The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), which has a chapter in Anaheim, addressed today’s Charlie Hebdo cover of a weeping Mohammad holding a sign that reads, “I Am Charlie.” A spokesperson for CAIR gave the expected answer that everyone already knew was coming. CAIR finds the cover offensive because it features a cartoon depiction of Prophet Mohammad. The spokesman for CAIR, Ibrahim Hooper, stated, “In fact, it’s a cultural norm in the Muslim world that there are no representations of any prophets.” If that is CAIR’s belief then its leaders won’t like this article either. That’s because the photo that graces it is of Prophet Mohammad.
For those wondering how there could be a photograph of Mohammad, there is an explanation for it. In the early 1900s, a photograph was taken in Tunisia of a handsome teenage boy in a turban. The photographers were Rudolf Franz Lehnert and Ernst Heinrich Landrock. The photo was later dubbed “Mohammad” and put on postcards in Iran. The CAIR statement that pictures of Mohammad are considered offensive throughout the Muslim world is untrue.
Iranians, who are mostly Shia, have other modern day pictures of Mohammad that were created after this iconic photograph was taken. Those depictions are not considered offensive enough by terrorists to warrant mass murder. In 2006, world religions expert Reza Aslan recounted one of his visits to Iran in a Slate.com article. Hanging in an Iranian shop window was a poster of what looked like a beautiful young girl in a headdress. He assumed it was a picture of Prophet Mohammad’s daughter Fatima. When he asked the shopkeeper how much the poster of Fatima cost, the shopkeeper informed him it was actually a picture of Prophet Mohammad. For those who think the picture attached to this article looks effeminate, that is apparently not uncommon in depictions of Islam’s famous prophet.
Aslan was embarrassed by his mistake, but he wasn’t surprised that someone made a poster featuring Prophet Mohammad. There are many depictions in the Muslim world of the prophet and there have been for centuries. In a recent NPR interview from Jan. 10th, Aslan reiterated the same thing in regards to the Charlie Hebdo incident:
Well, there are no Koranic prohibitions against depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. And even among the six or so authorized schools of law, there’s all kinds of disagreements about whether you can and how you can show the Prophet Muhammad. It’s certainly a cultural taboo, but that taboo arose organically and through a long period of time, which is why, precisely as you say, the history of Islam teems with thousands and thousands of images of the Prophet Muhammad from his childhood, various scenes from his biography, all the way, really, to the end of his life. It’s a very common thing that we see throughout Islam’s history.
Here in America, there is a statue of Mohammad inside the US Supreme Court chamber. According to The Wall Street Journal, CAIR wanted Mohammad’s face sandblasted away in 1997. The image did not mock Mohammad or paint him in a bad light. It depicted him only as a lawgiver, which is consistent with the theme of the US Supreme Court. Eventually, CAIR backed down when Justice Rehnquist refused to get rid of it and a Muslim scholar issued a fatwa stating that the image was fine.
Considering the damage that was done to the employees of Charlie Hebdo, the least important thing right now is whether or not the magazine’s latest cover is offensive or not. What is most important is that people had their lives snuffed out over some cartoons. There are many images of Mohammad, and Islam still thrives throughout the world. Islam isn’t in danger; it’s the targets of extremists that are in peril.