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Over 700 years the scene most associated with Muhammad by Westerners was a disemboweled heretic, tortured for eternity in a searing abyss. This image is an inheritance from the fervid imagination of Dante Aligheri, from his magnificent 14th-century epic poem “Divine Comedy.”
Dante was exiled from Italy later, but it wasn’t because of Islamic sensibilities or death threats (not by Muslims anyway). In 1321 anyone could make paintings of Muhammad since they hadn’t yet discovered prohibitions against virtually everything at that point. Even if they had, Christians, busily employed fighting off invading Muslims, weren’t working so hard to make their oppressors happy.
Dante’s open contempt for Muhammad was universally shared in Christian Europe and had been for several hundred years. He was denounced as a violent false prophet and depraved heretic who had been eaten by a herd of swine in one account.
Celebrated artists have illustrated “Divine Comedy” since its publication, including Botticelli, William Blake, Gustave Doré, Rauschenberg, Rodin, Dali and more. They weren’t motivated by hatred of Muslims or anyone else; it’s just part of the grand text. The Comedy’s vivid and controversial verses are universally inspirational. Incidentally, Dante inserted his personal enemies into strategic parts of hell as well as literary villains and general enemies of humanity. But, quelle surprise! After 700 years, Muslims are still fuming about the inclusion of Muhammad.
Spewing intestines was the punishment Dante assigned Muhammad in the Inferno’s Circle 6, reserved for heretics and those confusing the Spirit of Christ. He may have been prescient there. Who could deny militant Islam has brought more violence, war and political division than anything else on earth seven centuries later?
This secret history of Islamic art, which apparently hasn’t reached the White House yet, is that it is ancient, reaching back as far as the religion and founder himself. Also, images of Muhammad are not forbidden in the Koran, although I personally care about this as much as terrorists study the Sermon on the Mount.
Drawings and paintings of Muhammad actually number in the tens of thousands, with the oldest engravings possibly on 8th century Islamic coins. Muhammad preaching to his earliest converts was common in medieval paintings, as well as depictions of his wars, submitted leaders and scenes with various wives, including the minor. There are even 20th century films made of the man’s life.
These supposedly non-existent items are in museums, libraries, buildings, Korans, universities and private homes and collections. In 1928 Leibig Meat Company created advertising postcards featuring Muhammad in various adventures, often flying about on “Buraq,” a genetically modified chimera of horse/peacock/woman. There was no maddened outcry from the eternally offended (may they rest with laryngitis). Things have greatly changed for artists and writers in the new Muslim sensitive world.
When left-wing Danish author Kaare Bluitgen thought he’d write an illustrated childrens’ book on Muhammad’s life in 2006, the outcome was a world conflagration. His motives to “bring Danes and immigrant Muslims closer together” and his use of authentic, Islamic sources didn’t matter to those who rioted over the contents.
The most inflammatory of the lot was an image of Muhammad’s enforcers butchering thousands of Jews in Qurayzah, Banu Nadir and other areas he fancied – a true story if the Koran and other Islamic literature is true. Apparently rioters in Europe want to keep history under wraps also.
This is understandable when you consider the PR. Another 1699 piece representing the reality of Europe and Islam at the time is from the “La Vie De L’imposteur Mahomet” by M. Prideaux: an illustration has Muhammad holding a sword while he tramples a globe, cross and the Ten Commandments.
A series of medieval Islamic paintings show Muhammad wandering through hell also but not as a resident. He arrives to ponder the fate of shameless women (Sheol’s chief population, he claimed) for exposing their hair to strangers.
Our museums are stuffed full of art featuring Muhammad, but he is generally kept hostage in storage so no one blows them up. The press continues to deny their existence, following CAIR talking points.
Portraits of Muhammad are made to this moment, quietly or otherwise. Some of it is accepted, because it is created by Muslims or it is presented with an obsequious artist’s statement in rigid accordance with all rules Muslims wish to impose on Western formerly free art.
An example is a tryptich of Jesus, Muhammad and Buddha by New York artist Christina Varga and the following statement about it: “Because it is forbidden to represent his face, calligraphy commanding all to maintain a pure body and spirit and declaring the greatness of Allah the one True God covers it.”
But did she wear a chador while she painted?
As recently as 2004 books such as “Der Harem des Propheten” by George Mausinger (drawings by Maius Haban) showed Muhammad in humiliating situations with no hoopla – although he is highly featured on the Siraatulhaqq anti-blasphemy movement’s webpage. Images are from this site, the best compilation of art featuring Muhammad on the Internet.
Modern artists with a little moxie have fought back at the strikes against their freedom, as offerings by cartoonists Ivar Gjørup, MSNBC’s Daryl Cagle, Jack Higgins and others attest. There are in reality thousands of these images on the Internet and in the few publications that dare print them. Although some are vulgar, it’s important to keep making them if only because we are commanded to stop by terrorists.
There is another dimension, and that is the persecution and even murder of artists and writers such as Theo Van Gogh, Gregorius Nekschot, Molly Norris and Kurt Westergaard when they stood alone. Last year, for example, the Indian government arrested editor Alok Tomar for publishing a tiny image of Muhammad from the Jyllands-Posten brouhaha. A local politician offered money and the killer’s weight in gold for liberating the original cartoonists of their heads.
It’s an observable fact that historically the majority of Muslims had no problems with illustrations of Muhammad. Most apparently don’t give a rip about it, excluding power-gorged imams and terrorists. Why do we mince around these demands as if they were sacred or significant?
At this minute some al-Qaida cell is likely plotting the next outrageous demand:
Aaqib: “In my next press conference I announce that makeup on actresses and models – all the women, is offensive to Islamic males.”
Rizwan: “Is there a fatwah?”
Aaqib: “No, but we can get one. Ali Gomaa needs money in Egypt just now.”
Hussein: “That’s too easy, they may actually do it. Why don’t we declare that all names beginning with ‘M’ may not share the glory of the Prophet’s Exalted Name (peace be upon him.) They will have to simply change them.”
Aaqib: “Perfect! All praise to the Lord of the worlds.”
Many thanks to anonymous researcher at ZombieTime.com for the best collection of Muhammad images on the web and Faces of Mohammed and “The Koran and the life of the prophet Mohammed” by Kaare Bluitgen