Saturday, June 24, 2006

A complaint regarding my post on the Danish Cartoons and representation of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH)

My attention has just been drawn to a blog by someone who takes me to task regarding my blog on the subject of the (in)famous Danish cartoons on the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH)).

The complainant's point is that "Prabhu Guptara ... does not point out that while images of Mohammed are not forbidden by the Qu’ran, and there are images of Mohammed in some Muslim temples and Islamic art, they are nevertheless explicitly forbidden by particular sects of Islam based on other legal writings which comprise the hadith, Islamic theology."

This is commonplace confusion of language: no one part can speak for the whole, if other parts disagree, when there is no designated speaker for the whole.

What I mean is that, as with Hindus, no one can claim to speak for "Muslims" as a whole (or "Islam" as a whole) because the totality contains many contradictory schools or points of view regarding all kinds of things - in this case regarding the Hadith and representation in general, as well as regarding specifically representation of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH).

Let me clarify this by taking the case of Christianity. The Pope, for example, cannot speak for all Christians because he does not represent all christians, nor is his authority recognised by them all. However, the Pope can speak for all Roman Catholics because he is the head of that church. He can certainly delegate his authority to one or more spokesmen who are under his authority, but he cannot "raise" his authority beyond the Roman Church to include, for example, Episcopalians or Pentecostals or Lutherans or Calvinists or Baptists or Presbyterians or Amish or Hutterites or Mennonites or other Christians....

Similarly, a particular Ayatollah can speak for himself or his group but he cannot speak for the whole of Islam.

So it is totally false to say that "Islam forbids the representation of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH)". It is totally right to say that this or that sub-division of Islam forbids it.

In fact, many sub-divisions of Islam refuse to recognise others as Islamic at all. So it is difficult to say where the boundaries of Islam start and where they end (as is the case with Hindus).

I would submit that Buddhists and Christians (for example) are relatively clearly definable because, in the case of Buddhism, the individuals or groups concerned must somehow (in however misconceived a way) derive their authority, teachings and practices from the Buddha himself. In the case of Christianity, there are historically four parts: the Eastern Orthodox Churches which are the oldest organised part, then the Roman Catholics, then the Protestants, and finally the Anglicans (or Episcopalians as they are called in north America). All of them recognise each other, and dialogue with each other, as Christians. This is contrast to Mormons, Christian Scientists, Jehovah's Witnesses and other such groups, who sometimes present themselves as Christians but are not recognised by the others as Christians because these groups elevate the authority of their own "prophets" above that of Jesus - e.g. the Jehovah's Witnesses accept the authority of Judge Rutherford, the Christian Scientists of Mary Baker Eddy, the Mormons of Joseph Smith....

In any case, I return to my point that, just as the Pope cannot speak for all Christians, so no religious leader or school can speak for "all Muslims" or "Islam as a whole". Sunnis do not and cannot speak for Shias, and so on.

What unites Islam is the Koran. And this does not forbid representation of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH).

However, at the end of this long discussion, I would invite the complainant to re-read my original post. She will find that she and I do not disagree at all, for what she said was almost exactly the same as I said: "The Koran does NOT forbid representations of the Prophet (PBUH), though some schools of thought among Muslims do so."

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