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Faith

ISLAM & ANICONISM

Abbas Di Palma, discusses art in Islam and acceptability of it within the community

T

he relationship between art and the religion in Islam has been a complex one down the centuries. Such a wealthy variety of expressions and tendencies can be viewed as a harmonious interaction among different Muslim people rather than a clash of cultures or civilisations. As a matter of fact, art flourished in most Muslim societies, each one with its own unique characteristics.

the Arabian Peninsula. By the advent of Islam, such representations were gradually less utilised although nowhere in the Qur’an do we find a ban on statues or images. Representation of an idol is certainly not allowed in Islam but it should be noted that many if not most

However, in some Muslim circles due to extreme unorthodox views, especially in the last decades and after the spread of ideological Islamism, many forms of art have been considered with suspicion. Under the pretext of returning to a pure form of Islam, many artistic and aesthetic expressions such as the representation of human or animal images have been banned. As a reaction and retaliation, some consider this form of nonrepresentation as non-art. Not condemning any form of art - each one of them finds its own place within the Islamic framework - I would like to avoid underestimating the religious implications stemming from some legitimate Islamic points of view that emphasise the abstract nature of religious art. Before the prophethood of Muhammad(s), idols and images were widespread in

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islam today

August 2018

On that occasion, the Prophet Muhammad(s) forbade any revenge and bloodshed, except the symbolic destruction of idols around and within the Kaaba. According to some sources the Prophet ordered Muslims not to destroy an image representing the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus, leaving this as the only icon in Makkah inside and outside the Kaaba. This was because the icon did not represent an idol. It was only after a short period of time that the icon was destroyed, not by the Prophet’s order but an accidental fire.

of the representations in the early years were directly or indirectly of idols.

The destruction of idols may be seen also as a defence against any anthropomorphic idea of the Divine who cannot be fairly represented by any physical shape. Muslim mystics expressed this by speaking of the duty to “destroying the idols abiding in the heart” and sought to actualise it internally.

On the other hand, it is true that when Muslims entered Makkah they destroyed all the idols but the act was linked to the unity of God and the defence of Islamic creed after years of persecution by Makkan aristocrats.

There is no doubt about the substantial and categorical prohibition in Islam directed towards the representation of Divinity. The prohibition of representing the divinity aims also to deny any sort of associationism such as nothing relative

islam today issue 62 August 2018  
islam today issue 62 August 2018