Salam (Peace) J,
Thank you for contacting About Islam with your question.
One of the problems that exist at the moment is that Islam is not properly understood. Too many people are getting their only knowledge of Islam from the TV or from newspaper articles, and very often the “Islam-related” topics have very little to do with the real Islam at all.
It is certainly a challenge for Muslims to get across the real message of Islam so that people can understand what Muslims really believe, rather than taking their understanding from the actions and the words of fanatics and extremists.
The tragic events in Paris have caused distress to Muslims everywhere. Murder is murder. There is no cause that justifies the murder of innocent people. It is a cause of deep pain to Muslims when such events take place and are associated in any way with the name of Islam.
Let us be abundantly clear: the murder of those people in Paris had no justification and it is to be condemned in the strongest terms.
Your question, then, is about portraying Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him-PBUH). You suggested that if people were to depict the Prophet (PBUH) in images, and use those images for educational purposes, then people might understand him better.
We need to understand that in Islam there is always a reason behind things. Not drinking alcohol, for example, has a reason behind it. It is not just an arbitrary prohibition to stop people having fun!
Similarly, Muslims do not eat pork for a reason. Muslim women wear a headscarf not as a fashion statement, but because Almighty God, Allah, tells them to do so.
In Islam there has always been a prohibition on making images of God and His Prophets. At the start, this prohibition was quite simply to avoid the temptation of worshiping the images themselves, as people had done for centuries.
Idol worship was an abhorrence to Muslims right from the start.
As far as depicting the Prophet (PBUH) is concerned, Muslims don’t make pictures or statues of Prophet Muhammad for a clear reason. The reason is not that images or art are wicked or evil, but that images can lead to a wrong understanding.
The Western concept of Jesus (PBUH) as the Son of God who died on a Cross has been reinforced down through the centuries by the depiction of that idea in art, so much so that people take these things as fact.
Muslims, on the other hand, avoid the depiction of their Prophets in Art precisely so that the Art does not lead people to understand things in a wrong way. For example, erecting a statue of someone might seem like a good idea at the time, but over time that person’s reputation can take on qualities in the popular imagination that he or she never originally had. Statues can make people appear almost super-human.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was a man. He was not a saint or a god, but a simple man. The love in which he is held by Muslims is intense. Creating statues and pictures of that man can lead people to see in a man something more than he was.
The prohibition on images of the Prophet, therefore, is to keep our understanding of him simple and without excess of imagination. There is quite enough evidence for us to know what he (PBUH) was like, without having pictures.
Unfortunately, the cartoons in France and elsewhere have not only depicted the Prophet (PBUH), but have done so in a way that vilifies and pokes fun.
Many people in the West have not really understood what all the fuss has been about. The only comparison I can give is that of someone who draws graffiti on a wall about you own mother or grandmother, mocking or disrespecting her. Imagine how hurt you would be to see it.
This is not really a question of free expression. The Muslims of France, for example, fully support the French heritage of freedom of expression. It is a precious gift. Their problem is to wonder why anyone would use that precious gift to hurt and offend others.
I hope that this short answer makes some sense. Please keep in touch.
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