Monday, January 22, 2007

Capturing the Islamic World

Josh Scholar asks in the comments:

For a long time I've wondered if there was (to some small extent) a connection between Islam's prohibitions on art and it's emphasis on triumphalism (conquest, hostility etc). It's as if without fantasy, Muslims have nothing to dream about but paranoid conspiracies and conquest...

But looking at those beautiful photographs made me think, there may not be a prohibition on photography because it isn't drawing or painting, it's a mechanical reproduction... Is that the case? What is the state of photography as an art form in the Muslim world?

Photography is not considered a respectable profession among the umma. I can think of three different and possibly overlapping reasons for this. (My apologies for the fragmented nature of this post.)

1. Islam. (Shocking!)

Sahih Bukhari: Volume 3, Book 34, Number 318.

Narrated Aisha: I bought a cushion with pictures on it. When Allah's Apostle saw it, he kept standing at the door and did not enter the house. I noticed the sign of disgust on his face, so I said, "O Allah's Apostle! I repent to Allah and His Apostle. (Please let me know) what sin I have done." Allah's Apostle said, "What about this cushion?" I replied, "I bought it for you to sit and recline on." Allah's Apostle said, "The painters (i.e. owners) of these pictures will be punished on the Day of Resurrection. It will be said to them, 'Put life in what you have created (i.e. painted).' " The Prophet added, "The angels do not enter a house where there are pictures."

Oh yes, all you Muslim artists out there have a reserved space in Hell. Of course, this is grade-A superstition: somehow drawing or photographing an animate object is bad behavior because it's like mimicking Allah!

And we can't have that. One can do a search for "pictures" at the Hadith database and find tons of stuff that showcases the moronic musings of Muhammad -- the guy who is the moral gold standard for Muslims.

Very often, your average Muslim is not aware of these sayings, so they ask imams about the matter. A few examples:

Read the rest if you wish.


Anonymous said...

Well, I am totally confused. Obviously they can take some pictures, they have TV, movies, internet, and parade around the streets with big photo placards. Does it hinge on being "educational" or what? Does anyone know how this plays out in most Muslim communities in the West?

This is one of those "cultural" issues I think we could put to excellent use by publicly pinning people down for answers. How many in the "moderate" Muslim community abide by these absurd rules? How many of them forbid picture books to their children, music to their teenagers, etc.? The "but they're just like us" PC multiculti argument needs to be punctured whenever possible on issues of substance. I forget whose book it's in ("The West's Last Chance" I think) but the author postulates incidents of protest and vandalism in Europe that begin with the Eros statue in Picadilly Circus and end with half the artworks in Europe having to be stored away under guard. At the very least it could help spark a debate between genuine "moderates" -- or more accurately, people who have gotten used to living here like normal human beings -- and the Muslim fundies.

Hijab Barbie, now there's a visual image...

Anonymous said...

More obsessive-compulsive symptoms?

Anonymous said...

More like micro-management, which of course is an excellent tool of control.