In our most recent public memory, images of the Prophet Muhammad have caused a great deal of controversy, such as satirical cartoons of Muhammad in French magazine Charlie Hebdo
, or Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten
. The sometimes violent backlash to these images has reinforced the popular narrative that Islam is aniconic and iconoclastic.
In The Praiseworthy One: The Prophet Muhammad in Islamic Texts and Images
(Indiana University Press, 2019), Christiane Gruber
, Professor in the History of Art at the University of Michigan, demonstrates that there is long rich history of images of Muhammad from within the Islamic tradition. The styles, themes, and strategies used to represent the Prophet have significantly shifted and altered over time. Gruber synthesizes an extensive archive of images and leads the reader through various thematic patterns, cultural specificities, and unique examples. We are presented with a detailed overview of textual and visual representations of Muhammad that is placed within a deep understanding of the history of Islamic art. In our conversation we discussed how the iconoclasm narrative has been reinforced, the symbolic Prophet versus a historical Muhammad, why there exists no very early images, the first visual representations of Muhammad, the Prophet as king and hero, representations of Muhammad’s spiritual radiance, images in the context of fraternal Sufi communities, Safavid images and the centering of Shi’a interpretations of Muhammad, images of ‘Ali, Ottoman visual culture, embodying Muhammad through objects and relics, modern renderings of Muhammad, and public scholarship and the constraints of academic writing.
Kristian Petersen is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies at Old Dominion University. You can find out more about his work on his website, follow him on Twitter @BabaKristian, or email him at email@example.com.