in which 12 people were killed by masked gunmen. The paper is believed to have been targeted because of its history of publishing provocative cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. But what do the teachings of Islam actually say about creating images of the prophet?

There’s no part in the Quran where Muhammad says that images of him are forbidden. But the issue is mentioned in the hadith, a secondary text that many Muslims consult for instruction on how to live a good life.

The theological underpinnings of the ban can be traced back to the very beginnings of Islam in Arabia, according to John Esposito, a professor of Islamic studies at Georgetown University. Early followers of Muhammad held themselves apart from their Christian neighbors, whom they believed to be too deeply attached to icons and images. The ban is also informed by one of the central tenets of Islam — the idea that the Prophet Muhammad was a man, and not a god.

“It comes from the notion that God is transcendent and that nothing should be put in God’s place,” Esposito told The Huffington Post. “Anything like that is idolatry. You don’t want to have a statue or a picture of God, because people may wind up praying to it.”

For similar reasons, some Muslims object to depictions of Jesus or Moses, who are also considered prophets in Islam. In several Muslim countries, the films “Noah” and “Exodus” were banned this year because of their portrayal of these important figures


15 thoughts on “Does Islam Really Forbid Images Of Muhammad?

  1. We don’t believe in putting too much importance on inanimate soulless objects like statues in place of the Holy Spirit of God either, but don’t forbid it because people need to gently understand it. My mother says she understands that she is not praying ‘to’ a statue, but that she likes to have it to look at while focussing on her prayer. It is something we have debated for a long time but in the end I think I was probably wrong in making too much of an issue of it.

    You don’t kill someone to prevent them from sinning. You don’t commit a grave sin in order to correct a petty sin. That’s madness.


    • The question raised on the blog here is interesting. According to the various books in my library, largely on Art, it appears that while Islam appeared and was developed in the mid/late 7th century, it was actually towards the end of the 8th century, that the ban was brought about on the making of images. Up till that time, images and portraits of people along with pictures of animals were produced by Islamic societies in Turkey and Persia. It may be of course that samples from these countries are just the only ones that have survived to this day, and that other sources did exist.

      I have pictures from that time which show images of the face of the Prophet Mohammed himself. Some though portraying incidents in his life, such as his miraculous ride on a human-headed horse into heaven, still depict all of his person, but with the face blanked out. His head is usually surrounded in such pictures with a nimbus of tongues of fire about it.

      Certain interesting pictures show stages in the creation of ‘Adam’, with the angels surrounding his newly made body, and bowing low before him, while Iblis (the Satan) sternly refuses to bow. Another one shows the Temptation of A and E, with a human like Iblis holding out a fruit (not an apple, maybe a Pomegranate) temptingly to them.



  2. Agreed! –> “You don’t kill someone to prevent them from sinning. You don’t commit a grave sin in order to correct a petty sin. That’s madness.”
    …….and is exactly how our gods operate.
    (Particularly the One who drowned the whole planet because his ‘creatures’ all had active (if varied ~ no ,missionaries at that stage! ) sex-lives and he couldn’t even get laid in the brothel he built “In The Beginning”.
    Is Spite a grave or a petty sin, d’you think?


  3. Many generations ago the prophets and teachers were dying out. Satan appeared to the people and told them, hey why not make some statues of these great people so you can remember them.

    Over time these people were forgotten. Satan then appeared to these people and stated, Hey these statues are your Gods you need to worship them. They were the first Idol worshippers. God sent Noah to them.

    The commandment sent by God

    “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.
    Exodus 20:4

    “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.
    Deuteronomy 5:8

    Making an image over time can lead you to bowing before it. Just look at the Catholics now who pray and kiss the feet of statues and pictures.

    Narrated Said bin Abu Al-Hasan: While I was with Ibn ‘Abbas a man came and said, “O father of ‘Abbas! My sustenance is from my manual profession and I make these pictures.” Ibn ‘Abbas said, “I will tell you only what I heard from Allah’s Apostle (Peace and blessings be upon him). I heard him saying, ‘Whoever makes a picture will be punished by Allah till he puts life in it, and he will never be able to put life in it.’ “Hearing this, that man heaved a sigh and his face turned pale. Ibn ‘Abbas said to him, “What a pity! If you insist on making pictures I advise you to make pictures of trees and any other unanimated objects.” [Bukhari 3:428]


    • It’s symbolism. I don’t personally connect to it. It’s not revering the picture itself as though that picture has special powers. It would be akin to a person who loved and lost a lifetime husband/wife. Talking to and kissing a picture of their lost one – not because they believe that their partner in life has re-incarnated into a coloured piece of paper but because it gives a visual. When they kiss with passion, they are expressing what is in their hearts for that representative, be it Jesus or Mary.

      I think it is taken too far though. I agree. I think some people do place way too much importance on it.

      I’ve always had a certain ‘issue’ with too much symbolism, whether it’s pictures or clothing to be worn, or rituals. Every religion has a certain amount of this problem which I think sometimes can remove the person from the spirit.


      • That is why when Pope Francis arrived and he refused to wear all the regalia with gold lining, I was so happy.


    • “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.”
      This needs to be taken in context, or every visual artist is condemned! It plainly refers to images that can be worshipped as a god – idols. All symbols of God as well as ‘graven images’ are suspect. The written name of God is a symbol too, and its use forbidden in places, as is the spoken name.

      The image of God we carry in our heads is also a symbol only, and not to be trusted, imho!


      • Fortuitously, this afternoon I chanced on a video about symbols – money being a symbol of wealth, and other such. The presenter speaks of the failure of trusting in symbols, the perilous state of the world, and speaks of “Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.” In other words – “Let go and let God.”


      • A follow-up I also found interesting. Alan Watts, in letter of resignation from clergy.

        “Insofar as the Church is committed to a desire for and a clinging to authority, permanence, spiritual safety, and absolute guides of conduct, it is clinging to its own death. By such means, belief in God, the hope of immortality, and the quest for salvation, become only escapes from the inner emptiness and insecurity which most of us feel in the depths of our being when confronted with the loneliness, the transiency, and the uncertainty of human life.

        But that inner emptiness is not a void to be filled with comforts; it is a window to be looked through. It is not an evil that life – our own life – flows, changes, and passes away. It is a revelation to prevent us from clinging to ourselves, for whoever lets go of himself finds God. The state of eternal life and oneness with God comes to pass – like a miracle – only when we release our grasp on every kind of spiritual security. To cling to security is only to cling to oneself, and perish of strangulation.”


  4. Bryan,I applaud you for talking about Islam and Muslims so matter – of – factly and putting things in context. Good on you for stating that most Muslims DO condemn these attacks,using the Qu’ran to back them up. It’s so nice to read something rather than all the divisive stuff you read/hear in the media. Kudos Bryan. Kudos. 🙂


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